Santa Maria Madre del Redentore a Tor Bella Monaca is a late 20th century parish and titular church at Via Duilio Cambellotti 18, in the suburb of Tor Bella Monaca north of the Via Casilina and east of the Circonvallazione Orientale. The suburb has a very strange name -"Tower of the Beautiful Nun"- and is in the Torre Angela zone. A picture of the church on Wikimedia Commons is here.
The dedication is the the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of "Mother of the Redeemer" (Redemptoris Mater).
The suburb might have a pretty name, but has a bad reputation among native Romans for poverty, squalor and a flourishing drug culture. In response to this, the Diocese made a special effort to provide a quality building. The complex includes social facilities, as is usual with modern church projects in Rome nowadays.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the work proved defective and the parish was looking for money in 2018 to pay for necessary remedial work to keep rainwater out of the Centro Giovanile.
The church was made titular in 1988, and the present cardinal priest is Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun.
Layout and fabric Edit
The striking design by Spadolini is on a square plan, with the major axis on the diagonal. The square encloses two concentric zones, with the actual church in the middle and the sacristies, ancillary accommodation and ferial chapel in the outer zone which completely encloses the church itself. This ancillary zone also includes two side aisles or recesses opening into the church (see the notes on the interior layout, below).
The complex stands on a patio, and has one major entrance in the lower corner on the major axis.
The material used is reinforced concrete, with quite a high level of aggregate which is visible in the surfaces.
Ancillary zone Edit
The outer curtain walls of the ancillary zone are relatively low, and have vertical zig-zag corrugations giving the impression that each wall is made up of conjoined piers (which is not actually the case, as the wall foundations are on a zig-zag plan). The shuttering for the concrete included a grid pattern, which is left on the surfaces. The corners of the square are slightly chamfered, and the two side ones are occupied by solid piers. However, the far corner behind the sanctuary of the church has a gateway into a little enclosed garden located there.
The upper right hand and left hand walls have strip windows along the near length of each, the windows facing in the same angled direction in each set. There are fifteen in the right hand set and twelve in the left hand set.
The roof of the outer zone is flat, with barge-board eaves in copper (some idiot recently had the green verdigris cleaned off to reveal the red metal).
Church walls Edit
The exterior of the church itself rises from the flat roof of girdling ancillary zone. Its walls are manufactured in the same style as the outer zone walls, that is zig-zag in reinforce concrete. However, the design is spectacular. The near side walls rise to form a shallow concave arc, with the top of each V angle of the zig-zag horizontal to give a stepped effect. The far side walls rise in identical steep curves, ending in two tall parallel slabs with a wide gap between them at the far corner. This gap is bridged by three horizontal metal strut beams, and a rectangular void is cut out of the second to last corrugation towards its top to give a cross effect to this gap when viewed from outside the entrance.
It looks as if this tall tower effect was also meant to include bells, since the church has no campanile. There are none there, though.
Church roof Edit
The roof is in metal sheeting, and is set below the parapets of the walls. For the near two sides the curve of the roof follows that of the walls, but for the far two sides it is much gentler and this helps with the impression of the far walls forming a "staircase to heaven". A wide glass skylight strip occupies the major axis.
The flat roof of the outer zone follows the plan of the square of this zone, including the chamfered corner. However, at the entrance the wall on each side runs back for a short distance at a right angle to leave the roof as an entrance canopy over an external patio. At the far ends of these two short return sections of wall are two identical entrances into the church's side aisles. The main entrance to the church is in between these, flanked by two solid rectangular piers set with the short ends facing outwards and with the ends of the church walls visible on each side.
Above the canopy, two tie rods on each side attach it to a pair of piers which occupy the ends of the church walls and correspond to the entrance piers. These flank a window which is the near end of the skylight strip.
Layout and fabric Edit
The interior of the church is surprisingly small. The days when the majority of the inhabitants of the territory of a parish could be expected to attend Mass regularly are long over, and the Diocese has quietly abandoned its policy of building suburban parish churches able to hold large congregations.
On entering, you find yourself in a corner of the central nave space. The far corner is occupied by a sanctuary accessed by a flight of steps, but the altar is in front of these steps. The seating is variously arranged to face the altar, with pews along the major axis, transverse to it and also on the diagonals.
