Altar of Pius X at Madri Pie Convent in Rome

Many convents in the vicinity of the Vatican have various items given to them by popes. Popes receive a great many gifts and they usually pass these on to others in need. These once vibrant orders, before the collapse that coincided with Vatican II, were flush with young vocations and were bursting at the seams hosting Vatican clergy for religious events, professions, processions, liturgies, and meals. Over the years many priests who worked in the Vatican were also resident chaplains in some of these convents, celebrating early morning Mass on a daily basis.

The Residenza Madri Pie is an old convent with a beautiful garden located just a few minutes walk from the Vatican. It was once a flourishing place, packed with nuns. Like many convents in Italy, due to the dearth of vocations, the property was turned into a hotel administered by an independent company. Thankfully the sisters have maintained an upstairs chapel for pilgrim groups and encourage them to have Mass there. There are still a handful of nuns on staff, and they maintain administration and maintenance of the chapel and sacristy.

In the sacristy of the chapel is an old bespoke custom portable altar with an icon of Our Lady that was gifted to them by Pope St. Pius X. Also included is a kneeler, and some vestments and relics that also purportedly came from the sainted Pontiff. Although the exact details of these items are no longer recalled by the sisters, the carven coat-of-arms of Pius X can be seen on the frame of the icon of the Madonna of Montevergine. This name can be translated as "the mountain of the virgin." It may have been a gift from the Abbey of Montevergine in the Commune of Montevergine in Benevento, near Naples. There is kept a beautiful 13th-century Byzantine icon of a "black" Madonna, seen in image below.

Original icon at the Abbey of Montevergine

The altar and icon go well together, although they were probably not part of an original set.  

The altar, like the icon, is set apart by its unique colors and inherent textural details. It is made of wood in a Romanesque style with Baroque elements, including a fixed tabernacle. It is portable and includes the original altar cross with four matching candlesticks. The paint job is original, reflecting faux marble technique. The altar is hollow, a period design element commonly seen in those years of the Gothic Revival, with small columns decorated by Corinthian capitals. Interestingly, there is an also the original "cerecloth" over the altar stone (see below image), placed here after the stone was anointed and the oils were still fresh; a very rare sight.

Below are images of the Roman style chasuble, a pianeta romana, made of ivory silk damask with a typical print depicting beautiful acanthus leaves. Thankfully the nuns have taken great care of these treasures and the sacristy is well maintained. Visiting priests who stay here are given permission to celebrate Mass here in the sacristy, a quiet corner of a busy center for pilgrim groups.  

The enthroned icon of the Madonna and Child of Montevergine is unique, with blended Byzantine and Western elements. It is in the style of the 13th century, modeled on an enduring icon type, the "hodegetria," seated on a throne. The Virgin, by indicating the child with her hand, "shows the way." The crowns and collars, later overlays, appear to be Neapolitan. 

Below is an image of the kneeler, kept in front of the altar at this convent for over 100 years. It has obviously gotten a lot of use over the years. It alone is a stunning work of art, with some whimsical Baroque elements. As far as kneelers go in Rome, it is small, and comfortable, with a low-lying knee pace.

The chalice below is kept locked away in the sacristy for visiting priests. It has a unique feature -- an episcopal ring has been attached to it. Just think of the thousands of clergy from all over the world who have offered sacrifice with this exact chalice atop this same altar in the holy city of Rome. The Church is glorified by her sacred ministers who administer the sacraments with great care and reverence. 


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