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The Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova

(Abbazia di Santa Maria e San Stefano di Fossanova)

 in  Lazio, South of Rome




Italian Cistercian Abbey Pages



Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations



One of Saint Bernard's Italian visits took place in 1134 - 35, and amongst other places the Benedictine Abbey near Priverno turned itself over to the Cistercians.  The first act of the Cistercian monk-engineers was to build a new dyke for swamp drainage - hence "Fossanova".  A new abbey church was begun later in the 1100s, pioneering the "Cistercian Italian Gothic" style which became a model for many later abbeys and churches in Italy.  It was consecrated by the powerful Pope Innocent III (during a break in his ongoing disputes with Emperor Frederick II) in 1208.  The beautiful gothic church and the attached monastery buildings are said to be a close copy of Bernard's own monastery of Clairvaux in Burgundy (nowadays part of a high security prison).  They are full of light and lightness, and these days are occupied by Franciscan Friars Minor.  Fossanova's most distinguished though short lived visitor was Saint Thomas Aquinas, who fell ill whilst passing by and ended up dying there on 9 March 1274.


On the day we visited in June 2004 we were just in time to catch the end of a wedding, which was lucky as otherwise the buildings are closed between 12 and 4.  It is possible to stay overnight at a newly restored Albergo on the south side of the monastery.  One could then be in this rather out of the way place for the morning light, have lunch in the restaurant just opposite the monastery entrance, and then drive over to the major Cistercian (still) Abbey of Casamari - which reopens at 3, is more of an evening light place, and also has a good bookshop. 





The facade with wedding guests, retro fitted centre doorway and rose window, and no portico any more - still most attractive, and next time we'll arrive at the right time to get to the purer space inside!


The bell tower (below) at the transept crossing would also not have been part of the original Clairvaux lookalike building - Cistercians were not allowed to build these distracting ostentations during the early decades of the movement.   What they did build, and what you won't find in this or other restored Cistercian abbeys (with the single exception of the Pavia Certosa refectory), is the permanent stone wall screen which used to divide the top third of the nave (monks only - hence the descriptive term "choir monks") from the other two thirds (lay brothers and others).



Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations



The nave looking east (above) and west (below, with night stairs)



Photo Holly Hayes, Sacred Destinations





The Chapter House in its traditional position on the east side of the cloisters (which are on the south side of the abbey church).  Beautiful vaulting and lots of light, in part because the floor is on the same level as the light filled cloisters and the room also has windows.  Also rugs and an informal "lived in" feeling ..... that's Franciscans for you!



The gothic style south side of the cloisters, with notice board outside the doorway to the refectory, now sadly filled with "permanent" wooden pews (below).





The refectory, now a chapel and dressed for a wedding





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