San Roberto Bellarmino is a mid 20th century parish and titular church. It has a postal address at Via Panama 5 in the Parioli quarter, just south of the Via Ada, but its main entrance faces the Piazza Ungheria. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The parish was founded by Pope Pius XI in 1933, after St Robert Bellarmine had been canonized in 1930 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1931. The architect Clemente Busiri Vici had begun the design in the latter year, and construction began in 1933.
This is a seriously impressive building structurally, and is one of the great Roman domed churches of the 20th century. Arguably the project was running out of steam by the time that the interior decoration was completed, however.
The new parish was initially entrusted to the Jesuits, but they had to give it up in 2003 and it is now administered by diocesan clergy.
Layout and fabric Edit
The plan of the church is basilical, based on a modified Latin cross. The exterior fabric is in finely laid pink brickwork, with some details in limestone. However, the load-bearing elements are in reinforced concrete.
The nave has a total of six bays, including a very shallow one at the entrance. The next four bays have very narrow structural side aisles (divided into side chapels by blocking walls within), but the sixth bay does not. These four bays each have a large hexagonal window in each nave side wall below the roof, the hexagon being horizontally stretched and in a white frame. These nave side walls have the bays delineated by blind brick pilasters.
Then comes a domed transept, which is extended by a pair of apsidal side chapels. The apses of these are five-sided, mostly blank-walled although a pair of little hexagonal windows face each other at the mouth of each apse. Finally comes a sanctuary of a single bay, terminated by a polygonal apse of seven sides. A pair of similar windows lights the bay, and another one the mouth of the apse again.
Projecting diagonally from the inner corners of the Latin cross layout are four very odd little external side chapels, each one of which has its own tiny three-sided apse lit by three rectangular windows.
Covered corridors runs from each end of the entrance façade, along the backs of the nave side chapels, past these diagonal chapels and around the transept apses to meet at the sacristies behind the sanctuary apse. They also give access to the priests' house to the right of the sanctuary.
The dome has a very low octagonal drum with blind walls, supporting eight low tiled pitches meeting at a cylindrical lantern with eight window-slits. This has its own little cap with eight tiled pitches.
The roofing is pitched and tiled, and is quite complex. The double-pitched main nave roof runs as far as the transept, which has four diagonal pitches in the corners flanking the dome. The sanctuary bay has a double pitch, but the three apses are pitched in sectors. The diagonal chapels off the transept have little double-pitched and hipped roofs, with three sectors covering each apse and meeting on the hip.
At the entrance is an external narthex or loggia occupying the full width of the central nave, flanked by a pair of octagonal campanili which are attached to the corners of the nave.
The façade is plain, but dignified by the campanili. The open narthex has four brick pillars with imposts but no capitals, supporting a stone frieze (no proper entablature) bearing a dedicatory inscription: Deo optimo maximo, in honorem S[ancti] Roberti Bellarmino eccl[esiae] doc[toris] dicatum ("To God the best and greatest, dedicated in honour of St Robert Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church"). The tiled roof above this has a single upward pitch.
The gabled main frontage is undecorated, except for a stone-framed window shaped like a horizontally stretched hexagon with two vertical mullions. (This design feature is repeated in the nave windows.) In the gable apex is a relief coat-of-arms of Pope Pius XI, and the roofline has a projecting stone cornice.
The stumpy octagonal campanili have blank brick walls, except that each outward-facing side has a window in the shape of a cross with intricate geometric stone mullions. The brickwork around each of these two windows is laid in the form of a hexagon. The towers have cornices formed by continuing that of the roof gable. Above these are the bellchambers, having an open rectangular soundhole on each face. The caps are pitched and tiled, and are only slightly higher than the gable end of the nave.
Innside the narthex are three entrances with stone doorcases, the central one being larger. These all lead into the central nave.
The interior of the nave is rather sparse -it does seem that money ran out here. The side chapels are in shallow rectangular recesses topped by a cornice which is interrupted by blind pilasters supporting the roof. The surfaces below the cornice are in a pale pastel yellow, while above the cornice and on the pilasters they are in white. In each bay are two hexagonal windows, one on each side just below the roof. The latter is open, with a wide barge-board around its edge where it meets the walls. Rather horribly, this with the walls just beneath and the window surrounds are painted in a dark green.
The window above the entrance and the eight in the nave contain good quality stained glass by Alessandra Busiri, featuring St Robert. The entrance one shows him in contemplation, and the nave ones depict him acting out the Beatitudes.
The transept, main transept chapels and apse have good-quality mosaics by Renato Tomassi. The work is vaguely Byzantine in style, and the details are on a blue background with clouds intended to evoke the empyrean.
The low dome has the Evangelists on the triangular pendentives. The side walls in between these show four Christian symbols: Cross, Star, Burning Bush and Anchor (a symbol of Hope).
The right hand chapel is dedicated to Our Lady, and has an icon of the Madonna and Child inserted into a hexagon frame fairly high on the wall. The left hand chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart, with a very similar arrangement for the altarpiece.
The sanctuary apse mosaic shows St Robert in the glory of the Holy Spirit, and has a Latin epigraph: O Doctor optime, ecclesiae sanctae lumen, beate Roberte, deprecare pro nobis Filium Dei ("O best doctor, light of holy Church, blessed Robert, pray for us to the Son of God"). This is actually the Magnificat antiphon sung at Vespers in his honour on his feast-day.
The high altar was donated by Beniamino Gigli the famous tenor, but unfortunately now has another altar in front of it used for Mass "facing the people". This was installed in 2000.
The most convenient bus to get there on is perhaps the 53, which stops at Colosseo and Piazza Venezia.
Weekdays 7:00 to 12:00, 16:00 (17:00, July to September) to 20:00.
Sundays 8:00 to 14:30 (13:00, July to September), 17:30 to 21:30.
Weekdays 7:30, 9:00, 10:00 (not July to September), 19:00. These Masses are in the Sacred Heart chapel.
Sundays 9:00, 10:30, 12:00, 13:15 (not July to September), 19:00, 20:30.
The feast of St Robert Bellarmine is celebrated on 17 September.