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San Pasquale Baylon del Conservatorio is an 18th century orphanage and convent chapel, now part of a college, at Via Anicia 12/A in the rione Trastevere.

The dedication is to St Paschal Baylon.

History Edit

The orphanage, called the Conservatorio di San Pasquale Baylon, was founded in 1837 to take care of a group of orphan girls associated with the Oratory at San Girolamo della Carità. A purpose-built edifice was erected for the institution in Trastevere in 1743, and the chapel dedicated to St Paschal was consecrated in 1749.

In 1776, the main altar was replaced by a sumptuous polychrome marble one and hence the chapel was re-dedicated. This time, the dedication of the altar was altered to the Immaculate Conception, St Philip Neri (because of the Oratory involved in the orphanage's foundation) and St Paschal.

In 1815 a local priest called Gioacchino Michelini set up a spiritual study centre for women which was based at the orphanage. This was erected into an institution in its own right in 1825, under the title of Opera Pia Michelini.

In 1827 there was some rationalisation of orphanage facilities at Rome, and the girls here were transferred to the main girls' orphanage at San Michele a Ripa. The vacated property passed over to the Opera Pia, which was being run by the Augustinian oblate sisters of Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori, and they purchased the premises in 1856.

Pope Pius IX paid a visit in 1863. In 1868 the main altar of the chapel was remodelled again, and was provided with a wax figure of "St Aurelia" donated by the pope.

The sisters provided catechetical services and job training for local women and girls, including preparation for First Communion (which then took place later in life among Roman Catholics than it does now). The main chapel was listed at the end of the 19th century as open to the public. This did not last, and some time in the 20th century the chapel entrance was permanently closed and its doorsteps removed.

This occurred either in 1906 or 1926, when restorations of the interior took place.

Until surprisingly late, around the 1960's, the area was low-class and much of it was an outright slum with notable poverty and deprivation. However, in the latter 20th century came the belated realisation that cheap properties were available close to the city centre -and so gentrification took place. The poor people were mostly moved out to the suburbs. Very unfortunately, the oblate sisters badly mismanaged the changing circumstances (they were not alone in this -see San Benedetto a Piscincula) and failed to respond appropriately to the declining demand for their services. Also, like most religious orders in Europe, they suffered a serious drop in vocations.

The result of this was that the sisters did not maintain the property in good repair, until the Holy See intervened at the end of the 20th century when it was clear that the administration had collapsed. The sisters were dispossessed, and the premises passed over to the Collegio Universitario Internazionale di Roma (CUIR) which had been founded in 1990. There was a complete restoration of the fabric, including archaeological investigations of the ancient strata beneath the foundations which led to many interesting discoveries (the Roma Segreta web-page has a summary of these).

Included in the restoration was the main chapel, which had its street entrance re-instated -the missing doorsteps were found in a nearby garden.

The Augustinian sisters at Santa Maria dei Sette Dolori are now extinct.

Exterior Edit

The former orphanage occupies the west side of the street, just north of the church of San Giovanni dei Genovesi. There is no external evidence for the chapel visible in the basically three-storey edifice, which has a fourth attic storey to the right. The street frontage has three identical Baroque doorways, with curlicued tablets over the lintels which are flanked by posts supporting a hood-molded cornice and themselves supported by strap corbels. The central entrance has O. P. Michelini on its tablet, a reminder of the defunct Augustinian outreach.

The chapel entrance is the one on the left, number 12A. Unlike the other two, it is protected by a set of steel railings.

Interior Edit

Cappella di San Pasquale Edit

This chapel was originally intended as the public place of worship of the institution.

It is a high room on a transverse rectangular plan, and has three polychrome marble altars. The main altar has a pair of Corinthian columns in red marble (if it's real), which support a split segmental pediment. Into the gap is inserted a painted depiction of the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The altarpiece shows The Assumption of Our Lady with SS Philip Neri and Pascal, and is anonymous 18th century.

The altar frontal was removed in 1868, and replaced with a glass box containing a recumbent figure of a young girl. This is the "martyr" St Aurelia, originally a set of remains found in the catacombs and given an arbitrary name. (A lot of spurious catacomb martyrs were being produced at the time.)

Opposite the main altar is a choir gallery for the nuns, supported by red marble Doric columns. The floor is in grey marble, and the ceiling has stucco decoration with a large elliptical frame surrounding a central fresco. This depicts The Apotheosis of St Paschal.

Cappella della Madonna della Fiducia Edit

The premises also have two private chapels in the second storey. These date back to the construction of the building in the 18th century, but have been substantially altered since.

The chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Trust is the larger one, and was called the Cappella Grande. It was enlarged in 1926, and apparently the sisters used it for First Communion liturgies (nowadays these are expected to take place in the appropriate parish church).

The rectangular room is extended by a semi-circular sanctuary apse. The walls, in a cream colour, have Doric pilasters supporting an entablature on which rests the square-panelled ceiling. The polychrome stonework in the sanctuary is more impressive perhaps than in the previous chapel. There is a balustraded marble sanctuary rail, and the altar itself has a frontal in onyx. A pair of recesses framed in red marble in the curve of the apse contain relief carvings of angels, and these are venerating the tabernacle which, unusually, is placed in a large back recess in lieu of an altarpiece. This recess is framed by a pair of doubletted Corinthian pilasters in a multi-coloured pavona marble, and supports a top entablature with the frieze in the same stone and the cornice and architrave in yellow marble.

Cappella della Madonna dell'Addolorata Edit

Perpendicular to the previous chapel is another one, restored and extended in 1906 when the altar was reconsecrated. It was used by the sisters for giving sermons and instruction to confirmation candidates.

The walls are pleasingly decorated in imitation panelling in different shades of grey, with yellow areas. The floor is in white marble, inlaid with black marble strips in geometric patterns. The ceiling has large coffers which are painted; the central one has a monogram of Our Lady while the side ones show angels and the Dove of the Holy Spirit.

The polychrome marble altar is the best in the complex. It has a small icon of Our Lady as the altarpiece, framed in yellow marble with a backing in green. A pair of red marble Corinthian columns with gilded capitals support a segmental pediment, the entablature of which is extended on either side and supported by two pairs of matching pilasters in green marble. The altar proper has its frontal inlaid with panels of red and green marble, and stands on a plinth of white marble.

External links Edit

CUIR website

"Roma Segreta" web-page

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