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Santuario della Madonna del Divino Amore is a major Marian pilgrimage shrine located at Via Ardeatina 1221, containing three churches and several public chapels. The shrine is also the centre of a parish. Pictures of the church at Wikimedia Commons are here. An English Wikipedia article is here.
There are two other pilgrim shrines in the city dedicated to Our Lady, however. One is Santa Maria del Terzo Millennio alle Tre Fontane, which is Il Sanctuario della Virgine della Rivelazione. The other is Il Santuario di Schoenstatt, which is very new.
The focus of the shrine is on a fresco icon of Our Lady, a free copy of which is here. A spiritual interpretation is here, including a photo of the original which shows how much damage it has suffered.
The original used to be on a panel over a gate-tower now called the Torre del Primo Miracolo. Who painted it and who first commissioned it are both unknown, although it is dated to the 14th century on stylistic grounds.
The central figures of the Madonna and Child are based on the Byzantine iconographic tradition of the Hodegitria ("she who shows of the way"). They are accompanied by a pair of angels, and above is the Dove of the Holy Spirit. The extant work is incomplete, and a fair surmise is that above the Dove used to be the Hand of God the Father. This would have provided a Trinitarian symbolism -Hand, Child, Dove for Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The presence of the Dove led to the appellation Divino Amore ("Holy Love"), and to the selection of Pentecost as the shrine's feast-day.
Confusingly, the old Castel di Leva in which the shrine is located has given its name both to the district, and a separate suburb some distance to the north-west.
The parish has the official name of Santa Maria del Divino Amore a Castel di Leva, and covers a wide rural area containing scattered suburban settlements. The estimated total population of the parish is 12 000.
The ancient history of the locality is basically unknown. Gaetano Moroni in his Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica da San Pietro ai nostri giorni, Venezia 1842, stated that epigraphic evidence survived in his time of a villa on the site belonging to a member of the gens Paccia. No remains are visible. However, the ancient Via Ardeatina makes a sharp bend around the small hill here and so the locality must have been notable.
The documented history of the Casale begins in the context of that of a very large estate centred on a place now called Fiorano. As Florario, in 961 it was deeded to the monastery of San Saba and in 1024 it passed to the Benedictine monastery of San Paolo fuori le Mura as Fundus Floranus. The transfer was confirmed in 1074, when the estate was called Massa Floriana.
The monastery of San Paolo kept possession until 1264, when financial problems precipitated a transfer to the estate of the basilica of Santa Balbina (?) which was then being run by the canons of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. (It may be noted here that Santa Sabina is mentioned instead of Santa Balbina in certain modern publications.) The documentation has the first actual mention of the locality: Casali quod dicitur Castellion. The name is thought to derive from Lion's Castle (Castello del Leone), and was later corrupted to Castel di Leva.
The original estate was subdivided, and passed into private hands. The Orsini family obtained the portion containing Castel di Leva, and in 1295 built a genuine castle with a curtain wall having towers at regular intervals. The eastern portion of this substantially survives, together with the famous gate-tower associated with the miraculous icon. (This was painted around 1390.) The property passed to the Savelli family, which in the 15th century re-ordered the central core which included a fortified keep-tower. The complex was then acquired by the Cenci.
The castle was ruined in the early 16th century, perhaps in the Sack of Rome in 1527, and declined into a mere farmstead.
Confraternity of Santa Caterina della Rosa Edit
Pope Paul III granted this complex to St Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, in 1536. The saint wished to open a shelter here for fanciulle povere, who were described as the still-virgin daughters of prostitutes, and this was one of several initiatives on the part of St Ignatius to help women involved in the city's sex industry. (The former church of Santa Marta al Collegio Romano is witness to another one.) The institution here was a conservatorio or a sort of boarding school, where the girls would (hopefully) learn a trade and so be able to support themselves without recourse to offering sex in exchange for cash. Given the expectations of contemporary society, the ultimate hope would have been marriage or entry into a convent.
The helpers of St Ignatius in the conservatorio here were organised into a confraternity early on, at an uncertain date because they were not at first granted a charter. The year was 1536 or 1549. This was the Confraternita delle Vergini Misearbili di Santa Caterina della Rosa. The Virgini Miserabili were the prostitutes' daughters whom they were setting out to "rescue". Pope Pius IV approved their constitutions in 1560, together with the foundation of an adjacent nunnery. This became an Augustinian convent occupying premises on the site of the present Crypta Balba museum, and presumably was the destination of some of the vergini.
St Ignatius's social outreach attracted pious support. In 1570, Castel di Leva was in the ownership of a priest named Cosimo Giustini whose father had purchased it. He, in turn, bequeathed it to the Confraternity in that year as part of their investment portfolio. It was to own the future shrine for a long time.
Things did not work out very well for the Confraternity, and in 1604 it was reduced to a lay sodality under the authority of a council of appointed clerics who were also in charge of the nunnery. However, the institution as the Conservatorio Santa Caterina della Rosa survives to the present day, and is a public charity interested in disadvantaged young people. It is still in charge of the church of Santa Caterina dei Funari.
The phenomenon of the shrine began when a miracle occurred at the gatehouse in 1740.
