Santa Maria Ausiliatrice is a 20th century Fascist-era minor basilica, a parish, convent and titular church. It is located at Piazza di Santa Maria Ausiliatrce 54, on the Via Tuscolana in the Tuscolano quarter. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. There is an English Wikipedia article here.
Name EditThe dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary, in her rôle as Auxilatrix or Help of Christians.
The cardinalate title is Santa Maria Ausiliatrice in Via Tuscolana, but the church and parish are referred to merely as Santa Maria Ausiliatrice. There is hence a risk of confusion with other churches of the same name -see the disambiguation here.
The veneration of Our Lady as Help of Christians dates from the time of Pope Pius V, who used this title in interceding for her assistance against the expansionist policy of the Ottoman Empire. He regarded the naval victory of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 as being the result of her spiritual assistance in preventing a Muslim invasion of Italy. The actual title was invented at Venice, which provided most of the Christian ships at the battle.
St John Bosco, throughout his career at Turin, had a great devotion to Our Lady under this name, and so passed on this veneration to the Salesian Order that he founded. So, when this parish church was founded by Pope Pius XI in 1932 and granted to the Salesians, it was given this dedication at their request.
The church was part of a larger project, including a convent and a large school for boys -the Istituto Pio XI. The architectural partnership of Nicola Mosso and Giulio Vallotti designed the edifice (rather indifferently in places, it may be said), and it was completed in 1936. The latter was a Salesian from Turin.
From 1957 until 1965, the interior of the church was entirely frescoed by Don Giuesppe Melle, a Salesian. The result is superb.
The church was made a titular diaconate in 1967, with Francesco Cardinal Carpino as the first cardinal deacon (1967-1978). Tarsicio Bertone inherited the title in 2003, and in 2010 was succeeded by Paolo Sardi.
Layout and fabric Edit
The church is one of the great modern domed churches of Rome (a bit further down the Via Tuscolana is another one owned by the Salesians, San Giovanni Bosco).
It has the plan of a Latin cross. The central nave with structural side aisles has three main bays beyond a short entrance bay, and a further fifth short bay at the end. Then comes a transept, which is wider than the nave with its aisles. There is a low dome over the crossing. There follows a deep sanctuary, and finally a semi-circular apse as high as the sanctuary. Flanking the sanctuary is a pair of side chapels, with second-storey chambers above them. These are joined by an enclosed corridor running round the apse just below its roofline.
The church has a convent and school (the Istituto Pio XI) attached to its right hand side. Its main frontage is on the Via Umbertide and so is at an oblique angle to the church leading to an odd-shaped enclosed courtyard or cloister to the right of the church. There is a second-storey wing over the right hand side aisle, and another one attached to the right hand transept end.
You can examine the church's left hand elevation from the Via Don Rua. The fabric is in pink brick, with some architectural details in travertine. The nave aisle wall is blank, with pairs of blind pilasters separating the bays which support a roofline entablature with a dentillate cornice. This entablature is actually taken round the church's entire exterior. On each of the flat nave aisle roofs are three very wide buttresses with little tiled pitches, and in between these in the central nave wall are three round-headed windows. The central nave rooflines have entablatures too, also dentillated.
The left hand transept end visible from the street has two storeys, separated by the lower entablature. Each storey has six blind pilasters, two pairs and two at the corners. The upper storey has a large round-headed window flanked by two empty round-headed niches, and is crowned by a triangular pediment.
The two-storey sanctuary aisles each have their side wall in the same style, and also a large round-headed window in the end wall of the second storey. Below this is a little apse with a metal roof.
The external apse wall is divided horizontally by the lower entablature. The first storey has eight blind pilasters, matched by another set in the second storey. The latter spring from an attic above the entablature, and are joined by a string course about three-quarters of the way up. In between the pilasters are eight round-headed windows lighting a second-storey access corridor (the internal apse has no windows).
The roofs are pitched and tiled, except for the aisles. The central nave roof has a hip at the façade. The apse has eight triangular pitches.
