Solitary, serene, and monolithic, the new parish church of Santa Maria Goretti rises from the northern edge of the Calabrian hill town Mormanno, commanding views of the mountainous Pollino National Park.
Designed by Mario Cucinella Architects the exterior of this elemental and sentinel-like building draws inspiration from natural forms as well as from the tradition of austere and beautiful apsidal Calabrian churches built by monks from the eastern reaches of the former Roman Empire escaping conquest and persecution. The result is an innovative church, dedicated to Saint Maria Goretti (1890-1902) - the Catholic Church’s youngest saint - that, although a new building, appears to stand outside time.
The church is entered through a tall incision made in one of its four white concrete apses, the entrance forming an external cross that, lit by night, is seen as a beacon, from afar. The numinous interior, lit diaphanously from above through folds of translucent fabric hung in the form of curvaceous drapes from the 16-meter-high ceiling, 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.
The commission for Santa Maria Goretti was won by Mario Cucinella Architects through a competition organized by the Episcopal Conference of Italy (CEI), the national assembly of bishops. Construction began in 2015 and has been completed this year. Reached by a dedicated paved road, the church forms a small new complex, including a new parish center also designed by Mario Cucinella Architects.
This essentially orthogonal single-story, a large concrete-framed building containing a parish meeting room, church classrooms, and the priests’ house – all gathered around a central planted courtyard and under a living ‘green’ roof. The north side of the parish center features a scalloped roofline in dialogue with the four-leafed clover plan and form of the church. Clergy can enter the church from behind the altar through a sacristry concealed within its curved walls. Church bells are also concealed within the walls.
Furniture in wood and steel by Mario Cucinella Design is minimal and austere to highlight the architectural and sculptural elements of the church interior. In addition to the constant play of daylight afforded by the veils hanging from the ceiling, on one day in the year - 6th July, 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. The design and construction of the church are such that its energy use and need for maintenance are minimal. Moreover, the green roofs and the planted internal courtyards, as well as the organic garden in front of the Rectory for 0-km cultivation, contribute to the sustainability of the project and serve the local community.