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The most spectacular church in Rome turns ten years old

2013-11-23

When you think of churches in Rome, these images likely come to mind: centuries-old buildings, majestic domes, entire walls covered in artwork. 

But Rome's skyline also features one very unconventional church, with a story behind it as unique as its design. It's called the Church of God, Our Merciful Father, but informally it's known as the Jubilee Church.

ROSARIO GIUFFRÈ
Architecture Professor 
"The space setting contradicts all traditional principles of a Catholic church. For example, it's not a church designed in a cross-shaped floor plan, neither Latin or Greek. And it's not inspired by the Tridentine Council's concept of a central nave.”

The Vatican chose American architect Richard Meier, from an open call to design a church to celebrate the Jubilee, the arrival of the Third Millennium. John Paul II himself approved the design, and expressed his desire for it to be consecrated to God, Our Merciful Father. 

The final outcome is a striking structure, both inside and out. An absolute simplicity dominates the interior: empty white walls, a glass ceiling. The modern designs contrast starkly with two antique objects: a crucifix from the 1400's and a statue of the Madonna. 

ROSARIO GIUFFRÈ
Architecture Professor 
"The beauty of that Madonna is that it's not modern. So it ends the practice of imposing traditional norms within architectural culture on the overall church. Instead the presence of these two elements are the continuity of tradition.”

But perhaps the church's most impressive and recognizable features are the three distinctive sails on the outside. For John Paul II they symbolized the "boat of Peter,” sailing with the People of God. But as with any unique piece, there can be more than one meaning.

ROSARIO GIUFFRÈ
Architecture Professor 
"They're an example of constructivism, and represent a dome, so characteristic of Rome from the baroque era. But instead, it's sectioned off and redesigned disjointedly.”

But whatever the interpretation, reactions arealways the same. 

FR. FEDERICO CORRUBOLO
Parish priest, Chiesa Dio Misericordioso
"The comments are mostly positive. Architects always make a sketch of the outside, and visitors are always struck by the shapes, and the essence of the shapes.”

But even for local parishioners, the Jubilee Church is special. They just celebrated the tenth anniversary of its consecration. What's more, they've openly embraced their links to John Paul II and the Jubilee.

FR. FEDERICO CORRUBOLO
Parish priest, Chiesa Dio Misericordioso
"Every three years, we talk about: one year, the Son, Jesus Christ; another year, the Holy Spirit; and the third year, the Father. Just like John Paul II indicated in his preparation letter for the Jubilee of the Year 2000.”

And though he never stepped foot inside, John Paul II remains a key figure for the church. Ahead of next year's canonization, they're expecting a jump in visitors to see this unique building. It's a living celebration of his lasting legacy for the Third Millennium.


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