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Santa Maria del Soccorso e San Filippo Neri a Castelporziano

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Santa Maria del Soccorso e San Filippo Neri a Castelporziano is a basically 19th century parish church incorporating earlier fabric, listed as being at Via Pontina 690. This is the address of the Tenuta Presidenziale di Castelporziano, a large forest and nature reserve on the coast south of the city.

The actual Borgo or settlement is some distance to the south-west of this address, in the middle of a forest, and both parish and the zone of Castel Porziano are wholly rural.

The joint dedication is to the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, and St Philip Neri.

History Edit

Early days Edit

Anciently, the locality was occupied by several country villas with a service settlement called Vicus Augustanus (an excavated mosaic from this now features in one of the Borgo gardens). The Borgo itself has an ancient origin, and apparently there is ancient fabric in the present edifice.

The name is thought to derive from the gens Procilia, which was active in Republican times. This depends on an old reference to the fundus Procilianus -however, there is the possibility that a scribe was guessing at the meaning of a vernacular name when rendering it into Latin.

The earliest documentary references allegedly describe the estate as belonging to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. This could do with checking, because the information quoted below (from the website of the Diocese) comes from the archives of the Cistercian monastery there and the sources could have been muddled.

In the Middle Ages, the Borgo was a genuine castle with an enclosing wall having fortified towers.

According to the Diocese, the original church was "probably built in the 15th century by the Cistercian abbey of SS Thomas and Sabas". This seems to be a reference to the monastery of San Saba, which was briefly Cistercian after 1503 and which had the estate in its patrimony. In 1561 the ownership devolved to the Apostolic Camera, which sold it off.

Noble seat Edit

In 1568, the Nero family of Florence were in possession, and it was they who had the church re-dedicated to St Philip Neri because of the coincidence of surnames. The church then was a curacy of the diocese of Ostia, based at the cathedral of Sant'Aurea a Ostia Antica

In 1823, the estate was purchased by Vincenzo Grazioli. He had been born in Valtellina in 1770 when that was still part of Switzerland, but prospered in Rome and the purchase of the estate allowed him to become one of the Roman nobility. This was confirmed in 1836.

To bring the Borgo up to standard, he oversaw an extensive renovation which included the rebuilding of the church (it seems unclear how much earlier fabric was preserved in this). A tablet on the façade records this.

Vincenzo died in 1857, and his heirs sold the estate to the Italian Crown in 1872 as a country palace and hunting forest for King Victor Emmanuel II. It performed these functions until 1946, and thus was protected from the suburban and industrial development which was surrounding it by then.

In 1888, further renovations are mentioned which involved the demolition of an oratory next to the church, a campanile (there is one still here, so presumably it was rebuilt) and the emptying of the graveyard. The remains were re-interred at the old church of Santa Maria Assunta e San Michele a Castel Romano (now itself deconsecrated -have they been moved again?).

Parish Edit

The property passed to the President of Italy after the abolition of the monarchy in 1946, hence the title of “Presidential Residence”.

Somebody at the Vicariate seems to have been persuaded that the estate was about to be sold off for development, because in 1948 the very odd decision was taken to annex the curacy to the Diocese of Rome and to raise it to the status of a full parish. The first incumbents were Friars Minor Capuchin, but they gave up after two years and handed over to the new Society of St Paul.

No suburban development ever took place, and in fact the forested estate is recognised as an internationally important wildlife sanctuary. The parish is now in the care of one of the diocesan clergy, but its worshipping population is tiny and its future must be in doubt.

Exterior Edit

Layout and fabric Edit

La Residenza is an enormous complex of buildings filling the original trapezoidal enclosure of the castle walls. Heavily restored mediaeval towers occupy three of the corners. Inside, there are three courtyards and ranges occupying the entire plan of the former castle walls.

The little church is part of the range of buildings on the south side of the west court, occupying the entire depth of the wing of which it is part. The façade faces north into the courtyard, while a small external apse projects from the outer frontage of the wing.

This apse looks as if it might have the foundations of a mediaeval castle wall tower. It is flanked by a pair of round windows, high up in the wall. The church is over a crypt, and the horizontal seam in the apse wall marks the actual floor level.

The plan of the church is transversely rectangular, and amounts to a two-bay central nave with side aisles. The first bay has a longitudinal gable pitched and tiled roof, and the second bay has a single-pitched roof sloping back down to the apse. The latter has its own little tiled pitch.

There is a campanile adjacent to the near right hand corner of the second bay. This is a plain square tower faced in white limestone, with two storeys. The second storey is the bell-chamber, and has a round-headed sound-hole on each face and a tiled low pyramidal cap with overhanging eaves. Each sound-hole has a plain U-shaped frame, and is within a slightly recessed square panel rendered in orange.

Façade Edit

The 19th century façade is in white limestone, and has three vertical zones. The central zone has four simple Doric pilasters supporting a very deep entablature and a triangular pediment with modillions (little brackets). There is a sculpted heraldic shield in the tympanum of the pediment. On the entablature is a large tablet which reads:

D[eo] o[ptimo] m[aximo], in honor[em] Mariae virginis et Philippi Neri, vinc[lam?] Gratiolus dynasta Castri Portuensi aedem vetustate labent[em] restituit. ("To God the best and greatest, in honour of Mary the virgin and Philip Neri, the Grazioli dynasty of Castelporziano restored this temple as sound, which was falling down with age").

The inscription looks as if it has been re-painted over something else.

A pair of thin engaged Doric piers is fitted within the inner pair of façade pilasters, and these support a semi-circular molded archivolt which almost touches the epigraph tablet. This contains a large lunette window in a recessed frame. The capitals of the piers are extended across the central zone as a molded string course, passing behind the pilasters.

The single entrance has a simple doorcase, above which is a cornice fragment on two reversed strap corbels.

The side zones each have a large round-headed window, completely undecorated. The outer corner on each side of the façade is marked by a stack of long rectangular rusticated blocks, and the architrave and frieze of the deep crowning entablature are posted out slightly over this.

Interior Edit

The interior is laid out in six compartments, three across and two deep. The sanctuary occupies the middle far compartment. The ceiling comprises six cross-vaults without ribs, separated by arches springing from Doric piers engaged in the walls and from two central piers which have the plan of a cross.

The church contains items of ancient stonework, apparently taken from the nearby Tor Palemo archaeological site.

The walls are in a pale pink, and the vault and pier capitals are in white. The central main piers are also in white. Two round windows flank the apse, which has a triumphal arch with a gently curved archivolt. The right hand window has a round-headed niche below it containing a marble statue of Charity.

To the right is the baptistry, which has a cylindrical tub-font in marble and a rather naïvely realistic painting of The Baptism of Christ.

The vault arch in front of the sanctuary has its archivolt decoratively molded, and springs from a pair of ancient grey granite columns placed within the main vault piers. These have been provided with Ionic capitals.

The mensa of the altar is set on a large ancient marble Corinthian capital. Behind, the sanctuary apse is undecorated except for a smallish wall crucifix. The apse contains the seating of the ministers, and to the left also a free-standing small ancient column in cipollino marble.

Liturgy Edit

Mass is celebrated on Sundays and Solemnities at 9:30 in winter, and 9:00 in summer.

There is no information available as regards weekday liturgies (if any take place).

External links Edit

Official diocesan web-page

Italian Wikipedia page

Info.roma web-page

"Presidenza della Repubblica" web-page

"Viaggi con ricordi" blog page

"Pieroeffenews" blog page

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