Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo


Located near Rome. Connected with, and belonging to the monastery are three separate sanctuaries. The first, the Church of St. Paul of Three Fountains, was raised over the spot where St. Paul was beheaded by order of Nero. Legend says that the head severed from the body, rebounded, striking the earth in three different places from which fountains sprang forth, flowing to the present day, and located within the sanctuary itself. The second, originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, under the title "Our Lady of Martyrs ", is built over the relics of St. Zeno and his 10,203 legionaries, who were martyred here at the order of Diocletian, in 299. In this church is the altar "Scala Coeli", from which the church receives its present name. Within is the church and monastery dedicated to Sts. Vincent and Anastasius, built by Pope Honorius I in 626, and given to the Benedictines, who were to care for the two older sanctuaries, as well as their own church. The abbey was richly endowed, particularly by Charlemagne, who bestowed on it Orbitello and eleven other towns, with a considerable territory, over which its abbot exercises ordinary jurisdiction ( abbatia nullius ).

Towards the middle of the seventh century the persecutions inflicted on the Eastern monks by the Monothelites obliged many of them to seek shelter in Rome, and to them this abbey was committed as a refuge. These continued in possession until the tenth century, when it was given to the Cluniacs. In 1140 Pope Innocent II withdrew the abbey from them, and entrusted it to St. Bernard, who sent there a colony from Clairvaux, with Peter Bernard of Paganelli as their abbot, who five years later became Pope Eugene III.

At the time Innocent granted the monastery to the Cistercians, he had the church repaired and the monastic quarters rebuilt according to the usages of the order. Of the fourteen regular abbots who governed the abbey, several, besides Blessed Eugene III, became cardinals, legates, or bishops. Pope Honorius III , in 1221, again restored the Church of Sts. Vincent and Anastasius and personally consecrated it, seven cardinals at the same time consecrating the seven altars therein. Cardinal Branda (1419) was the first commendatory abbot, and after him this office was often filled by a cardinal. Popes Clement VII and VIII as cardinals held this position. Leo X, in 1519, authorized the religious to elect their own regular superior, a claustral prior independent of the commendatory abbot, who from this time forward was always to be a cardinal. From 1625, when the abbey was affiliated to the Cistercian Congregation of St. Bernard in Tuscany, until its suppression at the Napoleonic invasion (1812) the local superior was a regular abbot, but without prejudice to the commendatory abbot. The best known of this series of regular abbots was the second, Dom Ferdinand Ughelli , who was one of the foremost literary men of his age, the author of "Italia Sacra" and numerous other works.

From 1812 the sanctuaries were deserted, until Leo XII (1826) removed them from the nominal care of the Cistercians, and transferred them to the Friars Minor of the Strict Observance. The purpose of the pontiff, however, was not accomplished; the surroundings were so unhealthful that no community could live there. In 1867 Pius IX appointed his cousin Cardinal Milesi-Ferretti, Commendatory Abbot of Sts. Vincent and Anastasius, who endeavored to restore, not only the material desolation that reigned in the neglected sanctuaries, but also to provide that they be suitably served by ministers of God. To further this end he obtained that their care be again committed to the Cistercians. A community was sent there in 1868 from La Grande Trappe to institute the regular life and to try to render more healthful the lands, which from long neglect had been called the tomba (graveyard) of the Roman Campagna. Assisted by Pius IX, so long as he held the temporal sovereignty, and by other friends, especially Mgr de Mérode, they were able to supply their ordinary needs. The usurpation of 1870 deprived Pius IX of the power to aid them, and later, when the Italian Government confiscated religious properties, they suffered with the others. They remained at Three Fountains, at first renting and later (1886) definitively purchasing it from the Government, with an additional tract of 1234 acres. They inaugurated modern methods for the elimination of the malarial conditions that had been such an obstacle to health in the past, especially by planting a large number of eucalyptus and other trees, an experiment insisted upon by the Government in the contract of sale. The trial proved a success, so that the vicinity is now nearly as healthful as Rome itself. The present commendatory abbot is Cardinal Oreglia di S. Stephano, dean of the Sacred College ; and the Administrator is the Most Reverend Dom Augustine Marre, Abbot-General of the Reformed Cistercians.

More Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia is the most comprehensive resource on Catholic teaching, history, and information ever gathered in all of human history. This easy-to-search online version was originally printed between 1907 and 1912 in fifteen hard copy volumes.

Catholic Encyclopedia

Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

Catholic Online Catholic Encyclopedia Digital version Compiled and Copyright © Catholic Online


Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Subscribe to Catholic OnlineYouTube Channel

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Ephesians 6:1-9
1 Children, be obedient to your parents in the Lord -- that is what ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 145:10-11, 12-13, 13-14
10 All your creatures shall thank you, Yahweh, and your faithful shall ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 13:22-30
22 Through towns and villages he went teaching, making his way to ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for October 26th, 2016 Image

St. Bean
October 26: On December 16, there is named in the Roman ... Read More