Grottaferrata, Monastery of

views updated


A famous abbey about 12 miles southeast of Rome, Italy, an abbey nullius since 1939, it has long been a center for Greek Catholic basilian monks in the West.

Early History. It was founded near the site of ancient Tusculum by nilus of rossano on the ruins, still visible, of a Roman villa, and near a 5th-century chapel. Work on it progressed under Abbots Paul, Cyril, and Bartholomew the Younger (d. 1055). The last-named finished the construction of the church dedicated to Our Lady in the romanesque style with a narthex and atrium, and Pope john xix consecrated it on Dec. 17, 1024. Through the centuries the building underwent various alterations that changed its original appearance. The interior was remodeled in 1754 in the baroque style, a far from happy choice, by Cardinal Bernardo Gaetano guadagni, to whom the abbey had been given in commendation, but in 1930 the exterior was restored to its original design. At the entrance of the church there is a portal with excellent bas-reliefs and a mosaic on the tympanum depicting the Deësis, both dating from the 11th century. Within there are lovely mosaics, such as that of Pentecost, from the 12th and 13th centuries, and paintings, such as that of the Trinity, dating from the 13th century, found on the triumphal arch. The icon of the Madonna, dating from the 12th century, is exhibited in a splendid marble shrine by bernini. The church is flanked by a small building from the Roman period in the opus quadratum style, employed as a Christian chapel in the 5th century, with windows that have double bars, and this accounts for the name Crypta ferrata given to the monastery and also to the town. The chapel of SS. Nilus and Bartholomew, built in 1131 by Abbot Nicholas II and restored and enlarged in 1610 by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (d. 1626), is covered with frescoes by Domenichino (d. 1641). Other important work was done on the church and monastery under the patronage of the commendatory Cardinals Alessandro Farnese (d. 1589), Francesco Barberini (d. 1679), and F. Colonna. In particular, Giuliano della Rovere, later Pope julius ii, had the abbey palace built between 1485 and 1490 and fortified the monastery by surrounding it with a moat and towers.

Spiritual and Intellectual Life. Originally, the community of Grottaferrata, composed of about 60 members, was organized to observe Byzantine monastic discipline, and was noticeably influenced by the development of studion at Constantinople. The records of the first centuries of its existence reveal an intense ascetic and cultural activity and record the growth of its holdings and of the privileges conferred on it by princes and popes. Among the latter was callistus ii, who exempted the monastery from the jurisdiction of the Tusculan bishop. In its monastic scriptorium a group of highly skilled copyists worked on a sizable number of codices, many of which are still preserved in situ or in other libraries. Outstanding monks such as Arsenius (fl. 11th century), Luke (fl. 12th century), Sophronius (fl. 12th century), and in particular Bartholomew the Younger, successfully pursued hagiography and Byzantine hymnology. The monastery's vast land holdings made it possible to reclaim some of the wooded and boggy region nearby. A period of decline ensued as a result of the baronial rivalries of colonna and orsini and coincided with the transfer of the popes to Avignon (see avignon papacy) and with the western schism. From 1462 to 1824 the monastery was under abbots who held the abbey in commendation, all but one of whom were cardinals. The first of this series was bessarion, who fostered a return to earlier ascetic and ritual observances and a renewed interest in studies; but because a compact internal organization was lacking, no lasting effects were noted. This need was supplied in part by the Basilian monastic reform in Italy brought about by gregory xiii in 1579; the order accorded Grottaferrata first place in the Roman-Neapolitan province, at the same time establishing a novitiate at the abbey. Another consequence of the reform was the revival in 1608 of the post of claustral abbot, which allowed the restoration of the internal organization, thus creating the atmosphere essential to a reflourishing of the religious virtues and a renewed interest in intellectual pursuits.

The Modern Period. The Napoleonic era, during which the community was dispersed, was followed by a slow revival that became more pronounced after leo xiii; at the request of the monks, Leo decreed in 1881 through the Congregation for the propagation of the faith the Byzantine character of the monastery. In 1904 the 9th centenary of the founding of Grottaferrata was celebrated with religious and cultural events and programs that created widespread interest. In 1929 the Latin parish was separated from the Greek parish [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 22 (1930) 13437] and finally in 1937 pius xi gave the abbey definitive juridical status, creating it an abbatia nullius, or an exarchal monastery [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 30 (1938) 18386]. The monastery was granted a pontifical seminary, erected in 1918 by benedict xv for priests of the italo-albanian catholic church [Acta Apostolicae Sedis 10 (1918) 419].

The abbey possesses also a specialized library with a valuable collection of Greek codices and a museum with ancient, medieval, and Renaissance works of art, pagan and Christian inscriptions, publications, and coins. Since 1909 it has had its own print shop, which publishes numerous Greek and Slavic liturgical books, and a laboratory for the restoration of old books. Grottaferrata has as dependencies a monastery in Calabria, two in Sicily, and an office in Rome, which serves also as a student center. Two mission houses formerly maintained by the abbey in Albania were closed by the Communist regime in 1945.

Bibliography: a. rocchi, De coenobio cryptoferratensi eiusque bibliotheca commentarii (Tusculum 1893); La badia di Grottaferrata (2d ed. Rome 1904). t. minisci, Santa Maria di Grottaferrata: La chiesa e il monastero (Grottaferrata 1955). s. kambo, I castelli romani: Grottaferrata e Monte Cavo (Bergamo 1922). c. cecchelli, L'etimasia criptoferratense (Rome 1946). h. leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie, ed. f. cabrol, h. leclercq, and h. i. marrou, 15 v. (Paris 190753) 6.2:183142. e. guaita borghese, a. mercati and a. pelzer, Dizionario ecclesiastico, 3 v. (Turin 195458) 2:27879. g. penco, Storia del monachesimo in Italia (Rome 1961), passim.

[m. petta]