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Santa Francesca Romana all’Ardeatino is a 20th century Fascist-era parish church at Via Luigi Capucci 15 in the Ardeantino quarter, east of the Via Cristoforo Colombo which runs down the east side of Garbatella. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The dedication is to St Frances of Rome.
The mother parish of this church is San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, and for the first part of its existence was actually dependent on San Sebastiano as a curacy. This was set up in 1936, and entrusted to the Franciscan Friars Minor.
Construction of the church was begun immediately, to a design by Giuseppe Zander, and was finished in 1938. The style is derived from the traditional neo-Romanesque basilical plan, but was very advanced architecturally for the time.
The full parish was only set up in 1959, and is now in the care of diocesan clergy.
Layout and fabric Edit
The plan is basilical, with a central nave and aisles having four main bays. In front of this is an aisle-less entrance bay, separated from the main nave bays by a very shallow sub-bay. At the far end of the main nave is a transept just slightly wider than the nave and aisles, and then comes a longitudinal rectangular sanctuary flanked by a pair of external chapels opening from the transept.
Unusually, the aisles are the same height as the side rooflines of the central nave, and the pitched and tiled main roof covers the entrance bays, the central nave, the aisles and the transept all together. The sanctuary has a lower roof in the same style.
The church stands on a crypt, which is partly underground.
The fabric consists of a reinforced concrete frame with infill walls in red brick, although the façade and entrance bay with its sub-bay are in smooth limestone ashlar. The nave bays are distinguished by three vertical concrete piers, which begin at ground level and run through the crypt side walls. The latter are separated from the main side walls by a horizontal concrete floor support beam. Each bay wall is divided into five horizontal rectangular panels by concrete beams, and a large but thin vertical rectangular window cuts through the top three panels. Horizontal window slits are below the roofline in between the piers.
The transept has a completely blank brick wall at each end. Its far wall, enclosing the near end of the sanctuary, has a pair of vertical rectangular windows flanking the sanctuary and a small round one above it.
The sanctuary has a window strip under each side roofline. Its back wall is windowless, but is decorated by two vertical concrete piers and five horizontal beams (one of these in the crypt wall). The grid pattern thus created is enlivened by the insertion of a cross into the central top panel.
The former friary is a single wing attaching to the right hand end of the transept.
The façade is in travertine limestone with the aisle frontages set back, and has a large single entrance portal with a round-arched head. The door-case is formed of two inward steps running round the arch, and in the tympanum of this is a stained glass window. Between this and the actual doorway is a mosaic depicting St Frances.
Above the portal is a geometric group of fifteen porthole windows. There is a large central one, with seven medium-sized ones surrounding it in a heptagon and another seven small ones surrounding those in an inverted heptagon, giving the overall layout of a star.
The rest of the façade is blank ashlar stonework, smooth and undecorated.
The travertine stone detached tower campanile is just to the right of the façade. It is on a square plan with slightly chamfered corners, a a high plinth and six storeys after that separated by string courses in relief. The bellchamber is gabled, with a large sound-hole in each face in the form of an irregular pentagon with vertical sides.
The interior is a surprise. Looking at the outside, you would expect a simple open void but instead the architect has introduced structural side aisles within the main edifice.
The nave bays, including the sub-bay at the entrance and the transept, are distinguished by a pairs of massive transverse rectangular reinforced concrete piers. These support a pair of longitudinal beams, which in turn support the concrete panel roof which covers both nave and transept. The piers also support a skeleton cross-vault which does not touch the roof, which springs from V-springers on the piers except for the first and last pair of piers which have transverse arches which frame the vault.
These support piers also each have two thick horizontal beams buttressing the side walls. Also, the lower part of each pier is extended sideways to create a solid slab. This supports one end of a barrel vault supporting a gallery with a solid balustrade, and thus is created a row of side chapels or devotional spaces in each side aisle.
The piers, beams and vault ribs are in light grey, the galleries are in white and the walls are done out so as to resemble a purplish stone.
The entrance sub-bay has no galleries, but instead a pair of staircases accessing the galleries. The entrance bay is occupied by a further gallery, on two levels.
The windows in the counterfaçade and transept have stained glass.
Side chapels Edit
The baptistery by the entrance has an interesting and unusual font in white marble, with a wide hexagonal plinth bearing a shallow hexagonal basin. The plinth is decorated with horizontal zig-zag inlays in green marble.
The left hand transept chapel has a wooden relief carving of St Frances with her guardian angel, and the right hand one has an icon of the Madonna and Child in a rather poor glory. The chapel walls are in a yellow ochre colour
The rectangular sanctuary apse is barrel-vaulted, with the walls again in yellow. There is a white stripe down the back wall edged in grey, and this contains a large hanging crucifix. Below this is a slightly curved back-screen in pink marble panels surrounded in dark grey and white, which frames the tabernacle. The altar is raised very high, on six steps three of which are in green stone and the upper three in a purplish one.
According to the parish website, the church is open daily from 7:30 to 12:00 and 16:30 to 19:30.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 8:30, 18:30;
Sundays and Solemnities 8:30, 10:00, 11:30 (not summer), 18:30.