Sant'Ippolito is a 20th century parish and titular church, having its postal address at Via di Sant'Ippolito 56 in the Nomentano quarter and south of the Bologna metro station. The main entrance is on the Viale delle Provincie. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to Hippolytus of Rome, patristic author and martyr who died in the year 236. However, for centuries he was confused with a character in the developed legend of St Lawrence, having allegedly been an army officer converted by the saint in prison and martyred with him. This is now regarded as fiction, and even if true would have been a completely different person since St Lawrence died in 258.
The church was given this dedication because, by early tradition, the (genuine) martyr was buried at the catacombs named after him near San Lorenzo fuori le Mura. These, however, are not very near the church but are further south along the Viale delle Provincie, and have a modern entrance on the Vicolo dei Canneti.
These catacombs were originally on five levels, excavated in the first centuries AD. The site enters into recorded history in the late 4th century, when Pope Damasus excavated a hypogaeum and composed an epigraph in honour of the saint. This was converted into the antechamber of an underground basilica by Pope Vigilius in the 6th century, focused on the shrine of the saint, and access passages were cut through the original catacomb galleries which demonstrate that the site was the focus of much attention on the part of pilgrims. It ranked with San Lorenzo nearby in importance.
There was also a basilica here above ground, which had a nave and side aisles in the 7th century. It was destroyed by marauders in the 9th century, and the site was completely abandoned. However, it is regarded as the remote ancestor of the present church.
In 1553, the fragments of a famous statue of the saint were discovered on the site and this probably came from the lost above-ground basilica. The work was reassembled and heavily restored by Pirro Ligorio, and is now in the lobby of the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (although a more accessible copy of it is in the narthex of the church of San Lorenzo in Damaso).
The catacombs themselves were rediscovered at the start of the 18th century, but were only systematically explored by the archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi from 1862. As a result, what was described as a "tri-apsidal mausoleum" was discovered (this might have been the above-ground basilica), as well as the underground basilica of Pope Vigilius. Some fragments of the epigraph by Pope Damasus in honour of the saint were also found, and Rossi was able to reconstruct the text.
Unfortunately, the remains of the tri-apsidal structure were destroyed when the locality was developed as a suburb. Also, all epigraphs discovered by Rossi were removed and apparently there is nothing of interest in the catacombs now. In the Second World War, parts of the catacombs were converted into an air-raid shelter and serious damage was done as a result.
The complex has never been open to the public since then. It should not be confused with the palaeochristian basilica dedicated to St Hippolytus on the Isola Sacra near Fiumicino, which is neither in the municipality nor the Diocese of Rome.
Foundation of church Edit
The present church was founded to serve the main parish of the new Nomentano suburban quarter, which started to be developed in 1926. Before then, the quarter was open countryside and the inhabitants belonged to the parishes of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura or Sant'Agnese fuori le Mura. The church was begun in 1933, and consecrated in the following year. The architect was Clemente Busiri Vici. In 1935, the new parish was formally erected, and allocated to the Franciscan Capuchins of the Piedmont province. The new complex included a convent at the rear.
Unfortunately in some ways, a central site in the new suburb was chosen rather than the alternative of using the ancient one over the catacombs. If this had been done, the catacombs would have become a sacred space again -instead of being misused.
Since then Edit
The major upheaval in the church's subsequent history was in 1985, when the Capuchins gave up the parish and handed it over to the Diocese to be run by secular clergy.
A new and very high-quality set of sanctuary furnishings was provided in 2010.
The church was made titular in 2015, the first cardinal priest being John Atcherley Dew.
Layout and fabric Edit
The church, designed by Clemente Busiri Vici, was completed in 1934 in a modernist interpretation of the neo-Romanesque style. It is a large edifice, on a basilical plan. First there is an entrance narthex, then a central nave with aisles, then a transept and finally a rectangular sanctuary.
The external walls are clad in brown brick throughout, although the structural elements are in concrete. There are separate flat roofs on the entrance bay, the nave, the ends of the aisles, the transept and the sanctuary which is part of the convent block. The entrance bay has a higher elevation than the main nave, as does the transept.
The aisle roofs, except at each end, each have a double longitudinal pitch. On the right hand aisle this gable has a campanile placed at its apex, being a blank brick tower with a row of three arches on each side at the top and a flat cap. There is a side entrance into the church below this tower, and a corresponding one on the other side.
In each nave wall above the aisles are two rows of five low round-headed stained glass windows, flanking the side entrances. The entrance bay has a circular window on each side wall.
The façade is elevated above the street, and is approached by a flight of steps. It is a rather uncompromising rectangle of windowless brickwork with a projecting cornice, looking rather ancient Egyptian and with no stone used. Two narrow strips of wall at the outer corners are set back. The entrance is a large arch with a recessed frame, enclosing a transom window with stained glass and crowned by three concentric arcs of tiles laid with their edges showing. The stained glass depicts the face of Christ, and below it is an inscription in wood above the doors Pax et bonum (Peace and good). The aisle entrances, within the aisle frontages which are square add-ons to the main façade, have the same style but are smaller and lack recessed frames.
