by Jincy IypeApr 21, 2023
Described as "organic and baroque", the new parish church of Santa Maria Goretti, designed by Mario Cucinella Architects, emerges as an elemental and sentinel-like monolith, inspired from natural forms and the traditional, austere apses of Calabrian, Byzantine churches built by monks. Solitary and serene, the sacred form garbed in gently flowing white concrete exudes modernity and timelessness, and is Cucinella’s first religious project in his 35 years as an Italian architect. Standing peacefully in a hill town of Mormanno overlooking the Pollino National Park, in southern Italy, the church is dedicated to Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902), the Catholic Church’s youngest saint.
Cucinella shares that as a young man, he was captivated by the Baroque churches of Francesco Borromini, their sinuous facades finding their way in his latest endeavour. "The clients are the Diocese of Cassano all’Jonio and the project was won through a design competition in 2013 sponsored by the assembly of Catholic Bishops. The brief was to respond to the Vatican’s programme for investing in new ecclesiastical buildings which in this case, was instigated by the damage that had occurred in Mormanno as a result of an earthquake in the area,” shares Mario Cucinella, Founder and Creative Director, Mario Cucinella Architects.
The church, whose construction began in 2015 and completed this year, sees simplified and modernised elements of Baroque. With zilch detailing and a minimal approach to sinuous surfaces, the spiritual edifice with a smooth, all-white skin adopts an irregular four leaf clover form that stands out on the hill, a soothing contrast from the town’s robust stone structures. “White is timeless and has a strong association with faith. It also introduces light in a way that enhances the reading of the sculptural forms at Santa Maria Goretti,” says the architect.
The church architecture accommodates up to 250 believers and is accompanied by a single level, orthogonal parish centre, a large concrete framed building hosting classrooms, a parish meeting room and a rectory, under a living green roof and placed around a central planted courtyard. The construction and sculptural architecture has been done such that maintenance and energy use is minimal. The green roofs and the planted internal courtyards, as well as the organic garden in front of the priest’s private quarters for 0-km cultivation contribute to the sustainability of the project, in tandem with serving the local community.
Sacral architecture sets dialogue with faith and art
The Church of Santa Maria Goretti is reached by a paved road, and entered through a crucifix, through a tall incision made in one of its four white concrete apses, illuminated with LEDs to come alive at night, evocative of Tadao Ando’s powerfully minimal Church of the Light in Japan. The cut wall becomes a beacon seen from afar, reminiscent of the three kings of orient who were led by the star to visit baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The church itself is really made up of one space with a small vestibule that gently guides one in.
Upon entering the numinous interior design lit diaphanously above, one’s eyes are drawn immediately to the top centrifugal space, where folds of translucent fabric are hung in the form of curvaceous drapes from the 16-metre-high ceiling. “…(this) has been inspired by, on the one hand, a resolute focus on the eucharist and prayer and, on the other, by the geometries of Italy’s most compelling Baroque churches, among them Francesco Borromini’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane and Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, both in Rome," shares the Italian architect with offices in Milan and Bologna. Skylights introduce daylight into the form, filtering congruously through the sculpturesque drapery that dominates the nave, augmenting the space’s spiritual nature and the faithful’s sincere worship.
"In addition to the constant play of daylight afforded by the veils hanging from the ceiling, on one day in the year - July 6, the Feast of Saint Maria Goretti - a beam of sunlight shines directly on the crucifix set on the wall behind the altar. Here, nature, art, architecture and religious faith and symbolism work in spiritual harmony,” Cucinella says, who brought together few but powerfully essential elements to characterise the essence of the church.
Designing a church is a message of continuity with the spirit of art that has passed unperturbed through the centuries of humanity. – Mario Cucinella
The parish centre’s northern side features a scalloped roof line that establishes dialogue with the four-leafed clover plan and form of the adjacent church. The clergy can enter the delicately curving church from behind the altar through a sacristy resting concealed within its curved walls, which also conceal the church’s bells. The congregation enters from the north, where the white concrete walls witness decoration in the form of engraved words relating to the life of Saint Maria Goretti.
"Inside, the relationship between art and architecture continues," Cucinella shares. Artist Giuseppe Maraniello was commissioned to create the lectern, tabernacle, baptismal font and figure of the Virgin Mary in stone, bronze and mosaic to reflect the fluidity of the walls inside. The minimal and austere furniture in wood and steel, also done by Mario Cucinella Design, highlights and balances the architectural and sculptural elements of the church’s interior.
The white fabric employed by the artist establishes a pure contrast to the darker, hand finished, hemp and lime lined interior walls of the religious architecture, producing a calming, tenderly mottled and earth toned interior. Maraniello drew from the tradition of heavenly and biblical scenes depicted in frescoes of traditional cathedrals, adapting it for the 21st century, like a physical and spiritual manifestation of the wondrous and celestial Northern Lights.
"The architecture of the Church, its interior spaces, the artist's interventions are the stations of a path of spiritual growth. In the study of forms we sought balance: the ability to combine sacred moments with the liturgical enjoyment of the church,” concludes Cucinella.
Name: Church of Santa Maria Goretti
Location: Mormanno, Cosenza, Italy
Area: 950 sqm
Year of completion: 2021
Client: Diocesi of Cassano all'Jonio
Architect: Mario Cucinella Architects
Architecture and Design team: Mario Cucinella (Founder and Creative Director), Luca Sandri (Project Manager); Competition: Alberto Bruno, Alberto Casarotto; Final Project - Executive: Emanuele Dionigi, Enrico Pintabona, Michele Roveri;
Structural Engineer: Milan Engineering, Milan
Plant design: Ing. Paolo Scuderi, Ing. Riccardo Giannoni
Works Manager: Arch. Gaetano Leto
Project Manager: Raffaele Boise
Construction company: Generali Costruzioni, Lagonegro, Potenza