Santi Pietro e Paolo is a 20th century Fascist-era parish and titular church at Piazzale dei Santi Pietro e Paolo 8 in the EUR (Esposizione Universale Roma) quarter. It is at the west end of the Viale Europa, the last two city blocks of which form a monumental approach reserved for pedestrians. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here.
The church is not listed by the Diocese as a minor basilica, although it is being regularly referred to as a "basilica" in publications and online.
Strangely, the name of the church affixed to the wall by the entrance also contains the title -which might explain the confusion. Was somebody being presumptuous when the fitting out was completed in the 1950's?
The cardinalate title is Santi Pietro e Paolo a Via Ostiense. This actually recalls a demolished chapel much nearer the city, which in mediaeval times was known as Cappella della Separazione dei Santi Pietro e Paolo but later became Santissimo Crocifisso alla Via Ostiense. It was venerated as the spot where the two apostles took leave of each other before their respective martyrdoms.
There is an error being perpetrated in modern publications that the present church is on the site of the chapel. This is false -it is nowhere near, and it is odd to find the mistake on the church's diocesan web-page.
The original project for a church here was part of the 1936 Fascist scheme for hosting a World Exhibition in 1942, which never took place because of the Second World War but which left a legacy of monumental buildings in a rather megalomaniac layout. This is the famous EUR. The land was obtained from the nearby monastery of Tre Fontane, and was mostly still grassland for sheep when the Fascist government began work.
The scheme included the church in order to function in the opening and closing ceremonies, but also to host exhibition material. The two briefs put on record were a mostra dell'espansione della Chiesa Cattolica ("display of the expansion of the Catholic Church") and a mostra iconografica dei Santi Pietro e Paolo ("display of the iconography of SS Peter and Paul").
There is a rumour that Mussolini had the intention of making the church his mausoleum after the Exhibition. It is monumental enough to have satisfied him (perhaps), but a contrary rumour has him wishing to be buried in the Mausoleum of Augustus.
The church was planned for a high point at the west end of the site, called Collina del Finocchio -named after the herb fennel, and nothing to do with gays. This gave it a very prominent outlook over the Tiber valley (there is a local joke that very ignorant tourists taking the train into the city from Fiumicino airport have mistaken it for St Peter's). The project was entrusted to a committee of architects: Arnaldo Foschini was in overall charge until 1941, assisted by Alfredo Energici, Vittorio Grassi, Nello Ena, Tullio Rossi and Costantino Vetriani. They chose a plan based on a Greek cross, in deliberate emulation of the original plan for the new St Peter’s by Michelangelo.
Construction began in the spring of 1938 when the deep foundations were dug out, and the actual foundation stone was laid a year later. The shell of the fabric was finished by September 1940, and the dome was erected by early 1941.
However, Italy had entered the war in June 1940. Initially Il Duce believed the assertion of Der Fuhrer that the war would be over before long, but by the start of 1941 it was clear that the Exhibition would not take place. Construction overall was stopped, leaving the church structurally finished but not fitted out. The site was maintained until the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943, but was then abandoned for three years.
Parish church Edit
One of the first decisions of the new Italian Republic when it was set up in 1946, was to rehabilitate the vast derelict Exhibition site as a high-class suburb. This was ultimately successful, but took some time. Fortunately, the Franciscan Conventuals under their Minister General Francesco Orlini, took an interest in the church and signalled their wish to obtain it in 1945. However, legal issues delayed the transfer to the property until 1952, when the Conventual Province of Padua was donated the church and surrounding land free of charge and "as found". The first friars who took possession in December had no domestic accommodation, and the area still had very few residents.
Fitting out the interior was begun immediately, and completed in 1955. The parish was finally erected in 1958.
Very oddly, the formal consecration only came in 1966.
The site is on a ridge overlooking the Tiber valley, and sloping down to the main area of the EUR on the other side. It is in the north-west corner of the EUR, and is not very conveniently situated. However, the primary intention of the Fascist planners was that the building should be visible from afar, and that it certainly is.The monumental approach is from the east side, up a slope, and is spectacular stepped ramp. It begins at the Viale Umberto Tupini, and runs for two city blocks separated by the Via del Giordano. Each of the two sections is itself made up of three laid sections of a geometric design in white, light grey and dark grey marbles. The ramp is flanked by beds of roses, grass verges and a pair of hedges, and the view of the church at the top is set off by a pair of stone pines. These two trees are one of six planted in front of the church, which are kept carefully trimmed. (There used to be five down each side too, but two on the right have died.)
The church's piazza is flanked by an identical pair of long arcaded pavilions.
Layout and fabric Edit
The church stands on a monumental square podium, which has a continuous set of steps in two flights running round three sides but not the back. This made the church inaccessible to wheelchairs, so a ramp has been installed in the near left hand side. This is good quality work, but unavoidably obtrusive. At the back there is a patio looking out over the Tiber valley, with a simple low balustrade formed of slabs resting on blocks. Below this is a row of twelve recessed windows which light ancillary accommodation beneath the patio, and where the friars had to live when they took over the church in 1952. They had a little oratory for worship while the church was being fitted out, and you can see the sign for this over the window at the south end (which doubles up as a door).
The edifice is a cube in light brown regularly cut ashlar stone blocks, with a flat roof on which the dome sits. The top has a simple projecting cornice, higher than the roof behind. Attached to each face of the cube is a gigantic pylon forming one arm of the Greek cross plan, and each of these is structurally identical. Each is of the same light brown stone, with eight horizontal stripes in a finer white stone. The bottom one of these stripes forms a plinth, and the top one the architrave of an entablature. The frieze of the latter is deep, and is topped by a projecting and molded cornice. The cornices of the four pylons are joined by a string course running round the corners of the main cube.
