On March 14, 2012 Daniele and I visited the Abbazia delle Tre Fontane. This is an abbey built on a site of three springs, the site of martyrdom of St. Paul.
This write-up and photos are from over a year ago, March 2012, but they never made it up. I’m trying to upload old pictures and the accompanying stories now with back dates so they are archived in order.
Today we continued our tour of Italian monasteries with the Abbazia delle Tre Fontane. The place is very beautiful and religiously important. This is the sight where the Romans martyred by beheading the apostle St. Paul on June 29, 67 AD.
You enter the monestary from the Arco di Carlo Magno (Arch of Charlemagne). Much of the original art work has faded because it dates to the 8th century.
Once inside there is an open courtyard with the main abbey (left) and the church of Santa Maria Scala Coeli (right). The Abbey is the largest structure. The church inside is not as fancy as the other two, this is where the nuns and monks perform their daily activities. It was build to the specifications of all San Benedetto monasteries, so the sun comes into the part of the building relevant for the activities prudent for that time of day.
Santa Maria Scala Coeli literally means ladder to the heavens in Latin and is the smallest of the three in the Monastery. It received this name because on this spot in 1138 San Bernardo, while celebrating a mass for the dead in the presence of Pope Innocent II, had a vision in ecstasy of angels leading souls from purgatory to heaven. The church itself is beautiful.
The church dedicated to St. Paul is down a small path. It is not incredibility big, but it is very ornate. You enter from the side and immediately notice the sound of running water. On your left is an altar for St. Peter, on the right an alter for St. Paul. Each has beautiful artwork. Straight ahead are three niches of black marble for the three fountains. They are at different heights but they fit seamlessly into the church architecture. Behind the middle fountain is another altar, but it was closed. In the center floor is a mosaic representing the four seasons taken from Ostea Antica (ruins close to Rome that are similar to Pompeii). Above the entrance door is a plaque dating to the martyrdom stating that this is the place there the apostle died. Like many Italian structures, this building was build on the ruins of another, that was another. The current structure dates from 1599. Every piece in this church has history and significance, they have it all on their website [http://www.abbaziatrefontane.it].
Like Sacro Speco, these monks are Benedictine order, who follow the teachings of San Benedetto. Specifically they are the sub-order of trappisti. There are many orders but the other popular one in Italy is Franciscan, who follow the teachings of San Francisco.
The moto of San Benedetto is “prega e lavora” or “pray and work”. They hand produce and sell many goods for the income of the monastery, including honey, jam, beer, liqueur, chocolate, as well and clothing, gold, wood goods, all sorts of stuff. This particular monastery is famous for their chocolate and having just tried some, I wish I had bought more! They are also known for goods with eucalyptus, and in fact the grounds of the monastery were covered in eucalyptus trees, as well as olive trees, and other herbs. I saw a bay leaf plant that had grown into a tree! Like Sacro Speco they sell a variety of honeys, but a few more options here. I picked up some eucalyptus honey and some pollen to add to the walnut honey we got before (so much delicious honey!). I’m excited about the pollen, it’s a jar of little grains of yellow pollen. You are supposed to eat a spoon of it in the morning for added energy.
I mentioned they make booze. Here they make all sorts liqueurs from herbs, eucalyptus, chocolate, and citrus. Their brothers in Germany make beer and have gotten pretty famous for it. I was looking at a shelf of some of these crafted brews when I saw one I recognized as a particularly delicious beer available in many US bars, probably just mixed in, right? Nope Chimay is made by Trapisti monks. I picked up a color label I’ve never tasted – hope it’s even better than the red!
Full album from this day trip: