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Abbey of Fossanova seen as magnificent example of Cistercian architecture

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 13th, 2011
Catholic Online (

The Abbey of Fossanova is a Cistercian abbey with a beautiful church and peaceful cloisters. Considered a magnificent example of Cistercian architecture, reflecting what Clairvaux was like than the original site itself, which has sadly become a high-security prison. Its architectural style is like that of Burgundy, France.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The village of Fossanova is part of the town of Priverno and not far from the Abbey of Casamari.

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. Given to the Cistercians in 1135, which began by building a new canal for swamp drainage.

The church was consecrated by Pope Innocent III in 1208. By the time it was completed at the end of the 13th century, Fossanova Abbey had nine daughter monasteries. The church is considered one of the earliest appearances of Early Gothic architecture in Italy.

Among the abbey's many esteemed visitors was St. Thomas Aquinas who fell ill while passing through and died there on March 9, 1274. His remains were moved from Fossanova to the Jacobins Church in Toulouse, France in 1368. Aquinas' presence lives on at Fossanova: the hostel where he stayed was later 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. Fossanova Abbey today remains both an active Franciscan friary and parish church.

The church and monastery buildings at Fossanova are closely modeled after St. Bernard's original abbey in Clairvaux.

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. The west portal, which has a tympanum with a half-rose decorated with mosaic, is much newer than the rest of the church.

The cloisters have a lush garden and fine views of the crossing 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.

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.

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