A pilgrim on the Via Ardeatina on his way to the city had strayed off the road and was beset by angry sheep-dogs from the farmstead. He saw the icon on the tower, and appealed for the Blessed Virgin's intercession. The dogs shut up, lost interest and wandered off. After he told his story in the city, the icon began to be visited by interested citizens who quickly reported further graces.
It is interesting that a simple dog-attack should have generated such interest. However, back then the sheepdogs of the Campagna had to deal with roaming wolves visiting from the mountain forests -and so an attack on a human being was potentially very serious.
Foundation of the shrine Edit
The popular interest came to the attention of the Church authorities, so later the same year Pope Benedict XIV made an enquiry and authorised the removal of the image to the chapel of Santa Maria ad Magos at Falcognana by the Canons of San Giovanni in Laterano. It was seriously damaged in the process. The Confraternity considered this to have infringed their property rights, so they sued and won their case. The law-court ordered the image to be returned, as soon as a church could be built for it. This was done, the architect being Filippo Raguzzini, and the image was enshrined in 1745.
Meanwhile, the Confraternita del Divino Amore was founded in 1744 to foster devotion to the icon among laypeople. This is not to be confused with the Conservatorio owning it.
The Conservatorio offered the custody of the shrine to various religious orders, but failed to find takers. It even had serious trouble finding a priest willing to stay all year round at such a desolate place. The major problem was that malaria was a real threat. So, for the next 185 years the church was only open (at best) for Mass from Easter Monday to July, and was usually kept closed for the rest of the year. A hermit was resident as a custodian, but he was not a priest.
Centenary, and decline Edit
The little city church of Santi Cecilia e Biagio was given to the Confraternita del Divino Amore in 1801 or 1802 by Pope Pius VII. They made it their headquarters, after restoring it and re-dedicating it as Santa Maria del Divino Amore.
In 1805, a proper arrangement was finally set up whereby several priests were made available at the shrine to minister to pilgrims during the week of Pentecost. However, in 1817 the Conservatorio ceded control of the shrine to the Lateran Chapter who set about a major restoration of the church in anticipation of the centenary of the miracle in 1840. The Via Ardeatina was also repaired. The festivities took place from Pentecost in that year for a week, and were attended by crowds of Romans as well as King Miguel of Portugal.
Unfortunately, the rest of the century saw a decline in the fortunes of the shrine. There was a bright moment in 1876, when the icon was crowned by Cardinal Lorenzo Nina. However, the situation immediately worsened because the Confraternity was forced to become a secular charitable institution under Italian law (Italy had conquered Rome and overthrown the Papal government in 1870). The trustees rented the Castel di Leva to a tenant as a working farm, and left him to administer the immediate surroundings of the shrine church as well. The resultant mess was predictable.
The Monday following Pentecost was the day of major pilgrimage from the city at this period, the visitors being dominated by market-stall traders and washerwomen who claimed the day as their annual patronal feast. Many of these were Gypsies, something which was not forgotten.
In 1912, Pope St Pius X set up a parish based on the shrine church. Back then, the parish territory was enormous and thinly populated, and it seemed obvious that making the church parochial was a good use of a building that was only busy for one or two weeks a year. At first, the pastoral demands were very light and (apparently) a permanent parish priest was not appointed. However, problems were to arise when the shrine enjoyed a revival and suburbs were built.
The beginning of this revival is precisely dateable to 22 June 1930, when thieves raided the church and stole the crowns off the icon as well as many valuable ex votos. In response the Diocese sent a Lateran canon called Monsignor Migliorelli to perform an inspection, accompanied by a young priest of Sant'Eusebio all'Esquilino called Umberto Terenzi. They revealed a shocking state of affairs -animals and dirt everywhere, no water supply and bad foodstuffs being sold to pilgrims. After the report at the end of the year, Fr Terenzi was appointed parish priest pro tem and keeper of the shrine. He was to serve until 1974, and can be regarded as the real founder of the modern shrine complex.
Progress was immediate. At the beginning of 1931 Fr Terenzi arranged a thorough restoration of the church, and in April of that year obtained the inauguration of a bus service from the city (five buses daily in summer, three in winter). This was of the first importance for the future of the shrine, since beforehand the only way citizens could visit was by walking or by private vehicle.
He was formally appointed as parish priest of the reconstituted parish in 1932, and in that year obtained the opening of a train station called Divino Amore on the railway to Formia. This was where the Via Ardeatina parallels the railway line north of the present suburb of Falcognana. Very importantly, he also oversaw the transfer of the ownership of the shrine from the Conservatorio to the Vicariate of the Diocese.
In May 1934 he opened a school for neglected small children north of the shrine, at a neighbouring farmstead called Casale San Benedetto. This, the Scuola Madre del Divino Amore, was staffed by five female volunteers, who comprised the beginnings of a new religious congregation -the Figlie della Madonna del Divino Amore. This received official recognition in 1942, when the first ten sisters made their first religious vows. The school still exists.
In 1935, the original location of the icon on the gate-tower of the farmstead was occupied by a new majolica ceramic representation of it by Alfredo Santarelli.
