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Santa Chiara a Villa York

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Santa Chiara a Villa York is a deconsecrated 17th century church in the grounds of the Villa York, in the Gianicolense suburban district.

The dedication was to St Clare, apparently.

Location Edit

This one is not at all easy to find, being in an entirely rural location.

On the Via di Bravetta, just north of the entrance to the Parco dei Martiri di Forte Bravetta, is a private farm driveway signposted as the Via di Forte Bravetta. The city has an odd policy of naming country driveways as if they were urban streets, so another sign saying Vietato L'Accesso, Proprietà Privata will warn you of the reality of the situation. (The prohibition is apparently aimed at vehicles).

Go down this track, and another one will branch off to the right. This is the Vicolo di Forte Bravetta, but is not a vicolo at all but a dead-end driveway ending in a farm. The church is on the right down this.

WARNING: THE PROPERTY HAS BEEN THE SUBJECT OF LEGAL DISPUTE FOR YEARS, AND APPARENTLY VISITORS HAVE BEEN HARASSED BY "SECURITY PERSONNEL" (2015).

History Edit

Mediaeval edifice Edit

The writer has not been able to verify some of the historical information posted online about this church.

The Villa York estate used to be known as the Casal di Marcello, and apparently has its first historical reference in 978 when it belonged to the Benedictine abbey of San Cosimato in Trastevere. In the 12th century there was a church here dedicated to St Agatha, but it is now probably impossible to prove that it was on the site of the present building.

A casale was a fortified farmstead, and it is very unlikely that a church or chapel belonging to one would have stood apart from the main complex in the Middle Ages. The problem here is that Santa Chiara is some distance from the Villa York, and stands at an angle both to the road and to a former driveway leading to the villa. This hints that the site of the former casale is not at the villa, but at the church. However, there seems to be no archaeological evidence either way.

The recent archaeological surveys indicates that the edifice here before 1647 was on basically the same foundations, being a little rectangular building with a shallow rectangular apse narrower than the nave. It was lower than the present structure, with the side rooflines of the gabled roof being at the level of the present string-course dividing the two-storey façade. The latter had two vertical rectangular windows flanking the single entrance. There were apparently no side entrances.

17th century rebuilding Edit

In 1647 the estate was purchased by Zenobio Baldinotti, a nobleman of Pistoia. He built a villa here, and commissioned extensive landscaping. In 1656 a small church was built as part of this, allegedly on the site of the mediaeval Sant'Agata, and dedicated to Santa Maria della Concordia. It is not clear when the dedication was changed to Santa Chiara.

The church was designed by Pietro Paolo Drei. He provided a higher edifice, with a two-storey façade and a priest's house appended on the west side. The oculus or round window in the second storey of the façade was provided then. A doorway into the priest's house was made in the side wall to the left of the altar, and a matching side entrance was created in the right wall opposite. Finally, a little tower campanile was built in the angle between the right hand side of the aisle and the right hand end wall of the nave.

Later work Edit

In 1697, there was a restoration. The oculus was surrounded by Baroque stucco decoration, the façade windows were given stone frames and metal grilles and the main entrance provided with a doorcase.

It is thought that the priest's house was demolished in 1785.

The estate was briefly in the possession of Henry Cardinal Stuart, Duke of York, from 1804 until his death in 1807. His fame led to the villa being given the name that it has now.

Disaster Edit

The estate has remained as a rural enclave to the present day. In the Fascist period it was obtained by Federconsorzi, a quasi-governmental agricultural co-operative. Unfortunately, this was criminally mismanaged and bankruptcy resulted in 1991. It is obvious that the institution had allowed the church to become derelict well before this, and the date of the last Mass seems not to be on public record. It is also unclear as to whether the church was formally deconsecrated or simply desecrated -the latter seems more likely.

The recent archaeological survey claims that the church fell from use in 1960.

After 1991, the estate and the church remained in legal limbo. The municipal government expressed its intention to expropriate the estate under eminent domain, and convert it into a public open space. A detailed survey of the church has been made as part of this project. Very unfortunately, it seems that rival private claims to the property are still functioning (2016) and, as mentioned already, visitors have been harassed by goons.

It is seriously to be hoped that this charming little building is saved and put into good repair soon.

Exterior Edit

Layout Edit

The church has been described online as a ruin, but it is actually only derelict with its roof substantially intact.

The alignment is suggestive. The major axis is at an angle to the road, and the entrance actually faces away. To the left (looking from the road) is a pair of monumental gate piers with stone ball finials, the lost gates of which used to give on to an avenue of mulberry trees leading up to the villa and towards which the church faced. This avenue is long gone.

The plan is a simple rectangle, with a shallow rectangular apse. The campanile is tucked into the angle to the right of the apse.

Fabric Edit

The fabric is in a mixture of brick and rubble, which looks as if it has been scavenged from ancient remains. The exterior used to be rendered, but most of this has fallen off. The roof is pitched and tiled.

The right hand side wall has a side entrance at its far end, but the matching entrance from the former priest's house in the left hand side wall has been blocked up.

The body of the church, as well as the apse, lacks windows.

Campanile Edit

The little tower campanile is blended into the main fabric of the church. The first storey has a little square window in the far wall. The main structure is just slightly higher than the side roofline, and ends in a cornice. On this sits the bellchamber, which has a round-headed opening in three faces with its sill being the cornice. The fourth face, looking towards the entrance, has merely two small square openings. There is an attractive onion cupola, rather Germanic, in brick with a broken finial rather like one on a Burmese stupa.

Façade Edit

The simple yet engaging façade has two storeys. The first has a single entrance with a stone doorcase, flanked by a pair of vertical rectangular stone-framed windows. (Oddly, these are the only one that the church has.) At the corners are two blind pilasters.

The storeys are separated by a cornice. The second storey has a round window, and the corner pilasters are continued up to simple imposts just below the angles of the gable. There is no pediment. The oculus is surrounded by remnants of stucco decoration, comprising an irregular pentagonal frame with a horizontal base and incurved sides. There was a heraldic device in the top angle.

Interior Edit

The simple interior has a brick barrel-vault, which has certainly helped in preserving the integrity of the structure in the past half-century of abandonment. There was a stucco cornice running round the interior, ending in Doric capitals for a pair of pilasters flanking a triumphal arch fitting into the vault.

The church had three altars. The two side altars were in very shallow round-headed niches in the side walls, before the side entrances. The main altar was in the tiny apse, which has its own vault. The panel which used to bear the altarpiece is still visible.

External links Edit

Italian Wikipedia page

Roma Natura web-page

School of Architecture project web-page

Another version of the above

Valle Dei Casali blog

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