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Santa Maria Immacolata di Lourdes a Boccea is a mid 20th century parish and titular church at Via Santa Bernadette 23 in the Aurelio quarter, near the Cornelia metro station. Pictures of the church on Wikimedia Commons are here.
The church was originally founded for a school and large convent owned by a French congregation -L'Institut de l'Immaculée Conception de Notre-Dame de Lourdes. This is the Suore dell'Immacolata Concezione di Lourdes in Italian -"Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Lourdes".
This congregation had its origins at the 16th century shrine of Our Lady of Garaison in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées, France. One of the priests there, Jean-Louis Peydessus, teamed up with a lady from a pious bourgeois family called Eugénie Ducombs (the future Mother Mary of Jesus Crucified) to found an active sisterhood devoted to works of social charity and prayer for the souls in Purgatory.
Eugénie and two disciples made their first vows at Garaison in 1863, but moved their headquarters to Lourdes in 1870. She changed the name of her congregation to match that of the basilica under construction there at the time.
The congregation quickly spread, and was international in scope by the First World War.
The sisters established a community in Rome in 1897, and in 1911 purchased a farm located at the junction between the Via di Boccea and a narrow country lane called Via della Pineta Sacchetti. Despite being only four kilometres from St Peter's, the neighbourhood was entirely rural. The sisters opened a convent school here, which gained a good reputation (as a result, the sisters became well-known in the city as the Suore Francesi).
The neighbourhood kept a rural feel well into the 1950's.
In 1950, the congregation obtained Immacolata Concezione di Nostra Signora di Lourdes a Via Sistina as a Generalate.
The church was designed by Dominico Placidi and Luciano Folli, and opened in 1958. This was part of a massive and optimistic rebuilding project, which saw a large new convent to the north of the church and a separate school complex in the south-west corner of the site.
The parish was only set up twenty years later, in 1978, and was given into the administration of the Congregation of the Giuseppini d’Asti.
When the parish was founded, there was a choice of two already existing churches for its centre and the one here was chosen in preference to San Leone a Boccea. This was apparently because it is the bigger building. However, San Leone remains as a subsidiary church of the parish and has a very active liturgical life.
The church was made titular in 1985, and the present cardinal priest is Nicholas Cheong Jin-suk.
Like many other active women's congregations of religious, the Sisters here have suffered a collapse of vocations in Europe and are relying on vocations from the Third World to continue in existence. Their Diocesan web-page here reveal only seven sisters in Rome in 2015, not all of whom are based here.
The convent has a separate address, Via Domenico Tardini 40, which is a garden gate giving access to a private drive to the complex. It is the headquarters of the Italian province, but is also now a hotel.
The school is in the same street, at number 26. It is a now a flourishing private school, the Scuola Nostra Signora di Lourdes, with a website here. However, the sisters seem to have no part in its administration any more.
The church's future seems to be in some doubt. It and San Leone a Boccea are only four city blocks apart. So, rumours are circulating that the latter could become the parish church -and that the original church with the convent could be demolished and redeveloped. However, the church is probably safe unless the structure fails -as could happen with a Fifties building.
It is not a good sign that the parish website has lapsed.
Layout and fabric Edit
The plan is unusual, being an irregular decagon. The wall behind the altar is parallel to the entrance façade, but the side walls running back from the latter initially converge. About halfway along the church they diverge, then turn inwards parallel to the façade for a very short distance before diverging again to join the back wall. A glance at Google Earth will help to make this clear. The fabric is in reinforced concrete, with some of the cladding being in thin red bricks imitating ancient ones (the ancient Romans could not run brick-kilns hot enough to fire thicker bricks properly).
The otherwise flat roof is dominated by a large modernist dome on the plan of an irregular hexagon stretched along the major axis. The lead roof of this is pitched to gables at the front and back, also to the two side angles.
The nave side walls are clad in travertine limestone panels, and each has a row of three tall single-light windows with triangular tops. The top of each window is clasped by a projecting concrete cornice in the shape of four sides of a pentagon, and this is a design feature of the church.
There is an interesting brick tower campanile attached to the left hand side of the main body of the church, at the obtuse angle of that side. It has an unusual trapezoidal plan. The walls of the tower are blank brick, except for a single window on the angled sides of the trapezoid in the same style as the nave ones. At the top, the bellchamber is a concrete kiosk with a slightly pitched top, the pitches sloping to the parallel sides of the plan. These sides are supported by slabs, while the angled sides have two little concrete piers each making three sound-holes. Strikingly, the piers and vertical slabs are attached to the outside edges of the top of the tower giving the impression that the bellchamber is clamped on.
The street of the address is an ugly canyon in between apartment blocks, but the church is at the end of a long drive between two of these and so provides an impressive vista.
The façade has three vertical zones. The central one is in travertine limestone slabs, and the two flanking ones are in brick. The former projects slightly, and has two attached blind rectangular piers at the corners which are clad in the same way. The single entrance is approached by a flight of steps, and has a very shallow porch supported by piers of rough-cut travertine blocks with the inner edges chamfered. The porch canopy itself is in concrete, with a low pentagonal outline. Above it, there is a vertically stretched octagonal window with a strongly projecting molded frame and fenestration in the form of a star. The side zones of the frontage are in completely blank brick, with horizontal rooflines and lower than the central zone. The latter rises to a shallow gable, on which sits a projecting wing-shaped concrete form coming to an angle over the entrance and sloping back at the sides. It does not touch the brick side zones, but is supported by four concrete piers on each side which attach themselves to the outer edges of the tops of the zone walls in the same way as the bellchamber at the top of the campanile.
The nave has side-aisles, with four square columns on either side clad in a marble which is dark red with dark green inclusions. The cladding is continued as pilaster strips up the nave side walls to the domed ceiling.
The rest of the interior fabric is in white, with eight good stained glass windows of saints: St Teresa of Lisieux, Pope St Pius X, King St Louis IX of France, SS Margaret-Mary Alacoque, Ignatius of Loyola, Aloysius Gonzaga, Joan of Arc and Michael the Archangel. The influence of the French sisters in the choice is obvious.
The floor is in red granite.
There is a little square sanctuary apse, flanked by a pair of engaged pilasters in the same style as the nave piers. This has a mosaic in semi-naturalistic style of Our Lady appearing to St Bernadette in the cave at Lourdes. The altar pro populo provided in the 1970's is fronted by a bronze relief showing Christ with Mary and Martha. The apse side walls are clad in yellow marble.
The little angled side extrusions in the church's plan are occupied by two side chapels immediately flanking the apse, which have two other mosaics depicting the Resurrected Christ and St Francis. These are angled slightly inwards, and provide an impressive show with the central mosaic. They were executed in the Vatican workshops.
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 8:00, 12:00 18:00;
Sundays and Solemnities 8:00, 9:00 (not summer), 10:00, 11:00 (not summer), 12:00, 18:00.
(The parish website is defunct.)