he Abbey of San Giusto brings together many centuries of history in one beautiful location.
The abbey overlooks the valley of the river Marta, while protected by hills on either side. This area, some four kilometres from Tuscania, was inhabited already in antiquity, as is amply demonstrated by the remains of Etruscan and Roman settlements in this part of the valley. The presence of natural springs of potable water encouraged habitation from an early period, and the proximity of the Via Clodia, the river Marta, and the sea provided ready access to the site.
In the middle of the twelfth century, as the population of the region grew, a new, Cistercian abbey was established here. In these decades, the Cistercians, a fast-growing monastic order with its origins in Cîteaux (Latin Cistercium), expanded across Europe. The order, which sought a more austere mode of life, was founded by Robert and Alberic de Molesne, and made popular by Bernard de Clairvaux (1090-1153). The Cistercians were known for their expertise in agricultural labor and their mastery of hydraulic technology. Their monks wore white cowls and are often known as the White Monks.
On July 26, 1146, the Cistercian abbey of Fontevivo (near Parma), a daughter house of Clairvaux (France), sent a group of monks to resettle San Giusto as a Cistercian Abbey. Here as elsewhere, the Cistercians made good use of the natural water resources to supply the abbey with water for the kitchen, the fountains, the latrines, and other uses. They practiced irrigation, livestock farming, re-forestation, and handicraft activities. You can see many parts of the twelfth-century abbey today: the Church (the place of prayer), the Chapter house (for discussion, teaching, and group spirituality), the Scriptorium (for study and intellectual activities), the Refectory (where meals were served), the Dormitory, and the Cellarium (for practical activities, manual work, and the preservation of food). On the western side of the abbey are buildings for the Conversi, or lay brothers, who lacked clerical status but still lived and worked at the monastery. They wore brown instead of white and were excluded from the presbytery of the church during liturgical services.