The lack of stonework, even for the inscribed lintel, was allegedly a deliberate demonstration of the ideal of Franciscan poverty.
Layout and fabric Edit
As mentioned, the interior is a modernist interpretation of the ancient Romanesque basilical layout. Nowadays the result might look very uninteresting, but this is after the mid 20th century saw the raping of the modernist architectural style by sub-civilised, ideological and aesthetically imbecile "architects". It should be remembered that this church was in a new, fresh and exciting style when it was built. Also, reinforced concrete allowed new possibilities which Busiri Vici exploited
There is a long nave, with side aisles. Then comes a transept, separated from the aisles by screen walls and with an altar at each side. Finally there is the rectangular sanctuary.
The walls and ceilings are in white, except in the transept and sanctuary where the walls are pale yellow.
One innovation which reinforced concrete allowed Busiri Vici was to dispense from the traditional Romanesque use of piers or columns and of ceiling vaulting. Here, the nave has six bays including the entrance bay but only two concrete pillars on each side. These flank the fourth bay, and between them are the side entrances. The internal aisles start at the third bay on each side, and the aisles at the fourth bay each have a flat ceiling which slopes in the direction of the sanctuary and which has a concrete beam on the same alignment. This matches the roofline outside. The same arrangement is mirrored on the other side of the pairs of pillars.
The flat roof replaces the traditional ceiling, and has longitudinal concrete beams running the entire length of the church. It is supported by six large transverse beams of reinforced concrete, each cast in one piece.
The counterfaçade has a very large dedicatory epigraph, in triumphalist classic ancient Roman style.
The life-sized plaster crucifix in the left hand aisle near the entrance was provided for the church when it opened, and its artist is unknown. It probably came from the so-called Arte Sacra atelier. The cross itself has recently been replaced after becoming infested with woodworm.
The Stations of the Cross, in bronze, are by Domenico Mastroianni and were cast betweewn 1934 and 1938. They were restored in 2003.
The stained glass windows, forty-three in total, depict various themes in Christian life. Many are by the Franciscan Fra Umberto Lovera and were created in a project finishing in 1964, while others were added in 2004. They certainly add a welcome note of colour to an otherwise rather cool interior. Beforehand, however, the windows of the church were filled with yellow glass and the intention on the part of Busiri Vici was that they would fill the church with a golden ambience. It was a pity to lose this aspect of the original design, but the stained glass is good. The parish website has a page on the windows, with a plan, which is here.
The nave ends in a large rectangular aperture in lieu of a triumphal arch, which leads into the transept and which has the epigraph Deus meus et omnia over it ("My God and my all"). The transept roof is in the same style as that of the nave.
On the transept side walls are two altars. These have altarpieces by Gustavo Solimene, St Francis the Patron of Italy 1941 and The Apparition of Our Lady at Lourdes 1940. These replaced stock statues on the same themes.
Around the Solimene paintings are ten so-called graffiti, which does not here refer to writings on walls but to monochrome drawings by Luciano Vinardi 1965 which depict events in the lives of Our Lady and St Francis. Web-page here.
The triptych painting behind the high altar is by two artists. The central panel is the Glory of St Hippolytus by Orazio Amato 1950, and depicts three figures with faces modelled on Capuchin friars resident at the convent at the time. The outer panels are by Casetti Franco of 1960, and depict the Eucharistic Miracle of St Clare and St Lawrence of Brindisi (the Capuchin doctor of the Church).
In 2010, the church was provided with a new baptismal font (web-page here), lectern (web-page here) and tabernacle (web-page here) which are a matching set. Unusually, this font is in the sanctuary (the traditional site would be near the main entrance), and this reflects recent thought in the Catholic church linking the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist in the liturgy more clearly. These are very high quality items, and rate as good modern sculpture -the best things in the church. The materials used are red marble and grey marble for the font, and the same red marble with what looks like fine limestone for the other two pieces. The tabernacle is in the shape of a mandorla, and has a gilt bronze door.
The church is open:
Weekdays 7:30 to 12:00, 16:00 to 20:00.
Sundays 7:30 to 13:00, 17:00 to 20:00.
It is a short distance south of the Bologna metro station.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 8:00, 9:00, 18:30 (19:00 on Saturdays and the eves of Solemnities).
Sundays 8:00, 9:00, 10:30, 12:00, 19:00.
Chapel of St Joseph the WorkerEdit
The parish includes the Tiburtina train station, just to the south-east, and maintain a dependent chapel there: San Giuseppe Lavatore della Stazione Tiburtina. There are two interesting things about this. Firstly, it is one of the very few (if not the only) of the dependent parochial chapels of Rome with its own website. Secondly, the Diocese does not seem to know that it exists.