In 1939, the Casa della Madonna was founded for small girls whose families were unable to look after them properly owing to poverty or other difficulties.
During World War II, the shrine was closed after Italy became a battle zone. The icon was taken to Rome for safety on 24 January 1944, and briefly enshrined in the church of Santa Maria del Divino Amore because of its links with the shrine. However the church was much too small for the numbers wishing to visit, so the icon was quickly moved to San Lorenzo in Lucina.
Pope Pius XII announced a Novena of prayer for the week from Pentecost (28 May), to ask for Our Lady's intercession in order that the city be spared from war damage. This was a serious danger -the British war leader Winston Churchill had been pressing for Rome to be area bombed. He was being egged on by the head of the bomber units of the British air force, Arthur Harris -a psychopathic war criminal by any honest estimation.
The response was so massive that the icon had again to be moved to the bigger church of Sant'Ignazio. The last day of the Novena was on 4 June, when a vow was made to build a new sanctuary for the icon if the intercession was answered.
American general Mark Clark disobeyed orders to cut off a retreating German army, and occupied Rome instead later the same day. The Germans had just left, and there was no fighting. So, on 11 June the pope visited Sant'Ignazio, gave a homily of thanks to Our Lady and bestowed on her the title Salvatrice dell'Urbe. On 12 September, the icon was taken back to the shrine.
First expansion Edit
The undertaking to build a new shrine took a long time to fulfil.
The first building campaign involved converting the cistern of the mediaeval castle into an underground chapel, referred to as the Cripta dell'Addolorata. This was done in 1947, the architect being Stefano Balzarro. It was the first purpose-built place of worship after the small 18th century shrine church. At about the same time the train station of Divino Amore was moved a kilometre north in order to shorten the distance from it to the shrine (the site is behind the present Taberna del Sardo).
In 1956, a major expansion of the ancillary facilities began with Arnaldo Foschini as the architect. This was the last project in this old architect's career, and it continued until his death in 1968. The result was a new pilgrim's hostel to the north of the church (the Casa del Pellegrino), and a large presbyterial and administrative block (amounting to a convent) around a narrow courtyard to the south.
Also provided was a convent for the Figlie (also serving as the home of the Casa della Madonna) and the beginnings of a dedicated parish centre near the south-east corner of the site.
In 1958, a Lourdes Grotto was opened.
In 1962, Fr Terenzi founded a congregation of priests to serve the shrine, the Oblati Figli della Madonna del Divino Amore. The Oblati became responsible for the home parish, and also later for several others in the Diocese: Santa Maria della Fiducia, San Romualdo Abate a Monte Migliore and San Carlo Borromeo a Fonte Laurentina. Initially they had a seminary located to the south-east of the old church, but this moved out to premises in the Via di Castel di Leva.
In 1963 the train station of Divino Amore was closed, as almost all pilgrims were arriving by road vehicles.
In 1974 Fr Terenzi died, and was buried in the Cripta. His cause for beatification was introduced in 2004.
Second expansion Edit
A second major expansion began in 1983. The Casa del Pellegrino was given a makeover to bring it up to modern standards as the Hotel Divino Amore. It includes a large chapel, the Cappella dello Spirito Santo. The renovation project also included a Capella delle Confessioni as a dedicated location for the Sacrament of Penance.
The seminary of the Oblati was brought back to the shrine, and was given a new building next to the parish centre. The block was paralleled by another one, the Casa Madre Elena which was initially a clinic for children with leukaemia (this didn't last). In between was inserted a church for the parish -the Chiesa di Santa Famiglia. There had been complaints for years that the parish community was being sidelined and swamped by pilgrimage activities, so finally it was provided with a church of its own.
The Casa Maria Elena was named after Mother Maria Elena Pieri, the first superior of the Figlie.
The Figlie has grown to become an international congregation working in Colombia, Peru, Chile, Brazil, India and the Philippines. At the shrine, they took over the south-east corner where they have their long-established infants' school (the Scuola Madre del Divino Amore) and a social centre called the Centro della Gioia. This includes a walk-in clinic (the web-page is here). They also run the Casa del Pellegrino, and an old people's home (the Communità allogio per anziani) in a large wooden edifice to the south-east of the old church. Further, they are now in charge of the little city centre church of Santa Maria del Divino Amore.
A large sports complex was provided well to the east of the site, affiliated to the parish (this is common in Roman suburbs). It is not part of the shrine facilities.
New church Edit
A new sanctuary church which could hold a large congregation was a long time in gestation, and unfortunately the delay meant that objections were raised when the project was finally mooted in 1987. The major part of the problem was that state heritage guardians objected to any structure that would compromise the setting of the old Castel di Leva -this would not have happened if the church had been built in the first expansion after 1956.
After much debate, a solution was found by designing a very low and externally self-effacing structure, and this was finally inaugurated by Pope St John Paul II on July 4th 1999. The architect Luigi Leoni, and the artistic director was Costantino Ruggeri.
It was decided not to transfer the venerated icon from the Antico Santuario to the new church, contrary to the original intention. As a result, the shrine is now bifocal and there is some duplication of facilities.
