San Leone I (San Leone Primo) is a mid 20th century parish and titular church at Via Prenestina 104, in the western tip of the Prenestino-Labicano quarter. It's a familar landmark for anybody driving on the western end of the present Via Prenestino just east of the Piazzale Prenestino. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to Pope St Leo the Great.
The project to build a new church began in 1950. The edifice was designed by Giuseppe Zander, and completed in 1952 which was the same year that the parish was erected.
The church was made titular in 1965, and the present cardinal priest is Karl Lehmann.
Layout and fabric Edit
The building is in the neo-Romanesque style, and is a credible imitation of a mediaeval Roman basilica.
It has a central nave with aisles, a transept and a sanctuary with a semi-circular apse. The transept is the same width as the nave and aisles. Enclosing the sanctuary beyond the transept is ancillary accommodation, which is integral to the structure. This is invisible from the street, but you can glimpse the arrangement from the car park to the right of the church. There are two high blocks flanking the sanctuary which give the impression of a second transept, together with a two-storey wrap-around of the apse which is continued either side in the form of two smaller false apses (they do not correspond to the interior layout of the church).
The exterior walls are in red brick, and the main roof is pitched and tiled. This runs from the façade to the apse, over the crossing. The transept has two pitched and tiled roofs of its own. The side aisles have lower flat roofs.
The tall tower campanile is on a square plan. It has the brickwork of the bell-chamber embellished by white horizontal stripes, a large arched sound-hole on each side. It is attached to the right of the entrance façade.
The façade has no gable but a horizontal parapet, despite the pitched roof of the nave behind. Hence the gable of the latter is hidden. The brickwork is in the ancient Roman style with shallow bricks. Every fifth course of bricks is recessed, so that the entire façade has a striped pattern.
An odd feature of the design is that the parapet has a coved cornice -that is, the wall curves outwards before joining it. In mediaeval times this arrangement was to display, without foreshortening, a mosaic to those standing in front of the entrance, but was a mosaic ever intended here?
There is a central door without any porch, having a stone doorframe and a tympanum arch above containing a stone relief sculpture of the patron saint. Above this is a a round window, with mullions in the pattern of an eight-petalled chrysanthemum. There are two plain side aisle doors with stone doorcases, and the aisle rooflines are also horizontal. Over the left hand aisle door is a relief of the keys of Peter, and over the right hand one, a cross. The three reliefs above the entrance doors are by Luigi Venturini.
There is a quirky inscription in white displayed in individual letters over the main entrance which translates: “Christ yesterday, today…..for ever”. Is this permanent, or just for now? Hopefully the latter.
The nave has five and a bit bays with the aisles separated by Ionic columns in polished travertine with prominent horizontal striping. These support horizontal entablatures -trabeations, not arcades. The friezes of the entablatures are in stone, with a vine-scroll motif. Above, each of the five full bays has a round-headed window on both sides, which contain stained glass by János Hajnal depicting The Ten Commandments.
Each entablature is supported at the entrance end by an engaged pilaster in the same style as the columns, and at the transept end by a sixth, slightly wider column which supports the near end of a transept arch.
The walls are in creamy white. The main ceiling is flat, in wood with transverse beams and longitudinal rafters and runs over the crossing to the apse. It is unpainted, and varnished in dark brown.
The counterfaçade has a large dedicatory tablet over the entrance, in a molded frame. Above, the circular rose window also has stained glass by Hajnal, celebrating the fiftieth anniversary in 1952 of Catholic Action in Italy. The petals of the rose depicts various aspects of manual work.
The concrete-roofed aisles contain a set of the Stations of the Cross by various artists: Francesco Coccia, Alessandro Monteleone, Francesco Nagni and one Prini. There is also a depiction of The Holy Family by Gisberto Ceracchini.
The transept is divided into the crossing, where the high altar is, and two side chapels at the ends of the aisles. The crossing is structurally part of the nave. The side chapels are each entered via a large arch with a dark grey archivolt.
The right hand chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, with an altarpiece by Luigi Montanarini. The left hand chapel is dedicated to Our Lady, with an altarpiece of the Madonna and Child by Alfredo Biagini. Small mosaics are by Adriana Venturini Notte.
The post-1970 altar is a monumental work, comprising a mensa on seven columns arranged in a coved semi-circle. It is on a raised platform, approached by steps. To the right is the font, and a polychrome statue of Pope St Leo which is an object of veneration.
The side walls of the sanctuary proper are revetted in polished travertine, and the apse in a greenish-grey stone. Behind the altar is a similarly monumental president's chair in striped travertine. In the curve of the apse is a large bronze Calvary by Venanzo Crocetti.
The conch of the apse has a spectacular mosaic depicting Pope St Leo’s legendary meeting with Attila the Hun (the legend is that the pope persuaded the warrior not to sack Rome). This is by Hajnal.
According to the Diocese, the church is open:
7:30 to 12:30, 16:00 to 19:00.
If you wish to view the superb stained glass by Hajnal, bring binoculars.
Mass is celebrated, according to the Diocese:
Weekdays 8:00 (not summer), 9:00 and 18:00;
Sundays and Solemnities 7:30, 9:00, 10:00 (not summer), 11:30 and 18:00.
There is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 9:30 to 11:30 on Thursdays and Fridays.
The Solemnity of Pope St Leo is on 10 November.