Located in a picturesque village, the Abbey of Fossanova (Abbazia di Fossanova) is a Cistercian abbey with a beautiful church and peaceful cloisters. Begun in 1163, Fossanova is considered a magnificent example of Cistercian architecture, reflecting that of Clairvaux. The village of Fossanova is part of the town of Priverno and not far from the Abbey of Casamari, which is better known but (we think) not as interesting or beautiful as this one.
The first monastery on this site was built by the Benedictines in 529 AD on the site of a Roman villa. It was dedicated to St. Stephen, the first martyr. The abbey was given to the Cistercians in 1135, who began by building a new canal (fossa nova) for swamp drainage. The Cistercians are famed for their water engineering skills.
Construction on the abbey church began in 1163; it was consecrated by Pope Innocent III in 1208. By the time it was completed at the end of the 13th century, Fossanova Abbey already had nine daughter monasteries. The church is considered one of the earliest appearances of Early Gothic architecture in Italy.
Fossanova's most distinguished visitor was St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) who fell ill while passing through and died here on March 9, 1274. He was on his way to the Council of Lyons. In 1368 his remains were moved from Fossanova to the Jacobins Church in Toulouse, France. But his presence still lives on at Fossanova: the hostel where he stayed at Fossanova was turned into a chapel in the 17th century and the address of the abbey is Via San Tommoso d'Aquino 1.
The abbey was closed by Napoleon in 1810, but bought by Pope Leon XII who gave it to the Carthusians of Trisulti. The Friars Minor Conventual took over the abbey in 1936 and made it into a college. The parish of Fossanova was established in 1950. Today, Fossanova Abbey remains both an active Franciscan friary and parish church.
What to See at Fossanova Abbey
The church and monastery buildings at Fossanova are considered perfect examples of Cistercian architecture. Closely modeled after St. Bernard's original abbey in Clairvaux, Fossnova provides a better sense of what Clairvaux was like than the original site itself, which sadly is now a high-security prison. Its architectural style is like that of Burgundy, France.
The abbey church overlooks a small cobbled square in the village of Fossanova, next to an ivy-colored restaurant and guest house. The plain west facade has a large wagon-wheel rose window; blind pointed arches and some bare masonry indicate where a porch once stood. The west portal, which has a tympanum with a half-rose decorated with mosaic, is much newer than the rest of the church.
The interior is austerely elegant in the unique Cistercian style. It has pointed arches, a high vault, and only the simplest of leaf carvings on its capitals. The nave has side aisles and ends in a flat east end with rose window, crossed by a short transept. The east chapels off the transept contain traces of frescoes.
The cloisters are lovely, with a lush garden and fine views of the crossingn tower of the church. The capitals are almost entirely undecorated in accordance with Cistercian values, but there are some sculpted characters to be found at the base of a column or two. There is also a faded fresco of the Madonna and Child over the door to the church.
Off the east gallery of the cloisters is the chapter house, with central pillars, rib vaulting, and a small altar with a statue of Padre Pio. The south gallery connects with the large refectory, which is now used as a chapel.
A passageway in the southeast corner leads behind the church to the Chapel of St. Thomas, which incorporates the hostel where St. Thomas Aquinas stayed and died in 1274. This interesting sight should not be missed; especially the short climb up narrow old stairs to the upper rooms. (The lower level was under restoration when we visited in April 2008).
Upstairs is the small and plain room where St. Thomas stayed, which has some fine views of the church and nearby hills from its small windows. The rest of the upper level is occupied by the chapel, with a beautiful wooden ceiling and an altar at the east end. The left wall bears a lengthy Latin text in red paint, which unfortunately was thoroughly graffitied before being covered with a protective glass.
Quick Facts on Fossanova Abbey
|Names:||Abbazia di Fossanova · Fossanova Abbey|
|Categories:||churches; monasteries; abbeys; abbey churches|
|Faiths:||Catholicism; Cistercian order|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||41.438415° N, 13.195760° E|
|Address:||Via San Tommaso d'Aquino 1|
|Phone:||+39 (0)773 939 061|
|Hours:||Daily 7-12, 4-7:30 (3-5:30 in winter)|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Fossanova Abbey|
- Personal visit (April 12, 2008).
- Abbazia di Fossanova - official website
- Julie Roux, The Cistercians (MSM, 2005), 129.
- Kenneth John Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800-1200 (Yale University Press, 1993), 233-34.
- Photos of Fossanova Abbey - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Fossanova Abbey
Below is a location map and aerial view of Fossanova Abbey. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.