The new church includes a second Cappella dei Confessioni, a permanent chapel for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and a large meeting-hall or aula in the crypt. The later facility had been sorely lacking until then.
The next addition was the Sala delle Grotte, which uses mediaeval store-caves discovered in utility works south of the main core of the sanctuary. It was opened in 1992, and serves as an informal meeting place for the central core of the shrine.
Twenty-first century Edit
In 2000, the former leukaemia clinic at the Casa Madre Elena was converted to a college for priests from the Third World.
In 2004, the Gypsy shrine-chapel of Beato Zefferino Gimènez Malla was consecrated (this has been given its own Wiki page). The location is in recognition of the popularity of the Marian shrine among local Gypsies since the nineteenth century.
In 2005, the Oasi di Elim was opened as a residential counselling centre for priests and male religious having problems with their vocations or wishing to renew their commitments. The residential centre is at the former Casale San Benedetto to the north of the shrine enclosure, which has been renamed Monte Tabor, and the shrine centre called La Cometa is in the convent block in the Antico Santuario. The outreach is by the Apostolato Accademico Salvatoriano in conjunction with the shrine. A PDF pamphlet is here.
In 2007, a Grotta di Elia was opened to the north of the new church in honour of the prophet Elijah. In the same year, Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was begun in the chapel at the Nuovo Santuario.
In 2011, a mosaic depicting Pope St John Paul II was installed near the Nuovo Santuario.
In 2014, the Perpetual Adoration moved from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in the Nuovo Santuario to the Cappella delle Confessioni near the Antico Santuario. The rumour is that this was because the former chapel was over-heating in summer.
The layout of the shrine area is extensive, and can confuse the first-time visitor. You are in danger of missing some interesting stuff if you do not have a map to consult. There is an indexed Google map here, and a printable .pdf here. The latter is a copy of an information board at the main entrance to the shrine.
The large site occupies a roughly rectangular area, bounded by the Via Ardeatina to the west and south. To the north are extensive overflow car-parks, and to the east is the little suburb of Divino Amore (this extends to the other side of the Via Ardetina as well). Beyond this in turn is the sports centre. Shrine, suburb and sports centre form a coherent built-up area surrounded by open countryside.
The core of the shrine occupies the old castle, at the west side of the site. To the north-east is the new sanctuary, and to the south-east are the parish facilities. The domain of the Figlie is to the east.
Central core Edit
The original shrine lies entirely within the mediaeval castle wall of the Castel di Leva. These enclosed a roughly elliptical site on the top of a small but distinct hill, and were fortified by regularly spaced towers. Eight of these are known, but there must have been more originally. Only the eastern run of the wall survives, including the Torre del Primo Miracolo which is over the eastern gateway of the castle.
The original Castel now comprises five main edifices around a wide cobbled piazza. Until the 20th century there were only two, the casale and the church plus the ruins of the castle wall, and these were very prominent in the landscape since there were also no trees at all here originally. All the ones you see have been planted.
To the west of the piazza is the casale or original farmstead, which contains mediaeval fabric but is heavily restored. It is an irregularly built block running north to south, and contains an arched gateway facing west which is the traditional entrance of the shrine. Over the entrance outside is a majolica tondo relief of the miraculous icon, and in front of the entrance is a statue of St Michael the Archangel. The passage leading to the piazza is cross-vaulted, and there is a photographic display of the shrine's history on the walls.
The south side of the piazza is occupied by the mid 20th century convent block, which is arranged around a narrow rectangular courtyard and abuts onto the casale. The piazza frontage has a single storey, but the slope of the hill means that the wings around the courtyard are two-storey (the Cometo centre for the counselling of priests and male religious is here). A marble bust of Pope St John Paul II stands on a plinth in front of the piazza frontage.
The casale and convent form a pilgrimage service area, which has the following:
Cappella delle Confessione, for private prayer and the hearing of confessions. This is perhaps a better place for quiet mediation than the church.
Rassegna mariana, which is an exhibition of about a thousand different images of Our Lady venerated worldwide -including venerated icons to be found in Roman churches. This is a fascinating place.
Mostra Sindone, which displays a copy of the Shroud of Turin.
There is also the Ristorante Antico Santuario, a bar, and a shop selling a very large range of devotional items -if you are visiting Rome as a pilgrim, it makes sense to buy your rosaries here rather than in the Centro Storico.
Opposite the gateway, on the other side of the courtyard, is the façade of the first church or Antico Santuario. To the left of this, there is a path leading to stairs down the slope to the Torre del Primo Miracolo. Also here is the Cappella dell Cripta, which is a conversion from an underground cistern rather than an actual crypt of the church.
The north side of the courtyard is dominated by the long block of the Casa del Pellegrino. This is actually four storeys tall, although the slope of the hill conceals it. The top storey is accessed from the courtyard via a bridge, and contains the Cappella dello Spirito Santo. A post office is in the building's left hand (west) end. The Casa contains another restaurant.
To the south-east, deliberately rather unobtrusive, is a large and sprawling wooden edifice which is an old people's home run by the Figlie.