The dome is octagonal, with a low brick drum. This consists of an attic plinth in simple blank brick, separated from the main storey of almost the same height by a projecting brick string course. This storey has a large horizontal rectangular window in each side, with a stone lintel and flanked by a pair of blind pilasters. These support an entablature with a dentillated cornice, on which the low tiled dome sits.
The eight pitches of the dome itself meet at a point, without any lantern or decorative finial.
The façade has two storeys, and unusually the second storey is of greater height than the first. This gives the composition a top-heavy appearance. Very unfortunately, and presumably to save money, only the first storey was built in travertine limestone and the rest was rendered in stucco coloured to fit. As should have been realized, the two materials have weathered differently and now clash.
The first storey is divided into five vertical zones, the central one being almost as twice as wide as the others. The four side zones are distinguished by four engaged square piers with imposts but no capitals, supporting a horizontal entablature. Each of these four zones is occupied by a recess under the entablature, containing an arched side entrance each with an exaggerated keystone device on the archivolt. A length of molded cornice sits on this. (The outermost two entrances are now windows.)
The central zone of the first storey are occupied by a large projecting entrance propylaeum, which has two pairs of half-round derivative Composite columns (with simplified capitals) flanking an enormous round-headed doorway with a molded frame. At the apex of the door-arch is a single strap finial, and there is a vertical row of three round-headed niches between each pair of columns. The latter support an entablature with the dedication engraved on the frieze (Maria auxilium christianorum), and above this is a triangular pediment which intrudes into the second storey.
The second storey (of the same width as the first) has an attic plinth, which has four posts above the square piers of the first storey. The section over the propylaeum is also brought forward. In its centre there is a large arched window, flanked by two fully round reverse Ionic columns (the volutes on the capitals curve upwards) which support an entablature and triangular pediment. Over the window arch are two cherubs supporting a relief carving of the coat-of-arms of Pope Pius XI, facing at an angle downwards, and the tiara and crossed keys on the top of this are in the middle of the entablature. There is a pair of pilasters with the capitals in the same style flanking this very ostentatious window frame, and flanking these in turn two very large blank recessed vertical rectangular panels. The two outermost zones of this storey are simple blank walls, slightly protruding compared to the frames of the panels just mentioned.
The crowning entablature has two runs of pin balustrade over the recessed panels mentioned, but in the centre the balustrade is solid. On it stands a large statue of Our Lady.
There are two identical campanili or bell-towers on the top corners of the façade, and each has three storeys. The first one is a blank cuboid with internally square-cut corners, and this is separated from the actual bell-stage by a cornice. Each side of the bell-stage has an arched sound-hole, framed by a pair of small (correct this time) Ionic columns supporting a dentillated triangular pediment. The third storey is a little octagonal drum with cap, mimicking the main dome.
The interior layout is on a plan which is somewhere between a Latin and a Greek cross, meaning that the nave is longer than the width of the transept, but not long enough to form the usual Latin cross plan. The central nave has six bays. A short entrance bay flanked by the campanili is followed by three main bays flanked by three chapels on each side, formed by inserting blocking walls into the structural aisles. A fifth short bay also has a pair of flanking chapels, but smaller.
The transept has two more chapels in its ends, and the sanctuary is flanked by a further two. This gives the large total of twelve side chapels, which is a witness to the conventual character of the church and the expectation that there would be a fairly large community of Salesian priests in charge of it (at present there are five -2016).
The main three bays of the nave is covered by a barrel vault, with three shallow lunettes on each side which accommodate round-headed windows. This springs from an entablature that runs around the entire interior, with a projecting cornice having modillions (little corbels) and, unusually, an architrave with strap corbels. The window sills sit on the cornice. This entablature is supported in these three bays by a pair of derivative Corinthian semi-columns with outline acanthus leaves on the capitals and (charmingly) putto's heads instead of volutes.
