Rome Travel Guide

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Sartogo's Santo Volto Church - a Top Ten Visit


Put the 2006 church of Santo Volto di Gesù ("the Holy Face of Jesus") on your top 10 list for modern Rome architecture.  Less heralded than US architect Richard Meier's 2003 Dives in Miseracordia (known as the "Jubilee Church"), Santo Volto is equal to Meier's work and in some ways surpasses it. It's also closer to the center of Rome and easier to get to.

It's hard to overstate the dramatic impact of Santo Volto in this somewhat run-down neighborhood of Magliana.  Rome architect Piero Sartogo inserted the church into the fabric of the community on a small plot of land, totally unlike Meier's church, which has been heavily criticized for not being "of the neighborhood."  Perhaps for these reasons, too, the church is so heavily packed for Sunday mass that one must get there early to get a seat.  Sartogo's collaborator and wife, Nathalie Grenon, confirms the people in the community are proud of the church.
The 'half dome' looming among the nearby apartment buildings.

Sartogo used the concept of negative volume to present in reality a half-dome, an echo of the Pantheon, but modernized.  Quoting Grenon in a 2013 interview with us:
     The site of the church is critical. It's the idea of a city; it's urban. The language of the architecture here is the mass and the void. The void becomes a dynamic element, the void is inserted by creating a mass; and so there's that tension, as there is tension between the urban environment and the sacred.

But Grenon won't call the building "post modern."  In her words:
Entrance, with rectangular shapes contrasting with the round 'cupola.'
We would say shades of Fascism's rationalist period, but Grenon wouldn't buy it.
She would say only that the materials are Roman.
      The Santo Volto cupola is a reference to the Pantheon, and its idea of the sacred. In the Pantheon the sphere is inside, while in our church, the two halves of the dome are separate: one represents the sacred and the other the profane. All of Rome is constructed with shapes that come from somewhere else.

Let's just say the effect is awe-inspiring.  As social critic Alain de Botton says of some churches, they're designed to make you feel the power of God--and this one does, perhaps even for nonbelievers.




Mimmo Palladino's 4th Station of the Cross (Jesus meets his
afflicted mother).
Santo Volto is a showcase for contemporary Italian artists. Sartogo and Grenon commissioned several of them to provide the liturgical furnishings.  There was no budget for this purpose, and they had to work almost for free.  Some were famous; some were young and not.  Noted artist Mimmo Palladino's stations of the cross are impressive and of this century.  Young artist Pietro Ruffo's  "face of Jesus" painting is hauntingly gorgeous.
Pietro Ruffo's face of Jesus, above the confessionals.

And then there's the crucifix.  It was originally designed by noted Italian artist Jannis Kounnelis, but the Diocese rejected his design.  Sartogo and Grenon had to come up with something quickly, before the Pope's visit.  She sketched out the crucifix, which was supposed to be temporary but has become iconic.  It's now for sale at the Vatican.

Grenon holding a replica of the crucifix she
designed.


Grenon's interview contains more fascinating comments.  It's here in TheAmerican/inItaly online magazine.

The church is open as most churches are; with a break in the middle of the day.  To be safe, we suggest going before noon or from 4-7 pm.  Impressive as it is outside, you will want to see the inside too.  Via della Magliana 166.  The church is about 3/4 mile (1.3 km) from Piazza Meucci at the southern end of the Marconi district.

As some of our loyal readers know, we have made the modern churches of Rome a project.  For posts on churches, put 'modern church' in the search engine.

Additional photos below of, first, Meier's Jubilee Church and then several more of Santo Volto.

Dianne

Richard Meier's Jubilee Church.  The exception that proves the rule:  this day
we saw people enjoying the somewhat isolated church piazza.



Entrance doors to Santo Volto - echoing Renaissance church bronze doors.
Outside the half-cupola, in the open volume.

















Play and contemplative space in back, nestled in the community.

From inside the church - through the back 'wall' and crucifix-
 one can see the neighborhood apartments.

Nathalie Grenon with the crucifix she designed--
now on sale at the Vatican.
Schematic of church and list of artists.

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