In between this and the convent is a passageway which runs from an alternative entrance to the shrine. At the bottom of the hill here, to the south, is a large car park and the shrine's bus stop on the Via Ardeatina. A rather steep set of stairs climbs the slope from these, and just to the east is a flat-roofed low single-storey structure built into the revetting wall of the slope and having matching walls in random tufo stone blocks. This is the Sala delle Grotte, an informal meeting place.
To the north Edit
The new church or Nuovo Santuario is a large but very unobtrusive edifice tucked under the castle wall to the north of the Torre del Primo Miracolo. A wide pathway runs to it from the car park just mentioned, running past the Torre, and there is independent vehicle access via a dedicated road from the sanctuary's main vehicular entrance at the north-west corner of the site. From the Antico Santuario, use the stairs down the slope from the north of the church, pass under the Torre and turn left.
The Nuovo Santuario is completely invisible from the Antico Santuario, and this can confuse first-time visitors.
Outside the church is a large marble block bearing a mosaic portrait of Pope St John Paul II, entitled The Rock of the Church. It was installed in 2011, the original painting having been by Luca Vernizzi. Also here is a memorial to Fr Umberto Terenzi, in the form of a marble tondo relief portrait of him.
To the north of the Nuovo Santuario, on the other side of its access road, is the Grotta di Elia which is a free copy of the Cave of Elijah on Mount Carmel in Israel. It consists of a garden surrounded by a low rough stone wall on a lenticular plan, and at the far end is a shallow cave which is actually an old quarry. It contains a statue of Elijah, and a stone vase on a plinth which recalls his miracle of the multiplication of the oil.
To the west of the Nuovo Santuario, between it and the main vehicular entrance to the shrine, is the Laghetto. This is a large pond with a fountain in a rather bleak garden area -actually, it is two conjoined ponds at slightly different levels, each surrounded by a low kerb. This symbolises the two natures of Christ -divine and human. In the upper pond stands a large bronze and marble representation of The Risen Christ by Antonio Nardi.
Facing the laghetto to the south, abutting the northern slope of the sanctuary hill, is the Sala del Laghetto which is another informal meeting area. Usefully, it contains a bar.
To the east Edit
Just to the south-east of the Torre is the shrine's Lourdes grotto.
To the north-east of the Torre is a small wooded area called the boschetto. Hiding in this is the Gypsy chapel of Beato Zefferino Gimènez Malla, which should not be missed (it has its own Wiki page, and so is not described here).
To the east of the Torre is an extensive parkland area, with many mature trees. On the far side of this is the large convent of the Figlie, comprising two large blocks connected by a multi-storey corridor.
To the south Edit
The area of the sanctuary enclosure running along its southern boundary with the Via Ardeatina is mainly concerned with the parish and its needs.
To the south-east of the car park next to the shrine's bus stop are two parallel four-storey blocks which house the seminary (Casa Don Umberto Terenzi) and college (Casa Madre Elena) of the Oblati. In between these is the low and unobtrusive Chiesa della Sacra Famiglia, which is the parish church (it contains the baptismal font).
Beyond this is the parish centre and offices. Beyond that in turn, as a separate complex of buildings, is the Centro della Gioia which includes and infant's school, a clinic and social facilities.
The Antico Santuario remains the home of the venerated icon which is the material focus of the shrine.
The small 18th century church has a simple rectangular plan with an external narthex or entrance loggia. Attached to the left hand side wall is a sacristy block, which is fronted by a campanile. Attached to the far end of the right hand side wall is the original priest's house built with the church.
The style is a simple Baroque, with architectural elements in white on an orange-yellow background.
The narthex is tall, with four Doric pilasters supporting an entablature with a projecting cornice. Over the doorway is a monochrome fresco, and in between each pair of pilasters is a large rectangular aperture, set low down. Over the entablature is an attic, and fronting this between the inner two pilasters is a segmental pediment, below the actual roofline which is horizontal. The narthex roof itself is tiled, with a single upwards pitch.
The fresco depicts the Dove of the Holy Spirit in an oval tondo, with the tags Ave Maria and Concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
The actual nave frontage peeps over this rather oversized narthex, with four pilasters without capitals and a triangular pediment. There is a statue of Our Lady on the apex, which was added by Fr Terenzi when he took over the administration of the shrine.
Attached to the left hand side of the narthex and fronting the sacristy block is the campanile, a substantial and stocky construction of three storeys on a rectangular plan. The first two storeys form the tower itself, with the storey frontages having four blind pilasters each and being separated by cornices. The first storey, which is taller than the second, has its own entrance and a dedicatory inscription on a tablet above. The third storey is in the form of a miniature triumphal arch, and has three bells inserted into the portal. Crowning the composition is a little rectangular cupola, which resembles the dome of the Roman Synagogue in miniature.
The priest's house now contains the sacristy on the ground floor, and the second storey has the apartment of Fr Terenzi which is being preserved as a memorial in anticipation of his beatification.
The interior of the church used to have 19th century frescoes, but these have been replaced with pastel paintwork (white and very pale pink) in the very small but proportionally tall nave. The side walls bear part of the vast collection of ex-votos that the shrine has accumulated from thankful devotees, and there are more of these in the former sacristy.
