Curves and organic shapes pick up on Baroque tradition and symbolism in this place of worship in Mormanno, on the border between Basilicata and Calabria
The simplicity of a cross and a seamless expanse of white stone: this is the first impression conveyed by the Church of Santa Maria Goretti in Mormanno, near Cosenza, in the heart of the Pollino National Park, where the barren landscape of Basilicata and Southern Italy's Apennines merges with the rugged stony mountains of Calabria. The design is by MC A – Mario Cucinella Architects: with this work, the studio secured first place in the CEI Pilot Project design competition organized in 2011 by the CEI (Italian Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church) for creation of three new ecclesiastical buildings in Italy.
Completed in 2021, the Church of Santa Maria Goretti is an excellent example in illustrating how contemporary architecture is able to preserve (and embody) the true sense of the sacred, which all too often is now left only in the custody of buildings from the past. The shape of this church, with its monumental floorplan, picks up on the meandering and organic curves of the Baroque tradition, reworking them with striking visual impact.
Solitary and monolithic, and reminiscent of a precious treasure chest, the church covers 950 m2 of floor surface with 16-m high ceilings as it extends its façade towards the valley and the urban context below, which it interacts with while also intentionally keeping a distinct distance.
The MC A design has settled on simple minimalist forms and solutions that nonetheless bring a powerful symbolic effect. Just two features of the Christian tradition ‒ a prominent main entrance and the cross ‒ define the front façade facing the new church square. Interplays of reflections of light mean that the edifice also lights up the valley, standing as a true beacon in the night, guiding pilgrims towards this holy house. The cross in fact appears on the façade thanks to slight partings in the building shell, creating intersecting lines of shadow at the main entrance. Also incorporated in the outer shell is the narrative of the Stations of the Cross, in a series of clay tiles.
"The spaces inside the church, its artworks and its altars are the stations in a path of spiritual growth. While developing the architectural forms, I sought to establish balance: pairing sacred moments with church usage. This was our approach to enrich the Church of Santa Maria Goretti design to the full. The four arms of the cross-shaped plan become petals that, with light's complicity as it interacts with the architecture, embrace and envelop the space. Designing a church is a message of continuity with the same spirit of art that has journeyed through the centuries of our lives unperturbed."
The interiors are an authentic work of art, a composition where the episode of the crucifixion is offered by a window looking onto the crucifix inside the church. On 6th July ‒ the day the saint and martyr the church is dedicated to died (1890-1902) ‒ this same window allows a ray of sunlight to filter through and light up the whole crucifix.
The entire setting is cozy and compact, and permeated by natural light whose impact is accentuated by a series of translucent veils that reflect its rays, lighting up the central area of the church. This interplay of reflections evokes the mystical spectacle of the northern lights, creating the atmosphere that Giuseppe Maraniello, a hybrid and versatile artist, conceived for the space.
Besides symbolism, the designers have also focused on materials to echo sacred themes: stone, bronze and mosaics mingle with Baroque reverberations and successfully blend the two disciplines of art and architecture. The furnishings, just like the architectural structure, are minimalist and austere. Created by MC D - Mario Cucinella Design out of wood and steel, these furnishings confidently play with the sculptural and architectural elements of the building without placing them in the shadows.
Location: Mormanno, Cosenza, Italy
Client: Diocesi di Cassano all'Jonio
Building Area: 950 m2
Architect: MC A – Mario Cucinella Architects
Plant Equipment: Ing. Paolo Scuderi, Ing. Riccardo Giannoni
Construction Management: Arch. Gaetano Leto
Artist: Giuseppe Maraniello
Main Contractor: Generali Costruzioni
Photography by Duccio Malagamba, courtesy of MC A – Mario Cucinella Architects