Santa Francesca Cabrini is a mid 20th century parish church at Piazza Massa Carrara 15 in the Nomentano quarter, north-east of the Bologna metro station. A picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons is here.
The patron saint, Francesca Cabrini, was from near Lodi in Lombardy, and founded the "Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart" at Codogno in 1874. From 1889 to her death in Chicago in 1917 she was resident in the USA, becoming an American citizen and founding sixty-seven institutions of her congregation in North and South America.
The parish was set up in 1949, and entrusted to the Society of Mary or Marists. The permanent church was designed by the partnership of Enrico Lenti and Mario Muratori, to an unusual Modernist design based on a neo-Romanesque basilica, and was completed in 1958.
Layout and fabric Edit
The plan of the edifice is rectangular, comprising a single nave with a large semi-circular apse attached (this is evident from the exterior, but the interior is a surprise). Each nave side wall has a large polygonal external chapel with five sides, the central one being much wider than the others.
The structure comprises a reinforced concrete frame, with infill in pink brick. The nave exterior walls are in blank brickwork of high quality, each incorporating fourteen structural concrete pilasters regularly spaced. At the roofline between each pair of pilasters is a dormer window with a trapezoidal roofline, and there are thirteen of these on each side. The pilasters end in horizontal outward projections between these, which are water-spouts. The apse is in the same style, but the dormer windows are lower and the water-spouts shorter. There are ten wall-panels here, with windows at the top.
The roofs are pitched shallowly, and are in a blackish composition. The apse one is lower than that of the central nave.
To the left of the façade is the tall and spectacular free-standing tower campanile, on a square plan but with the corners cut away to form a cross. The faces are in pink brick, and the cut-away corners in concrete. The tall bellchamber is entirely in concrete, with a grille of vertical rectangular soundholes arranged in an overall rectangle occupying each face. The cap is very steep, and the roof pitches from the cross plan of the tower meet at a point.
The façade of the church is actually wider than the nave behind, and is joined to it by diagonal walls flanking the entrance bay. At the top are two nested gables, the spaces between them being filled by enormous tapering beams forming a V. The outer zones of the façade below the lower ends of these beams are in blank brickwork
Two tall concrete slab-piers at the inner edges of the brickwork hold up the concrete lower gable, which has a horizontal beam forming a false pediment. A thicker horizontal concrete beam crosses the frontage between these about a third of the way up, and this bears the saint's name. Below it are three entrances, the central one slightly wider than the outer two. There are double concrete pillars between the entrances, and also between the outer entrances and the support slab-piers mentioned above. Above each entrance is a trapezoidal pediment.
Above the inscription beam the rest of the façade, including the gable, is filled by an enormous stained glass window in four sections, three rectangular ones and a triangular one in the gable giving the impression of a pediment. The outer two rectangular sections have concrete mullions in a rectangular grid, but the central one has a large device in the shape of a pair of compasses superimposed in the pattern of mullions.
The interior is a surprise. Instead of being an enormous box with a semi-circular apse attached, the church has a separate screen wall down each side of the nave which stands in front of the structural wall. These two walls are in brick, and contain fretwork openings. They are supported by a long floating concrete beam, which is supported behind by massive slab-piers which divide the space under the screen walls into various worshipping zones. Some of these are occupied by confessionals, others by little chapels and others by devotional shrines. The screen walls do not reach the ceiling, so that the natural light from the dormer windows diffuses into the interior.
The ceiling is in white concrete
The stained glass window in the counterfaçade dominates the interior. The theme is the series of apparitions at Lourdes. The artist was Augusto Ranocchi.
The two large external side chapels are entered through three-sided polygonal portals supported by double slab piers.
Instead of being semi-cylindrical, the internal apse is a floating trapezoidal volume with a slightly gabled ceiling, inwardly sloping walls and both walls and ceiling drawing in towards the back. This feature is in white, but the back wall has a large mosaic in Byzantine style depicting The Assumption. Below, in the gap between this floating trapezoid and the floor you can see the external wall of the apse with its support piers.
The sanctuary furniture (altar, ambo and font) are in pink marble.
Mass is celebrated;
Weekdays 7:30, 9:00, 18:00 (19:00 in summer);
Sundays and Solemnities 8:00, 9:00, 10:30, 12:00, 18:00 (19:00 in summer).