There is a small apse, having a triumphal arch springing from a pair of rectangular Doric pilasters. The intrados of the arch has two panels with gilded fronding. The far corners have a pair of doubletted Doric pilasters, the inner doublets supporting an archivolt enclosing a tympanum containing coffering with rosettes. The outer doublets support the far springers of the single-bay cross vaulting of the ceiling, which is embellished by a wide transverse rib containing more gilded vegetation
The original miraculous icon is enshrined on the far wall, inserted into a large and ornate Baroque glory decorated with silver-gilt angels and putti (this has recently been restored). More angels inhabit a second glory on the vault, which focuses on the Dove of the Holy Spirit.
The altar, which has been brought forward, has a frontal embellished with onyx.
Cappella della Cripta Edit
The crypt chapel was not built with the 18th century church, but was converted in 1947 from the mediaeval castle's water cistern. This was the first expansion project put in place for the shrine after the Second World War. The architect was Stefano Balzarro.
The fabric is very simple. The walls and barrel vault are in brick, and the vault is supported by a pair of transverse limestone arches springing from four semi-columns with simple imposts. There is a little apse with a conch, and the wall of this is revetted in onyx. The conch of the apse has a mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd, and above this is a splendid rose window of sixteen petals containing old stained glass. The window is surrounded by a ring of zig-zag molding.
The glory of the chapel is its imitation Cosmatesque floor, which looks amazingly authentic.
Here you will find the tomb of the married couple Bl. Luigi (Aloysius) Beltrame Quattrocchi and Bl. Maria Corsini Beltrame Quattrocchi. He died in 1951, and she in 1965. They were beatified on 21 October 2001 by Pope St John Paul II, and this was the first time that a married couple had been beatified together. Their relics were moved here on 28 October 2001. The shrine is simple, having a marble plaque bearing a relief of a vine with phoenixes and a chi-rho symbol. This is in a 9th century style. Above is a red terracotta portrait tondo depicting the couple.
Also here is the tomb of Fr Umberto Terenzi, founder of the modern shrine. He died in 1974 and was originally buried in the priests' plot at the Campo Verano, but was exhumed in 1978 and re-buried here. Above the tomb-chest is a grotto containing a Pietà by Umberto Mastroianni (the chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of Sorrows).
This chapel is used for most of the weddings celebrated at the shrine, although the Antico Santuario is also a venue. This is appropriate, since the feast-day of BB Luigi and Maria Corsini Beltrame Quattrocchi is now (since 2001) celebrated on 25 November which was their wedding day.
Cappella delle Confessioni Edit
A dedicated space for the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance was created in 1983. In order to consecrate it an altar was provided, but apparently this is not regularly used for Mass.
The layout is basilical, but to an unusual asymmetrical plan. There is a central nave with narrow side aisles, the left hand one being wider, and these aisles contain the confessionals. On the left of the central nave, grey concrete columns with block imposts support a longitudinal beam above which is a long window slit. This beam is the top end of a sloping white concrete aisle roof running down to another window slit visible above the confessionals. The imposts support short concrete piers which break the upper window slit into lengths, and these in turn support the left hand sides of the central nave roof concrete panels.
These roof slabs are separated by gaps, and each has an asymmetrical curve. This begins gently to the left, then curves down steeply to the right so that the end of the slab is facing directly downwards. Each end on the right hand side is supported directly by a concrete column.
The sanctuary has a simple altar backed by an incurved white screen, over which is a traditionally styled crucifix.
The only artistic item worth noting is the free-standing holy water stoup near the entrance, which is supported by a small mob of bronze angels.
This chapel is used for quiet private prayer by individuals as well as for confessions. Since 2014, it has been the location of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Cappella dello Spirito Santo Edit
The Hotel Divino Amore (formerly known as the Casa del Pellegrino) is a large edifice in pink brick which contains a large public chapel as well as a small private chapel for the use of guests. The former, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, was fitted out in 1983 and was intended for the saying of Mass on behalf of large pilgrimage groups at a time when the Nuovo Santuario was unbuilt.
The entrance from the shrine's piazza is over a bridge paved in a fish-scale pattern. The chapel occupies the top storey of the large edifice, and extends to the right hand gable end (you can see the window behind the altar below this, which is the only external indication that the chapel is here).
This chapel is also basilical. It has narrow aisles, separated from the central nave by rectangular slab piers set transversely. They are connected by horizontal slab beams near their tops. The aisle roofs are flat, but the central roof is a barrel vault in the form of a white cylindrical segment.
The central zone of the floor, in between the pews, has a striking pattern chequered pattern formed of black and white rectangular strips.
The last bay is the sacristy, which is isolated by a screen wall in a honey coloured stone. Above the screen you can see the large window in the far wall, which has concrete mullions in a wide grid and fenestration in selenite. The free-standing altar is in front of the screen wall, and has a frontal also in selenite. The sanctuary occupies the two bays of the chapel in front of the sacristy.
This chapel has been used for those seeking baptism in the shrine who are not parishioners. It used to be used for regular public Masses also, but the latest Orari (August 2016) does not mention it.
