Fossanova Abbey

 

One of the things Italy sure has no lack of is churches. Given the particular history of the country and of course the overwhelming influence of the Vatican in its social, political and economic life, churches are numerous and almost always very beautiful. Even the smallest and provincial church is usually a trove of artistic and architectural marvels, not to mention of actual treasures. As a matter of fact, they are so common that in a very short time you get inured to them. And then there are the real masterpieces.

Everybody knows of course the cathedrals of Italy, usually built in the main square of every major town. Even Italians however often ignore the beauty of the not-so-minor churches dotting the countryside, such as the Cistercian abbey of Fossanova, in the province of Latina. Today it is generally mentioned as the dying place of Saint Thomas of Aquina, one of the founding philosophers of Medieval Catholicism. Before that, however, it was a sort of ideal prototype of the early Burgundian gothic style.

Translated in layman terms, the abbey is very, very imposing and very, very stark. The motto of the Cistercian order was ‘memento mori’, or “remember you will die”, and their cheery disposition guided all their choices – including the one to keep their temples solid and uncluttered. The abbey was inaugurated in the year 1208, and today it still is mostly like in that day. Huge spaces, a silent cloister, and a sort of unreal perfection.

Today it has been inherited by Franciscan monks, who sell the tasty fruits of their earthly work, including charcuteries, wines, liquors and more. The real specialty of the place is however silence, peace and tranquility – a rare oasis of a bygone quiet that also envelopes the surrounding village – except during the Medieval Fair of Fossanova. This is a five-days festival of historical reenactments, great food, street shows, concerts, parades and more, including dueling shows with real ancient weapons and a mock trial to the sins of humanity

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