San Giuseppe dell’Opera Don Guanella refers to three 20th century convent chapels located on the Via Aurelia Antica, in the Aurelio suburban district just west of the Villa Doria Pamphilj. The oldest one is at number 438, and the two newer ones at 446.
The dedication is to St Joseph.
The Congregation of the Servants of Charity (Servi della Carità) was founded by St Luigi Guanella at Como in 1886. It was formally constituted as a congregation of vowed religious in 1906, with a special interest in caring for poor sick and disabled people. A common nickname for it is Opera Don Guanella. St Luigi founded other congregations, including for women, and they are collectively referred to as the Guanellini.
A subsidiary interest has been in the propagation of the cult of St Joseph.
The first house of the Servi in Rome was opened in 1903, next to the Via Aurelia Antica at number 438. However, this was only a small establishment. St Luigi moved to Rome, and became a personal friend of Pope St Pius X who encouraged his work. As a result he was able to found the city's major cult centre of St Joseph at San Giuseppe al Trionfale, and began a much larger convent on an expansive neighbouring plot on the Via Aurelia. This is the present Casa San Giuseppe.
The Casa has grown into an enormous complex comprising the headquarters of the Italian province (which includes Poland!) and a large hospital specialising in the recuperative care of disabled and seriously injured people.
In the later 20th century the congregation added a house of studies called the Seminario Teologico Internazionale "Monsignore Bacciarini", which was named after Aurelio Bacciarini who had succeeded St Luigi in the governance of the congregation after the latter died in 1913. This was provided with a large chapel of its own.
The original roadside complex, with the first chapel, was recently a school called the Istituto Bacciarini but this seems to be defunct
First chapel Edit
The first chapel at number 438 has an architectural identity, but is abutted by flat-roofed single-storey wings of the complex on all three sides. The main part of the complex is to the right, with the central block having two storeys and the roofs being pitched and tiled.
The chapel has a single nave with a pitched and tiled roof, and quite a deep rectangular sanctuary of the same width which has a separate, slightly elevated roof.
The façade faces onto a patio which is raised over the street behind a revetting wall. It has a rectangular frame in relief, and crowned with a triangular pediment having a round window. There is no proper entablature, only a cornice. The doorway is also framed simply, and has a round-headed window on each side.
The façade has recently been repainted in white, but the cornice and gable are in a pale ochre and the tympanum is in a pale tan.
Chapel of Casa Edit
The second chapel is church-sized, and stands on a ground-level crypt. It must count as one of the most impressive purely private convent chapels in Rome -the Diocese does not list it as a cult centre, let alone as a church.
The chapel has a modified basilical plan, comprising a central nave of two bays with side aisles after a structurally separate entrance bay. The aisles are almost as tall as the central nave rooflines. There follows a transept, which has a complex layout. This comprises a Greek cross, with the side arms having their own aisles as wide as the two longitudinal arms of the cross. The ends of the side arms each have a large five-sided polygonal external apse, containing a side chapel.
Then comes the sanctuary, which is a single bay with aisles followed by another polygonal apse. The sanctuary is substantially lower than the rest of the chapel, and is abutted by ancillary buildings on all sides.
The original convent building abuts the nave on the right hand side.
The side walls are rendered in pink. The first nave bay has one tall single-light window in the left side wall, while the second bay has two. The transept has a single window in each longitudinal wall flanking an apse -four in all. The transept apses have five such windows each. The sanctuary bay has two windows in each side and also five in the apse, but these are much shorter because of the abutting buildings.
These windows are Gothic, topped by a gentle point.
The tiled roofing is complex. The central roof is in the form of a Greek cross, covering the central nave, transept and sanctuary bay. It has four double pitches. The entrance bay has a separate roof, much higher. The nave aisle roofs are single-pitched, and run over the near ends of the transept aisles. The outer ends of the transept aisles have their own little double pitches, on diagonal ridgelines. The aisles have pitches in five sectors, and the sanctuary bay has its own lower roof.
The façade is designed monumentally, and is rendered in a pale tan with architectural details in white. Because of the crypt the entrance is fronted by a raised patio accessed by a pair of curving staircases flanking it. Patio and staircases have pin balustrades.
The façade has three storeys and three vertical zones, and each storey has a loggia. The first loggia fronts the three chapel entrances, the two side ones each having a round window above. The loggia is fronted by three large arch portals, with simple imposts and well separated from each other. Each arch is flanked by a pair of blind pilasters supporting a thin entablature lacking an architrave, which tops the first storey. There are posts over the six pilasters, imitating capitals, and the pilasters are outlined in white. The two side arches are provided with pin balustrades.
The second storey begins with an attic plinth, and has another three loggia arches with six pilasters. The pilasters are in the same style as the ones below, but there is a pair of small recessed round-headed panels in between the inner two pairs. Also, this storey is lower than the one below so the archivolts have a gentler curve to keep the pilasters at the same height.
The third storey has another attic plinth, replaced over the middle four pilasters by a pin balustrade. This storey has only four pilasters, all in white. The central pair is replaced by a large serliana with a pair of white stone columns. In between the pairs of pilasters to either side is a large rectangular aperture.
The serliana arch frames a large white marble statue of St Joseph with the Christ-Child.
The third storey is topped by a third attic plinth, into which the serliana arch intrudes. This supports a triangular pediment without a proper entablature, and with its central section slightly brought forward. The tympanum contains a relief coat-of-arms.
The interior is in white, relieved by stained glass in the windows which is dominated by blue. The vaults are Gothic, without ribs.
The entrance bay has a low vault on three arches, the middle one having an archivolt with a gentler curve. The nave and transept aisles are distinguished by rectangular piers with incut corners, but the crossing ceiling is supported by four free-standing greenish-grey marble columns.
The sanctuary contains a large flat painted wooden crucifix in a Byzantine style, flanked by a pair of bronze angels. In the pointed-arch conch of the apse is a fresco of St Joseph as the Patron of the Universal Church.
The side aisles of the sanctuary each have a single undecorated arch which contains three Gothic arches supported by a pair of little columns in the same stone as the crossing columns.
Chapel of College Edit
The third chapel, that of the theological college, looks Fifties but is on a traditional plan.
This edifice has a single wide nave of three bays, then a rather shallow transept which protrudes beyond the nave walls on either side and finally a sanctuary of one bay with an integral three-sided apse.
The fabric comprises a reinforced concrete frame, with infill in red brick. The roof is tiled, of one double pitch covering nave, transept and sanctuary. The pitch of the apse has three triangular sectors, the central being larger.
On the gable of the first bay is a bellcote or campanile, being a concrete frame box with an overhanging gabled and tiled cap. This is supported in the façade by a pair of concrete pilasters in the wall, flanking the entrance.
The chapel is abutted by a pair of longitudinal single-storey wings of the college, flat-roofed and lower than its side walls.
The complex is in the parish of Santa Maria della Perseveranza, but the chapels are not public and attendance at any liturgical function is only by invitation.
The main entrance of number 446 on Via Aurelia Antica is gated, but the gates seem to be left open during working hours. The older chapel is found by turning left inside the gate, then turning first right. The newer college chapel is at the end of the drive to the right inside the gate.
The entire complex counts as private, so you may be challenged by security personnel (Italians are becoming much less laid-back about this preoccupation than previously)