Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The "Very British" (?) church of San Paolo Dentro le Mura

San Paolo Dentro le Mura or better, Saint Paul Within the Walls, is an Episcopal church of the USA, built in 1873 by the will and support of reverendo Robert J. Nevin.
It's the first non-Catholic church being built in Rome after the Unification of Italy.

It was designed by the English architect George Edmond Street, a popular practitioner of the Victorian Gothic revival, known for his work on the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand in London.
In the colourful pick for the stonework of the facade, the sturdy yet charming composition of the groin vaults of the lateral naves combined with the unexpectedly simple vault of the middle nave and the touching use of stained glass window we can see in this tiny, yet flowery church a nice example of Neo-gothic architecture with Neo-romanesque insertions.
The first thing that we have to pay attention to are the mosaics decorating the facade of the church.
They are the work of George W. Breck, an American mural artist known at the time for being the director of the American Academy in Rome.
Around the rose window we can spot the angelic creatures rappresenting the Four Evangelists: the angel of St. Matthew, the lion of St. Mark, the ox of St. Luke, and the eagle of St. John.
Over the West entrance, is a mosaic portraying Saint Paul while preaching to the people in Rome: it's kinda moving how even the Roman soldier posted with guarding him looks as if enjoying the Saint's teachings:
Here are a few shots of the inside of the church.

As my cheap digital camera can't understand the complex light of a shadowy church, the pictures came out kinda crappy. Sorry guys.

After this first look around we continue with checking out the mosaics of Breck.
On the rear wall of the church you can find the rappresentation of the Nativity with the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Kings.
The borders of the rose window is decorated again in the inside, sporting the celestial cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem under a starry sky.

We talked about stained glass windows and here we go.
As you know, it's quite impossible to use glass walls in a church with the climate of Italy without turning it into a sort of greenhouse, so the architect used these tiny yet charming windows to give the idea of the "romantic" gothic style.
The windows were commissioned to the British firm of Clayton & Bell, and I'm delighted by how they turned out, the general vibe coming out from the simply decorated walls:

Of course the stained glass windows rapresent the moments of Saint Paul's life, from his young days to his conversion, his preaching around the world and his execution in Rome.

And now, dulcis in fundo, the reason for my interest in this church: the preraphaelite mosaics of my beloved Sir Edward Burne-Jones!
From the next picture you can get a better idea of the mosaics and their concept.
The first arch is dedicated to the Annunciation. Burne-Jones decided to set the scene at sunset, to suggest the hour of the Angelus.
The second arch rapresents the "Tree of Life", how the sacrifice of Jesus is a mean for salvation and forgiveness, symbolized the moving devotion of Adam, Eve and a baby Cain.
Finally, the "Christ Enthroned" of the apse, showing the glory of a thriumphant Christ in front of the Heavenly City, guarded by his angels and supported by the Saints.
An interesting detail is given by the gate at the right of Jesus, left unguarded, as the others are dutifully guarded by his archangels: that's a reminder of Lucifer's betrayal and the empty spot that he left.
For a more detailed interpretation of the works I suggest you to read about them on the website of the church, at this page.

Quite interesting are the rapresentations of the ascetics, matrons, saints, virgins and warriors in the lower register of the mosaic:

Following the Reinassance tradition, Burne-Jones took some of the illustrious personalities of his times as "models" for his saints-- General Grant and Abraham Lincoln give the due American tribute to a church that feels very British at heart.

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