Santa Chiara a Monteverde Nuovo is a mid 20th century private chapel (amounting to a church) of the Monasterio di Santa Chiara, located in the west of the suburb of Monteverde Nuovo (part of the Gianicolense quarter). The monastery is just south of the Villa Doria Pamphilj. The postal address is Via Vitellia 97 but the best view is from Via Ottavio Gasparri, at a point called the Piazzetta del Bel Respari.
The foundation stone for a new Poor Clare monastery was laid in 1947. The chapel was structurally complete in 1956, although only finished in 1958. The architects were Mario Paniconi and Giulio Pediconi.
The nuns made a living by providing guest accommodation for women pilgrims, a work that continued to the end of the 20th century. The community was affiliated to the Franciscan Friars Minor, who are based at Santa Maria Mediatrice dei Francescani.
However, tragically the decline in vocations then meant that the community had to give up administering the guest-house on their own in 2001. Further, restricting entry to women only became financially impossible.
As a result the guest-house is now a fully-fledged pilgrim hotel run on commercial lines, and open to men, women and children. It's been renamed as the Nuova Domus Vitellia.
The Diocese now (2016) lists only two nuns resident at the monastery, and its future must seriously be in doubt. The Franciscan brethren are also struggling with lack of vocations, so providing Mass in the chapel here cannot be an open-ended commitment to them. Further modernist structures of the Fifties, such as this one, have an alarming tendency to develop serious structural faults -if this happens here, demolition is almost certain.
Layout and fabric Edit
Despite being officially only a private chapel, the building is a full-sized church to a modernist design with vaguely neo-Romanesque influences.
The plan is an elongated octagon, with one short end abutting the monastery buildings and the other with a public entrance facing the Via Ottavio Gasparri.
The fabric is in reinforced concrete. The side walls are each formed of a row of enormous concrete panels, topped by a connecting beam above which is a continuous window strip down each side below the roofline. This window strip also runs around the back of the chapel.
The metal roof has pitches running up from each of the eight sides to a large, square central tower (the triangular pitches from the diagonal side walls form angles at the corner points of the tower). The tower itself has a pyramidal cap of the same metal roofing, with a statue of Our Lady on top.
This tower has four dark grey concrete pilasters at its corners, sloping inwards slightly. Its walls are blank except for a row of square windows under each roofline, and are formed of alternative stripes of white and variegated light grey, the latter being formed of blocks of differing hues placed horizontally.
The façade is recessed, having a central wall containing the entrance doors which occupy its entire width and which share a dark grey lintel. To left and right are two identical diagonally placed walls placed at 120 degrees to the central wall. These three walls are in buff-coloured stone, and are blank except for five incised string courses made up of vertical incisions placed together. The gabled roofline is dark grey, and there are two dark grey pilasters framing the façade. An identically proportioned beam joins them horizontally at their tops, giving the impression of a pediment.
The interior is a very interesting example of a modern nunnery church built before the Second Vatican Council, with enclosure of the nuns still considered important.
The décor is restrained, with the roof surfaces in white and the grey concrete of the side walls, piers and walls left exposed.
The structure of the chapel is focused on four massive rectangular concrete piers supporting a box-void which is the interior of the tower. Two further pairs of thinner piers stand both in front of and behind these main piers, and each of these pairs support a transverse concrete slab-beam supporting the near and far roof pitches.
Interestingly, the side pitches of the roof are cantilevered out on downward-pointing tapering beams. These are unsupported at their far ends. You can see this from the way that the window strip, which runs round the entire church below the roofline, is continuous.
This window strip contains stained glass of a basically yellow hue.
The sanctuary is under the tower void, with the altar on a square platform accessed by four steps. The interior in front of it is the public area, and behind it is the choir of the nuns. This is separated from the rest of the church by a tall metal grille in steel rodding, with attractive geometric patterns involving diapers, herringbones and curlicues.