Each pylon has an enormous rectangular central niche, running up as a far as the frieze of the entablature, and a window strip on each side where it meets the central cube.
The church has no campanile.
The hemispherical dome is covered in hexagonal tiles, and sits on a cylindrical drum having six rectangular recesses containing round windows themselves recessed within slightly dished frames.
The lantern is a cylinder with fourteen rectangular slits, capped with a conical finial crowned by a bronze statue of an angel by Carmelo Abate.
Each of the four pylon niches contains vertical rectangular coffering on its wall surfaces; six coffers high, two wide at the sides and four wide at the back. The last surround a large square sculptural relief panel. The coffers contain reliefs of Eucharistic symbols by Francesco Coccia.The niche in the entrance façade contains an enormous doorway with a stone doorcase, and bronze doors bearing reliefs of scenes from the lives of the two apostles. Above, the stone relief depicts The Granting of the Keys to St Peter, and is by Giovanni Prini. Immediately above the door is the appropriate text from Mt 16:19, in Latin: Tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam et tibi dabo claves regnum coelorum. The relief heraldry between this and the main relief is of Pope Pius XII.
The pylon frieze bears a dedicatory inscription: D[eo] O[ptimo] M[aximo], in honorem beatorum apostolorum Petri et Paoli. O felix Roma, quae tantorum principum purpurata pretioso sanguine. ("To God the best and greatest, in honour of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. O happy Rome, who are enpurpled by the precious blood of such leaders.") The second sentence is a paraphrase from the hymn Aurea luce, composed for the joint feast of the two apostles.
On the horizontal cornice stands a pair of sculpted angels venerating a cross, the composition being by Federico Papi.
Other external reliefs Edit
In the side pylon niche to the right, the relief depicts The Crucifixion of St Peter and is by Alessandro Monteleone. The frieze above bears Christ's prophecy to St Peter of his martyrdom: Cum esses iunior, cingebas te...cum senueris, exendes manus tuas, et alius te cinget et ducet, qua non vis (Jn 21:18).
The side pylon niche to the left has The Beheading of St Paul by Carlo Pini. The frieze bears a quotation from a poem by Prudentius entitled Passio apostolorum Petri et Pauli, and reads: Scit Tiberina palus, quae flumine lambitur propinquo, binis dicatum caespitem trophaeis, et crucis et gladii testis ("The Tiberine marsh, which is lapped by the neighbouring river, knows its turf to be honoured by a couple of trophies, both the cross and the sword bearing witness.")
The niche at the back contains The Conversion of St Paul by Venanzio Crocetti. The epigraph here is a quotation from St Paul's own description of the event (Acts 22:7): Et decidi in terram et audivi vocem dicentem mihi: Saul, Saul, quid me persequeris? Ego autem respondi: Quis es, Domine?
Layout and fabric Edit
The interior has a circular layout, with four cross arms extending from the circle. The corners of the cubical main part of the structure are cut of by curved interior walls which support the dome and which provide four ancillary spaces in the corners. The baptistry and chapels dedicated to St Anthony of Padua and the Crucifix occupy three of these, and fourth is a sacristy.
Large side chapels occupy the side cross arms.
The space for the congregation is actually quite limited, and this has always been a problem. The church was not designed to be parochial.
Compared to the magnificent site and exterior, the interior is a serious disappointment. Apart from a high marble dado, the interior surfaces are painted in a uniform light brownish yellow and have developed unsightly surface cracks.
In between the dado and main walling is a strip in white bounded by thin string courses, which contains the church's set of the Stations of the Cross.
The glass and metal screen between the entrance and main interior space has an attractive design based on the Cross.
The dome is coffered with a cross motif, the crosses diminishing with height in a way that recalls Borromini's dome at San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane. There is a stained glass window in the oculus, showing a cross.
The drum has eight round windows, and sits on a cornice with three orders of decorative molding of an interesting and novel type (little arches alternating with rectangles). Below the cornice, instead of pendentives as you might expect, there is a continuous ring-vault as the cross-arms are flat-topped and not vaulted. There are four reliefs depicting the Evangelists at the cardinal points of this ring-vault. Francesco Coccia executed SS Luke and Mark, and Enrico Castelli was responsible for SS John and Matthew.
One of the more interesting things in the church is the enormous corona, a sixteen-sided light fitting suspended from the drum's cornice and matching the width of the dome.
The interior is dominated by the sculpture of Christ in Glory over the main altar. This is by Attilio Selva, and is inserted into an enormous mosaic by his son Sergio which depicts the martyrdoms and glorification of the two apostles.
Below the sculpture is a bronze crucifix by Giuseppe Graziosi. The two ambos or lecterns are adorned with bronze panels depicting scenes from the lives of SS Peter and Paul, and are by Duilio Cambellotti.
Side chapels Edit
The left-hand side chapel is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, and contains a mosaic of the Madonna and Child venerated by angels. This is by Bruno Saetti.
The baptistry, to the right of the entrance, contains a font by Sergio Selva enriched with mosaic and marble work. On the cover is a bronze sculpture by Andrea Spandini showing The Baptism of Christ.
To the left of the entrance is a chapel containing a Crucifix, executed in wood by one G. Vucetich.
The chapel of At Anthony was restored in 1978, and provided with works in terracotta by Franco Petruzzi.
Mass is celebrated (parish website, July 2018):
Weekdays 7:00, 8:30, 18:00 (18:30 in DST);
Sundays and Solemnities 8;00, 9:00 (not July, August), 10:30, 12:00, 14:00 (for Filipino expatriate community), 18:00 (not July, August), 19:00.