The new sanctuary church was designed by Luigi Leoni, was begun in 1987 and completed in 1999. This is a fantastic post-modern building, aptly nicknamed the "Blue Grotto".
On its north side are two vast walls of stained glass, the north-west one slightly shorter than the north-east, meeting at an angle of about eighty degrees. There is a short return wall at an acute angle at the west hand side, also in stained glass. The flat roof slopes downwards from these two glass walls until it reaches the ground, and is completely covered with grass except for a skylight near the angle and a large oculus at the far end.
Thus, the objections of the heritage guardians were met by providing a large structure which is not visible from the old farmstead.
For the stained glass and the liturgical furniture, the famous Franciscan priest-artist Costantino Ruggeri was commissioned.
The two main glass walls behind the altar are dominated by a billowing abstraction in bright azure blue, over a zone of indigo with green patches. On the right hand wall is a sun motif, an orange disc on an irregular yellow hexagon with a magenta triangle attached. The short wall to the left has an orange motif vaguely resembling an orange fish on green.
On the right of the entrance is the original wooden pulpit from Sant'Ignazio, from which Pope Pius XII gave thanks to Our Lady for saving Rome from damage in 1944.
The white marble altar is carved so that its front looks like a sheet of cloth with a large crease in it. It is below the cylindrical skylight, which is painted white. From the skylight runs an inverted triangle also in white, with the point reaching down to behind the altar, and on this is displayed a copy of the miraculous icon by Roberto Boesso.
There are two side chapels, one containing the confessionals and the other being the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.
Unfortunately, the grass roof soaks up the heat of the sun in summer and so the interior of the church can become unpleasantly hot.
The church has a large crypt, which is fitted out as an auditorium.
Chiesa della Santa Famiglia Edit
The parish church was provided as part of the additions to the shrine facilities made after 1983, and is intended as a home for the parish instead of being aimed at pilgrims. The parish's baptismal font is here.
The dedication is to the Holy Family.
The location is just to the south-east of the car park next to the shrine's bus stop. However, its ground level is lower than that of the car park so you cannot see the church from there. A path leads to it, next to which is a tiny metal campanile formed of two black poles holding a single small bell.
The church is an unobtrusive, low white concrete structure with a flat roof which is sandwiched between two four-storey pink brick edifices. These house the seminary and college of the Oblati. The façade and altar ends are almost identical in design, both looking like a single-arched bridge with a pair of round windows in the spandrels. The arch has a low curve. In each corner, next to the adjacent edifice, is a square pavilion with a doorway in its longitudinal wall and another round window in its front wall.
The flat roofline of the façade has a rather odd spike, rather like an attenuated shark fin. Next to this is a metal finial showing the Holy Family in outline, formed of bent rods. The arch below contains fenestration in metal grid mullions, which includes the entrance doors.
The interior is a little oppressive, because of the lowness of the beamed roof and the lack of windows in the side walls. The décor is all in white.
Colour is provided by stained glass in the round windows, which is by Ruggieri. The altar is a rough piece of Carrara marble, approximately prism-shaped. The arch behind is filled with fenestration in clear glass, with a screen in front bearing an icon in correct Byzantine style of the Holy Family.
Opening times Edit
The shrine is open:
Weekdays 6:30 to 20:00 (but the Nuovo Santuario from 8:00 to 19:00, or when Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is over which recently has been 22:00);
Sundays and Solemnities 6:00 to 20:00 (in summer, defined by Daylight Saving time, 5:00 to 21:00).
The majority of private pilgrims arrive by car. There is ample car parking, and you should have no trouble finding a space.
The shrine is on the east side of the Via Ardeatina, south of Uscita 24 on the Grande Raccordo Anulare. The main entrance is a very large lay-by, containing a roundabout (gyratory). On the island is a big block of stone bearing the name of the shrine, and on top of this is a plinth bearing a bronze statue of Our Lady.
The driveway on the left at the roundabout is the entrance for the Nuovo Santuario. It runs up a shallow valley, the left side of which is occupied by overflow parking which is only usually needed on big feast days. You can see the new church away to the right, and beyond it is its car park.
The majority of first-time visitors want to visit the Antico Santuario first. The access is a public road called the Via di Santuario. This begins on the far side of the roundabout, and at first is a dual carriageway with parking spaces on the reservation. Then comes the junction with the driveway of the Hotel Divino Amore, which is to the left and leads to the hotel's car park. The junction is marked by bushes planted to read Ave Maria on the slope.
Then comes the exit of the Antico Santuario car park. The entrance is just beyond. This is obviously the most popular place to park, and you may not find a space. If not, continue up the Via to the large parish car park, next to the shrine's bus stop.
The Via continues past the seminary, parish church and parish offices to end at the Centro di Gioia, but don't drive down here unless you have business at the last-named place.
To reach the sanctuary you can take bus number 218 from Porta San Giovanni as far as Via Ardeatina km 12, the Santuario Divino Amore stop.
Alternatively, take either the 702 or the 044 from the Laurentina metro terminus (these two go via different suburbs, and there is not much to choose between them as regards length of journey).