The near left and right hand sides are occupied by side aisles which are large recesses accessed by long rectangular apertures. Each is interrupted by a large concrete pier towards the far end.
The walls are exactly the same as on the outside, which gives a very impressive effect. The zig-zag pattern is continued all around the interior, including over the aisles just mentioned. As on the outside, the surfaces of the walls are marked by a grid pattern left by the shuttering.
The roof is supported by curved wooden rafters. The rafters reach the walls, but in between the tops of the walls and the roof are thin skylight strips. A much wider skylight strip runs along the diagonal of the major axis. The aisle roof are flat concrete, but each also has a skylight strip along its near edge. There is a wide window strip in the wall above the main entrance, and another at the far corner behind the altar.
The entrance doors are formed from square metal grids into which glass panels are inserted.
The interior might have a grim effect if it wasn't for the set of furnishings, which are integrally designed as a coherent set.
This is made up of the altar, font, lectern, candlesticks, pews, tabernacle and crucifix which are modern wood sculptures of the highest quality by Mario Ceroli. The wood is laminated and clear-varnished pine, steam-bent into curves.
The first object of this set to note is the holy-water stoup which is just to the right of the main entrance when you come in. This is a hemispherical bowl made up of strips of wood, standing on two columns. These columns are assembled from stacked wooden tiles; one is round, and the other one has a spiral form.
The pews are also assembled from strips of wood, with contrasting light and dark pieces deliberately selected. The colour of the wood contrasts with the grey tiling of the floor.
In the near end of the right hand aisle are two confessional screens with figurative scenes made by stacking fretted sheets of wood. One shows The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden, the other Christ with the Samaritan Woman at the Well.
The altar is a bowl-shaped wooden construction on a matching pedestal, again made of laminated strips. It is accompanied by four wooden candlesticks which are spiral in form, the spiralling different for each.
The lectern is to the left of the altar, and the font to the right. The former incorporates more spiral columns. The font is a wooden bowl over which was suspended a globe in black and white marble emitting a continual fountain of water.
The interior is dominated by the enormous crucifix (15 metres tall), which is behind the altar. It rises from a curved wooden screen incorporating the seating of the ministers of the sanctuary, and is in the form of the Tree of Life. The crucifix is accompanied by Our Lady and St John the Baptist, and the faces of these statues are of Bl Teresa of Calcutta and Pope St John Paul II.
The tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament is over to the right, and has a free-standing hexagonal kiosk with six large spiral stack-columns supporting a flat top over a cavity frieze on each side containing wooden sculptures of sheep. The actual tabernacle is an oblate sphere in pale green glass with horizontal striations, and is accompanied by angels and men accompanying Christ holding loaves. The figures are again made from fretted sheets of wood.
An addition to the furnishings contracted for was provided by the sculptor, who donated a shrine for Our Lady, Mother of the Redeemer as a memorial of his young daughter who died tragically. It is in the far corner of the left hand aisle, and differs from the other sculptural works in having polychrome paintwork.
Ferial chapel Edit
The ferial (weekday) chapel is off the right hand aisle. It is a wooden open-fronted edifice in its own right, assembled within the space available and having a pair of cylindrical columns supporting a gently curved canopy. An arcade of three arches divides the space within in two, and the little altar is in the middle arch. Behind, a trompe-l'oeil effect is created by a back-curving panel with a perspective grid design in black on white, with wooden silhouettes of a pair of labourers.
This church is one of the modern Roman churches most worth visiting.
Mass is celebrated (parish website, July 2018):
Weekdays 8:00, 18:00, with an additional Mass at 16:00 on Saturdays in the Centro Giovanile;
Sundays and Solemnities 8:15, 9:30, 10:00 (Centro Giovanile) 11:00, 18:00.
According to the Diocese, the evening Masses may be at 19:00 in summer and there has been Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament from 18:30 to 21:00 on Thursdays.
Suore Missionarie della Carità Edit
The Missionaries of Charity came to the suburb in 1987, and now have a much-appreciated convent and social help centre called the Casa Regina della Pace at Via Archeologia 141 (the Diocese has this as Via de Tor Angela Vecchia, which doesn't exist as an address any more).
The parish is celebrating a public Mass at the convent at 16:00 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The convent complex is a nest of prefabs, in raw grey concrete slabs.