Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Rome's Modern Churches Are Worth the Trek - starting with San Pio da Pietralcino in Malafede

Some of most spectacular architecture in Rome is found in its churches, and that includes 21st century architecture.  The Rome Diocese has commissioned dozens of new churches, most in lower- and middle-class neighborhoods on the periphery, to serve the spreading population and to deal with the departure of these classes from the historic center.

one block away
We began our exploration of these modern churches with the most famous one, Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church in the suburban neighborhood of Tor Tre Teste, which came in at #17 on RST's Top 40.  That was almost 4 years ago. RST's post on Meier’s church is still the most popular on the blog. We have visited many other churches since then, and made a push this past year to see 6 more.  Some are by famous architects, with Meier at the top of the list, and others by relative unknowns.  They are all fascinating, for their architecture as well as for the social insights they provide.

detail from San Pio statue
in the church

With this post, RST begins a series on these 21st- century landmarks.  We start with a church in a middle-class suburb of no architectural distinction; a church plunked down in the middle of large apartment blocks; a church dedicated to the controversial saint, Padre Pio, whom some consider a charlatan.  

One of the newest of the dozens of new churches, the Church of San Pio da Pietralcina, in Malafede, south of Rome on the way to Fiumicino airport, has a striking set of flowing, uneven arches that define it. Our friend and art history professor Shara Wasserman (see her Contemporary Rome Web site) describes it as like the Shroud of Turin, flowing out.  Hmm, we’re not so sure, but it’s certainly distinctive.

What the roofline does inside may be even more impressive.  The siting of the choir against the back of the main arch, is lovely, even if it is furnished so far only with plastic chairs.
One of the more daring aspects of this church is the use of only nominal separation between the main body of the church and the side chapels.  Additional rchitectural details, such as the size of the arch and windows and the lattice work forming a type of separate ceiling, separate the side chapel from the main body of the church.
Only the railing  and a vestigial ceiling separate the side chapel from a walkway,
on one side, and the main worship space, on the other
The liturgical furnishings in the interior – such as the tabernacle holding the Eucharist, the baptismal receptacle, the priest’s chair, the altar, the Stations of the Cross – are designed in roughly hewn travertine, quarried locally (near Guidonia), a modern aesthetic. We noticed the few potted plants that have been placed next to some of these modernist pieces, relieving their starkness, probably to the dismay of the artist, Italian Giovanna De Sanctis Ricciardone ( This decorating of stark modern pieces with more homey touches is something we see in most of the 21s- century churches.
altar chair
Stations of the Cross
baptismal station

looking out from the church to the neighborhood;
 note the protective fencing
  The construction of this church in a new neighborhood, with a newly created parish, is consistent with the Rome Diocese’s efforts to spread its message.  The neighborhood sprang up around 2000, and the church was consecrated in late 2010, after 3 years of construction.  On the church Web site (link below), a writer notes that the area could have been considered a desert when families bought apartments here in 2000.  Malafede (meaning “bad faith”) was basically a neglected area, known in the past for pirates and malaria.  Again, the placement of this church follows the population and also is an acknowledgement by the Church that parishioners are moving away from the city into these somewhat wasteland-like suburbs.

A heavy gate guards the church grounds, as is the case in most of the 21st-century churches.  The gates may be closed not only at night, but during that part of the day when the priest is not in the church; this is an unfriendly aspect of modern church management, though perhaps necessary to protect church property with dwindling religious personnel.

The church's namesake, Padre Pio, or Saint Pius, as he now is known, is extremely popular worldwide, and the parishioners here seem to like having a church in Rome dedicated to him.  We note the use of Pio and the church's distinctive roof design on church posters. 
This view from in back of the church also shows the parish buildings, 
again of modern and interesting design. 
 The gardeners found a good place to store their supplies.

The back of the church is as intriguing as the front.  Here one can see some of the features of the construction – the beams that hold that roof in place, as well as the gardeners trying to beat back the weeds and using space in the beams to store their equipment.

A view of the gardeners - unsuccessful in getting
 that mower running (and one wonders how it
would handle those weeds) - also shows how tightly
 the church is placed next to the apartment buildings

The architects for this unusual church structure were Anselmo e Associati.  We could find nothing about them, even though they have a Facebook page, except they are a northern firm, in the province of Lombardy, north of Milan.

We've included below some other photos, showing the requisite bell tower and some other views of the church, as well as some relevant links.

How to get there?  That’s an issue.  We went by scooter.  The church, at via Paolo Stoppa, 12, is half-way between via Cristoforo Colombo and via Ostiense/via del Mare, past the GRA, midway between the towns of Vitinia and Acilia.  One public transportation option is to take the Roma-Lido train from the station in Ostiense (the station is next to the Metro Piramide stop) past EUR to Vitinia and walk about 1.5 miles.  Some of that walk is along via del Mare; so hopefully there’s some kind of pedestrian space. This is one of those times (and we will say that for most of these churches) when a taxi may be in order.


Some links:
The church’s Web site:  It has flags for various languages, but they don’t seem to work.  Use a Google or other Web translator.



Anonymous said...

You can check out my blog postings from December 2012 for 24 different contemporary churches to inspire your future treks. I include the Jubilee Church and Padre Pio's church, so there are 22 others!

brunop.roma said...

perhaps it may interest my photographic work on the jubilee churches in Rome
the work in in progress for all 45 chirches