On Paul’s birthday, we decided to have a day out. We headed towards Terracina and then on towards Priverno, where closeby is situated the fine Abbey of Fossanova . This was to be our very first visit and as we approached we caught a glimpse of the abbey, in its verdant rural setting, nestling in the valley of the River Amaseno at the foot of the Lepini Mountains.
We passed through the entrance gate, which is guarded by a large tower. A cobbled road leads to a courtyard where we were able to get our first view of abbey facade. It looked so picturesque, bathed in the mellow light of the late afternoon.
The first Benedictine monastic settlement, a small Romanesque construction, was built in 529 AD on the site of an ancient Roman temple (some Roman remains can still be seen today).
The site was taken over by Cistercian brothers in 1135 and the construction of the abbey’s church commenced in 1163. In the vicinity, the friars, who were renowned for their proficiency in engineering, also built a dyke to drain some low lying marshy land close to the river, and it is from this “fosso nuovo” (new ditch) that the name of Fossanova is derived.
The Cistercians built the beautiful abbey in a French Early Gothic style, which was revolutionary in this area of Italy, the Abbey is considered to be a magnificent example of Cistercian architecture. It is very similar in design to Saint Bernard’s Abbey at Clairvaux in Burgundy. The church was dedicated to the martyr Santo Stefano and Santa Maria and was consecrated by Pope Innocent III in 1208.
It is built of limestone and has an elegant stately facade, with a central Gothic entrance, inlaid with mosaics, and a sizeable rose window. A beautiful faceted bell tower or lantern. The interior is luminous and has elegant simple lines, consisting of a nave and two aisles, with pointed arches and a lofty vaulted ceiling. It is a timeless haven of tranquillity, a harmonious calming ambience in which to gather one’s thoughts and for spiritual reflection.
In the rectangular Cloister there are three sides which have a formal colonnade in a simple Romanesque style, whilst the fourth side is of a later date, constructed between between 1280 and 1300. The latter section is more ornately decorated, with twisted columns and stone carvings of various intricate motifs.
In the centre of the cloister there is a peaceful garden, and to one side is a quadrangular structure, with a small lantern. This was the “Lavatorium”, which originally would have contained a simple trough and fountain where the monks could wash their hands before meals.
Closeby is the Refectory, a large rectangular hall with a pulpit for the reading of the bible whilst the monks consumed their meagre meals. This has now been converted into a chapel. Other areas of interest are the Sacristry, the Chapter House, the Calefactorium, the Kitchens and the Dormitory.
There is also a Medieval Museum housed in a building which was originally a guesthouse that offered lodgings to visitors and pilgrims. It was in a small room on the second floor of this edifice, that Saint Thomas Aquinas died on the 9th March 1274. He had falling ill whilst on a voyage from Naples to attend a papal council in Lyons. This chamber was later made into a small chapel dedicated to his memory and is decorated with an 18th century relief depicting the saint’s death.
There is a Gift Shop, Cafe / Bakery, Restaurant (Il Forno del Procoio) and Accommodation in an Agriturismo within the grounds.
We would highly recommend a visit to this beautiful abbey and monastery if you ever decide to spend a holiday in this beautiful area.
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All photos by me © Louise Shapcott