The bus stop is just by the parish car park. You can reach the Antico Santuario by climbing the stairs on the other side of the car park just over to the left, or alternatively turn left in the car park and follow the Via del Santuario to find the traditional entrance. The parish church of Santa Famiglia is to the south-east (on your right when coming from the bus stop), and the way to the Nuovo Santuario is up the broad path straight ahead.
In 2015 a campaign was started to re-open the shrine's railway station. However, this would benefit the suburb of Falcognana more than the shrine, since the former is in the stupid position of being right next to to the railway with no station nearby.
The shrine obviously has a very full programme of regular liturgical activities, as well as special events for pilgrimages, anniversaries and so on. The information below is at August 2016, but check here for updates since times are liable to change.
The Antico Santuario is the place for the Rosary, Divine Office and weekday Masses, and the Cripta is for the majority of weddings.
There is a confraternity arranging Perpetual Adoration in the Cappella delle Confessioni.
You can make your confession in the Cappella delle Confessioni, or in the Nuovo Santuario (weekends only). However, the times for confession in the two localities do not overlap so check the details below beforehand.
Antico Santuario Edit
Mass is celebrated:
Weekdays 7:00, 8:00, 8:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 18:00 (not Saturdays), 19:00 (not Saturdays);
Sundays and Solemnities 6:00, 7:00, 13:00, 20:00 (Daylight Saving Time only, in summer).
Divine Office is celebrated:
Lauds, Monday to Friday 7:30, Sundays and Solemnities 9:15;
Vespers, Monday to Friday 19:45, Sundays and Solemnities 17:15;
Office of Readings, Sundays and Solemnities 15:00.
There is no celebration on Saturdays.
Rosary is recited:
Monday to Friday, 17:00;
Sunday and Solemnities 10:15, 11:15, 16:15, 18:15.
Marriages are celebrated on 12:00 on weekdays, but not in Advent or Lent and not on Sundays or Solemnities. This is the prestige wedding option at the shrine so the waiting list is long, and the fee presumably higher than the option below (although the shrine's website is coy about this).
Cappella della Cripta Edit
Marriages are celebrated every day (except Lent, Advent and presumably the major feast days) at 10:00, 12:00 and 17:00.
Cappella delle Confessioni Edit
Confessions are heard:
Mondays to Fridays 6:45 to 12:45;
Saturdays 6:45 to 12:45;
Sundays and Solemnities 5:45 to 7:45.
Also see the Nuovo Santuario below.
Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament takes place here, as from 2014. This used to be at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the Nuovo Santuario.
Nuovo Santuario Edit
Mass is celebrated:
Saturdays 18:00, 19:00;
Sundays and Solemnities 5:00 (only after night pilgrimage -see below), 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, 16:00, 17:00, 18:00, 19:00.
Confessions are heard in the dedicated chapel:
Saturdays 15:30 to 19:45;
Sundays and Solemnities 7:45 to 12:45, 15:30 to 19:45.
Eucharistic Procession to the Antico Santuario is on Sundays at 19:00.
Chiesa della Santa Famiglia Edit
Mass is celebrated on Sundays and Solemnities at 10:00.
Baptisms are administered on Saturdays at 17:00, and Sundays at 11:30.
Pellegrinaggio notturno ai piedi Edit
The shrine arranges pilgrim walks from the city on summer Saturday nights. The starting point is the Piazza di Porta Capena, where the Obelisk of Axum used to be. This is outside the FAO building near the Circo Massimo Metro station, and actually marks the ancient beginning of the Via Appia. The route goes down this road, and bears right onto the Via Ardeatina at the Domine Quo Vadis church. The distance is 14 km.
The pilgrimage begins at 11:30 with a welcome and explanation, and the actual walk starts around midnight. It ends at the shrine in time for Mass at the Nuovo Santuario at 5:00. On the way there is singing and the recitation of prayers, and the shrine has provided two .pdf files for these here and here.
The walks have traditionally been for men only, but this has changed. Anyone can join, and there is no need to book. However, decorum is still expected and you must be properly dressed. Doing the walk barefoot as a penance was commoner in the past than it is now -don't be tempted to try unless you have good experience at barefooting!
The Saturdays concerned are from the first one after Easter to the last one in October. Additionally, there are pilgrimages on the nights before the Assumption (15 August) and the Immaculate Conception (8 December). The locals regard the last one as a serious penance -native Romans don't like being out in the cold.
Plenary indulgence Edit
Pope St John Paul II decided to include the shrine in the Seven Churches pilgrim itinerary for the Holy Year 2000, replacing San Sebastiano fuori le Mura. This included the offer of a plenary indulgence to all pilgrims to the shrine in that year.
This state of affairs was only for that year, but the shrine still offers a plenary indulgence to pilgrims under the usual conditions. The facility was granted in 1991. Visitors have to attend one of the public liturgical events (Mass, Divine Office, Rosary), or privately say the Creed and Lord's Prayer in either of the two shrine churches.
The days on which the indulgence is obtainable are Pentecost, Immaculate Conception (8 December), Mother of God (1 January), Annunciation (25 March) and Assumption (15 August). In addition, it is obtainable in the context of a formal group pilgrimage arranged by Church authority, or on any one day in the year on which an individual chooses to visit privately.