It is told that in 1900 three illustrious prelates, going to Testaccio to visit the schools run by nuns, were involved in an accident that proved decisive: «a rascal among the kids who stood and watched the priests, threw at full speed a big stone which, shattering both doors’ windows, went through the carriage. […] The Monsignor, speaking to D. Cerruti, said: “Isn’t there need of Salesians in Testaccio?”, and D. Cerruti calm as usually: “Yes, Monsignor, there is need of them indeed and we shall send them” (Notizie per la compilazione della cronistoria della Pia Società Salesiana).
Since its inception, the quarter was considered a missionary land by the Catholic Church: already in 1887, in fact, the religious congregation of the Daughters of Divine Providence ran the Hospice of S. Margherita in Via Marmorata, later on the presence of Jesuits is recorded, and, finally, from 1899 the Salesians settled there, having been definitively chosen to direct the new church. In 1908 the new impressive Church of Santa Maria Liberatrice, built in only three years spending considerable energy and resources, was consecrated.

The Salesians’ arrival was tolerated by the inhabitants and caused episodes of intolerance.

This resistance came from the strong socialist, republican, and anarchical feelings widespread in Testaccio, and from locals in general, who had grown up within educational and charitable lay institutions, which had worked in the area for years and were inspired by democratic and participative values.During First World War the presence of laics progressively diminished, while the educational and social work of the Salesians, through schools, parish youth clubs, amateur theatrical companies, intensified and rooted deeply in the quarter, finally becoming the main point of reference for people in Testaccio during fascism.

The church, made of bricks and travertine, was built in the neo-Romanesque style by the Torinese architect Mario Ceradini. On the façade are two mosaics representing the Crucifixion and the Virgin surrounded by Saints Peter, Paul, Quirico, and Julietta, the pope Zachary and Theodotus. On the high altar is preserved the 16th century fresco, depicting the Virgin and Child, coming from the homonymous church, demolished in 1902 in order to bring to the light the remains of Santa Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum.


(A. Ancona)