The three chapels on each side amount to an arcade. Each chapel is barrel-vaulted with the near end of the vault as a slightly recessed archivolt having molding along its outer arc and a strap volute on its keystone that intrudes into the entablature above. The archivolt springs from a pair of partly ribbed fully round Doric columns supporting a side wall entablature which is taken round the back of the chapel to create a tympanum over the altar. There is a pair of engaged square Doric piers fitted into the far corners, and the entablature is broken on each side to make way for access portals in between the chapels (these allowed priests and servers to reach the chapels for private Masses when a liturgical event was taking place in the main body of the church).
The shorter entrance and final nave bays are each flanked by a pair of projecting kiosks. Each kiosk is flanked by a pair of tripletted (sort-of) Corinthian piers in enfillade, and contains an arched entrance to a side chapel (far bay) or to the ground floors of the campanili (entrance bay). The far pair are part of two of a set of four massive piers supporting the dome.
Apart from the fresco work, the interior is painted in pale blue with architectural details such as the semi-columns and moldings in white. The frescoes were painted 1957-1965 by the Salesian priest artist Don Giuseppe Melle, and are inspired by Baroque art. They are extremely good, the best thing about the church.
The counterfaçade is very impressive, because it is actually treated as a mirror image of one of the transept side chapels. The main entrance has an arch with a pair of fully-round columns, and this is within an aedicule with two pairs of of pilasters supporting a broken pediment. Into the break is inserted a large round-headed stained glass window with its own triangular pediment. The side entrances each have an archivolt springing from corbels, and above a recessed round-headed panel. All is in pale blue and white.
The stained glass in the window depicts the dream that St John Bosco had when he was nine years old. It shows him as a little boy with Our Lady and Christ, the latter telling him to become a priest and pastor (he is pointing to a flock of sheep in the foreground). The frescoes on either side depict events in 1814. To the right (left facing) is The Triumphant Return of Pope Pius VII to Rome. To the left is Napoleon Exiled at Elba.
The short entrance vault of the nave has a row of decorative coffers, alternately squares containing four little squares and octagons. They are frescoed in blue, yellow, red, orange and grey; the little squares contain red crosses, and the octagons have sunbursts.
The main barrel-vault of the nave has a trompe l'oeil fresco, obviously influenced by the famous ceiling of Sant'Ignazio di Loyola a Campo Marzio. The overall theme is The Triumphs of the Church over the Ottomans. The composition actually divides into several themes, with the main scenes at either end. At the far end is The Triumph of Admiral Marcantonio Colonna at Rome After the Battle of Lepanto (1571). You can see him seated in honour below the Campodoglio, with Pope St Pius V to his right (he was the pope's admiral in the battle). Also there is Don Juan of Austria, the commander of the Christian fleet. The head on a pike just round the corner to the right belonged to Ali Pasha, the Turkish commander. He lost it in the battle. Below Marcantonio is a depiction of a cleric, taken to be a self-portrait of the artist.
The centre of the vault has a depiction of the sanctuary church of Santa Maria Ausiliatrice in Turin. The angels bearing it, and blowing trumpets, also hold a ribbon with an epigraph in Italian: Il Signore esercitò la potenza col bracccio di Maria ("The Lord exercised his power with the arm of Mary").
The sides of the vault are frescoed with trompe-l'oeil colonnaded ambulatories. On top of these are two depictions of The Apostolates of the Salesians and the Daughters of Mary Auxiliatrix (the latter being the female branch of the Order). To the left is depicted the educational apostolate, overseen by St John Bosco who is accompanied by Bl Michele Rua his successor. To the right is depicted the missionary apostolate, including SS Luigi Versiglia and Callisto Caravario who were martyred in China.
The colonnades themselves are interrupted by four frescoed aedicules containing models of famous Marian shrines. To the right are those of Pompei and Lourdes, and in between these the colonnade features The Cure of Pieter De Rudder (St Bernadette features) at the altar end and Bl Bartolomeo Longo the founder of Pompei at the entrance end. To the left are the shrines of Loreto and Fátima, and in between these are shown Pope Pius XI declaring Our Lady of Loreto the patroness of aviators, and the seers of Fátima.
