The monastery of the Benedict nuns, formerly dedicated to Santa Bibiana, has ancient origins. Its current name may derive from the primitive (male) Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, located near Lake Bolsena and known in Montefiascone in the year 852. The Benedicts, whose origins trace back to the period of the barbarian invasions that followed the fall of Imperial Rome, lived in St. Peter’s and also in the monasteries of San Pancrazio and San Simeon.
See also: Church of San Pietro
Info: Monastery of the benedectine nuns of Saint Peter – Tel. 0766/826066 – mail: email@example.com
THE MONASTERY OF THE BENEDICTINE NUNS OF SAINT PETER
The monastery of the Benedict nuns, formerly dedicated to Santa Bibiana, has ancient origins. Its current name may derive from the primitive (male) Benedictine monastery of St. Peter, located near Lake Bolsena and known in Montefiascone in the year 852. The Benedicts, whose origins trace back to the period of the barbarian invasions that followed the fall of Imperial Rome, lived in St. Peter’s and also in the monasteries of San Pancrazio and San Simeon. Due in part to the various raids by the Goths and the Vandals, as well as the fire that occurred at the monastery of the Benedict nuns at the beginning of the Seventeenth century which caused the destruction off many valuable documents, reconstructing the history and origins of the monastery is very difficult. The walls and monastic architecture of the building, along with the living room, ground floor and first floor, showcase the antiquity of the building. During the seventeenth century, the entire building complex was affected by a large reconstruction. In 1652, the pharmacy was built to serve the outside city, and during the years 1671-1681, another major refurbishment project took place throughout the entire building. In 1688 the decrees of Cardinal Barbarigo (the Bishop of Montefiascone), along with other measures, attempted to lift the Benedict nuns from spiritual and material poverty.
In 1719, the Benedict nuns decided to build a new choir and church vault which, when built, had three new alters decorated with stucco. The church tower was restored in 1752 to hold four bells. The bell of St. Peter dates back to 1301 and was cast by Matthew of Viterbo. The second bell is dedicated to St. Scholastica, the third to Bibianella in 1829, and the last to St. Benedict. The final bell was cast by the founder of Viterbo in 1830, Luigi Belli. In 1810, the Benedict nuns, who had embraced the common life since 1802, were forced by the government of Bonaparte to leave the monastery. Five years later, Bonaparte took religious possession of the monastery, but in 1870, it was confiscated by the new Italian state and auctioned off. The new owners were none other than the original Benedict nuns. In 1944, the monastery became a singular legal entity which, in spite of the occurrence of World War two, was decisive in the beginning of the Benedict school. Approximately 300 years ago in this monastery lived mother Maria Cecilia Baij (b.1694-d.1766) from Montefiascone, one of the most important mystical figures of the eighteenth century.
The current Benedict monastery of St. Peter shows the work undertaken during the Renaissance and continued in the following centuries. However, there are still parts of the original structure dating back to ancient, medieval times in some central rooms, which are now used as cellars and garages. The distinctive element in these rooms is the presence of a strong arch that emerge from the walls or pillars. These pillars help to hold up the wooden ceiling, and compensate for other heavy items that replace older ones. These supports, similar to those found in Montefiascone, also mark the halls of the papal fortress and other places of the Northern part of former monasteries such as the monastery of the hermits of St. Augustine. The use of round arches to support the roof of the rooms stems from a system used widely in religious and urban architecture during the second half of the thirteenth century in Viterbo. Pointed arches occur, for example, in the nave of the church of Saint Francesco. Large central arches are found in the basement and in the middle of the living room of the Papal Palace, which is the underlying structure in the Lodge of Death. On the premises of the hospital of Domus Dei, and even in rooms that are now occupied by the museum, used to belong to the Monastery of Saint Maria the truthful.
The use of the arch as a structural element to support the roof, was spread mainly by the Cistercian monks. Viterbo’s Abbey of Saint Martino of Cimino, which is at the center of this architectural trend, played a key role in the program of territorial policy implemented by Pope Innocenzo III and other groups of Cistercians.
The rooms on the lower ground floor of the Benedict Monastery of Montefiascone use this architectural structure, which points to their position in time during the fourteenth century.
On the ground floor there is the “Comunichino” (communicate) which is the oldest part of the foundation that the present monastery complex is developed from. This space was connected to the church outside by an iron gate that allowed the nuns to attend mass. Another similar opening that is smaller in size, allowed them to have confession and receive communion. This is the derivative of the word “Communicate.” It is difficult to identify the exact original function due to the lack of documentation of convents in previous centuries, however it can be assumed by the subjects of the wall paintings, that this art was a part of the original church, or an oratory, used by the religious community. The old church structure was modified during the second half of the fifteenth century, and was incorporated at this time with new buildings. The space in front of the “Comunichino” showcases work from the Renaissance, including carved elements such as corbels that support cruises and keystones.
The Monastery of the Benedict nuns of Saint Peter’s – Montefiascone (VT) – Italy. Translation by Jennifer Pelizza, Goucher College, currently enrolled at the USAC Viterbo program.
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