Abbazia di San Giusto | ABBEY
Wonderfull guest house near rome. Ancient abbey.
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THE ABBEY TODAY

In 1990, Mauro Checcoli, a Bolognese engineer and Olympic gold medallist (Tokyo 1964), together with his family, purchased from a shepherd the ruins of the Abbey of San Giusto at Tuscania. This Cistercian abbey, founded in 1146, had been abandoned for over six centuries. He immediately decided to return it to its medieval splendour, undertaking an arduous (and at times, even a little crazy!) process of excavation, restoration, and reconstruction, which is now – after two decades – nearly complete.

 

Today the Abbey of San Giusto is an eco-friendly organic farm producing essential oils, but it is above all an evocative venue designed to welcome travellers, artists, and lovers of nature, architecture, and history.

As it was for the medieval monks who once settled here, the Abbey is a truly unique setting, where the craftsmanship of man and nature join together in an unspoiled valley amidst rivers, lavender fields, and olive groves.

THE HISTORY

THE ABBEY OF SAN GIUSTO, TUSCANIA (12th CENTURY)

 

The 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.

 

The accessibility of this fertile region meant that defenses were important too. The large walls of Tuscania (formerly Toscanella) and the hidden grottos in San Giusto’s surrounding hills remind us that the now peaceful Lazio countryside was often a scene of war and pillage.

 

Pope Gregory the Great recounts the earliest monastic activity in Latium in his Dialogues (written c. 593-594). Monks in this region north of Rome led a coenobitical life. They were grouped together under an abbot who possessed full authority over them. The abbot was in turn bound to serve the will of the local bishop.

The first secure evidence of a monastic community here at San Giusto comes from the late tenth century (a document dating from 962). Benedictine monks, following the Rule of Saint Benedict of Nursia, established a monastery here. But the site appears to have been abandoned.

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.

On April 2, 1178, during the abbacy of Abbot Donatus, Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) granted considerable privileges and apostolic protection to abbati monasterii Sancti Iusti prope Tuscanellam ordinis Cistercensis (“the abbot of the Cistercian monastery of San Giusto near Tuscania”). The strict rule of the Cistercian order was difficult to maintain, and relations between San Giusto and Fontevivo worsened over the twelfth century. In 1194 the General Chapter (assembly) of the Cistercian Order condemned the abbot of San Giusto for irregularities. The condemnation was repeated in the General Chapter of 1202, when the abbot of San Giusto was deposed because of alleged lapses in monastic discipline. There is some archaeological evidence – the bones of animals evidently slaughtered for food, and, even worse, dice made from animal bones – that the Cistercians at San Giusto were less than strict.

To redress these issues, the order switched the mother institution of San Giusto. First it was transferred to Casamari. Afterward, in 1255, Pope Alexander IV (1254-1261) placed San Giusto under the control of Sant’Anastasio at Aquas Salvias, better known as Tre Fontane. The abbey continued to have abbots into the fourteenth century, but it was permanently suppressed in 1460. Thereafter its buildings fell into disrepair.

The Church, Tower, and Crypt


The Church is divided into three sections: the presbytery for the monks, near the altar; a middle section for the lay brothers (conversi); a third section, close to the portal, for the guests, the pilgrims, and sick people.

In the floor, there are some remains of a previous, older and smaller church (maybe an ancient parish). There are also some reused Roman inscriptions used in the pavement: one near the presbytery to a certain Claudius who died at the age of 65 and another, on its side and not legible, in the lay brothers’ section. Under two large glass sheets are the remains of the furnaces used for fusing the bells, both in the Benedictine phase and in the Cistercian phase.

The crypt below has a shape which can be found elsewhere in central Italy, similar to the one present in Farneta Abbey in Foiano della Chiana.

The Portal bears an inscription in marble:

Rainerius Levita et Monach (us) op hoc (us) iu fieri (s) siedono temporibus Domni Alberici umilis ABB (ati) s

 

(Rainerius, deacon and monk, ordered this work to be made in the times of lord Albericus, humble abbot).

A – The Cloister   note the unusual third side, used by the lay brothers and distinguished by its use of wood from the sides used by the monks.

M – Chapter House  (Capitolum): the hall where the chapter (all the monks in the abbey) met.

 

L – Parlor  (Parlatorium): the room where the monks where allowed to talk to each other or to the abbot.

 

I – Scriptorium the room for study and the preservation of manuscripts copied in the abbeys. You can still see some arches, used as supports for the bookcases.

 

A – Fountain  this was rebuilt on one side of the cloister from the surviving fragments. It probably served to wash food and for personal cleaning, while the water flowing through the lower channel nearby would have been used for consumption.

Spring  located beneath the arch that supports the stairway leading to the monks’ dormitory, the mouth of the spring is located at the lowest point of the monastery in order to ensure a continuous flow of water in all seasons, even during periods of drought.

 

F – Refectory   the hall where the monks had their meals. The niche in the wall was the cupboard for dishes and glasses. The small window was the serving hatch, which made possible to pass the hot plates directly from the kitchen into the Refectory

 

E – Kitchen   Cucina

 

D – Cellarium  the room where monks and lay brothers (lay people who lived and worked in the Abbey) worked, and where food was stored.

 

Hydrologic System  As in all Cistercian abbeys, the water system was efficient and carefully designed.The abbey complex was built on the edge of a sandy acquifer, which lies roughly thirty metres below the level of the surrounding fields and which cuts across the entire slope descending toward the river Marta.

The monks captured the water in various places for their own needs, using the clean runoff below the abbey to feed a fishpond and channelling the dirty runoff into the gardens.

One intake furnished the water for a well at the hospice. A second emptied into a large basin that served as a trough for the animals, providing water en route (as it still does) for the large washbasin inside the cloister after first passing by the kitchen. A third formed the beautiful source of drinkable water on the edge of the cloister. A fourth furnished a continuous flow to clean out the latrines.

The system therefore distributed water where it was needed and where the activity of the monks was concentrated, and it remains functional and visible today.

Secondo piano

P – O – Monks’ Dormitory    dormitory for 20-24 monks. The stairs at one end gave easy access to the church for the nighttime Divine Office. At the other end is a large lavatory, whose waste disposal system remains perfectly functional even today.

 

N – Lay brothers’ Dormitory  dormitory for 20-24 lay brothers (laymen who lived and worked at the abbey).

RESTORATION

COMING SOON

VISITOR INFORMATION

SUMMER HOURS:

Open every day

H 9-12    H 15-18

WINTER HOURS:

Open by advance reservation.

The Abbey was acquired and restored with the aim of allowing travellers, aficionados of art and nature, and scholars to visit a Cistercian abbey in its entirety, an experience with few parallels elsewhere in Europe.

Guided tours (in English, Italian, and occasionally French) are available for individuals and groups. These should be requested in advance by writing to:

abbaziadisangiusto

or by calling one of the following numbers:

T 3402392820    T 3382568826

There is no admission fee to visit the abbey. Donations are appreciated, however, and we also encourage visitors to support our activities by purchasing products from our organic farm.