The eight nave side chapels are dedicated as follows, anticlockwise from the right of the entrance. They are richly decorated.
The short barrel vault over the last bay of the nave is actually one of four identical short vaults or deep arches which define the pendentives of the dome. The intradoses of these have alternate square and octagonal coffers, richly decorated with curlicues.
The pendentive frescoes show: Top right, The Annunciation. Top left, The Adoration of the Magi. Bottom right, The Dormition of Our Lady. Top right, La Carne di Christo È Carne di Maria. The last one is odd. It shows three angels with the Blessed Sacrament and a ribbon bearing this motto, and at the bottom St Augustine writing it. The original Latin is Caro Iesu caro Mariae ("The flesh of Christ is the flesh of Mary"), and is a quotation from a work entitled De Assumptione written about 1100 and falsely attributed to St Augustine. The theology behind it is that, because Christ had no earthly father, his material body was entirely derived from Our Lady.
The dome is structurally double. There is an inner dome, which is a saucer over a drum made up of two circles of small rectangular windows with sixteen windows each. The natural light from the large windows in the outer dome finds its way through the void between the inner and outer domes to shine through these inner windows, giving a rather numinous effect when the sun is not bright.
The interior of the dome depicts the Assumption, and between the two sets of windows runs an epigraph announcing the definition of the dogma by Pope Pius XII in 1950. On the deep ring cornice below the windows are depicted four important historical events concerning Our Lady: The Garden of Eden, The Council of Ephesus (in the year 431 when she was declared to be Mother of God), The Burial of Our Lady and The Empty Tomb.
The transept ends have barrel vaults. Each has three pilasters in a very simplified Corinthian style, and contains a chapel with a large aedicule having a broken triangular pediment and two pairs of similar pilasters. If you compare these aedicules with that at the main entrance, you will see that they are very similar. However, here there is a pair of round-headed niches between each pair of aedicule pilasters. Above, the end wall and vault are frescoed together in trompe-l'oeil.
To the right is the chapel of the Holy Family. The fresco shows St Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church. Also depicted are Pope St John XXIII and Blessed Pope Paul VI. To the sides are depicted the Marian sanctuaries of Santa Maria Maggiore and Oropa.
To the left is the chapel of St John Bosco, and the fresco shows his Apotheosis. The altarpiece shows him teaching schoolboys to venerate Our Lady. The Marian sanctuaries depicted are Santa Maria della Salute in Venice, and Bonaria. The latter gives its name to Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The sanctuary has a short bay under the far pendentive arch, with the side walls having a pair of little projecting balconies. Then comes a main bay, with an arched portal on each side leading into a side chapel. Above this portal is a much larger projecting balcony, the right hand one containing the church organ.
The vault of this bay is frescoed with an allegory of The Offering of the Sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ to the Father.
The conch or catino of the apse is frescoed with the Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of Heaven in the Presence of the Angels and Saints.
The apse itself has ten high-relief pilasters in red marble, and with the simplified Corinthian capitals employed elsewhere in the church. The wall in between the pilasters is revetted in a pinkish-grey marble. In the position of honour is a statue of Our Lady, Help of Christians. The pilasters support an entablature with a gilded frieze bearing the epigraph Maria auxilium christianorum, ora pro nobis.
Sanctuary chapels Edit
The two side chapels flanking the sanctuary have little apses.
The left hand chapel is dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Christ the King, and has a new mosaic of The Tree of Life as well as a collection of ex votos donated by the parishioners.
According to the Diocese, the church is open:
6:45 to 12:00 and 16:00 (17:00 in summer) to 19:30.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:00, 8:00, 9:00, 18:30;
Sundays and Solemnities 7:00, 8:30, 10:00, 11:30, 18:30, 20:00.
There is Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 16:35 to 17:35 on Wednesdays and Fridays.
The feast of St John Bosco is celebrated as a Solemnity on 31 January, and that of Our Lady Help of Christians on 24 May.