Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle was the destination of the fourth of our #Sognidoro in Umbria. We could not leave the region without visiting an abbey. Indeed, the first stage was dedicated to the Abbazia di Santa Croce di Sassovivo, near Foligno, one of the most evocative places of the spirit in all of Umbria, which emerges imposingly among the holm oak woods of Monte Aguzzo.
In the cells of the friars in the woods of the Valnerina
While at the end of our trip we wanted to try the experience of being welcomed within the walls full of history of one of these monuments of the spirit.
Already arriving at the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle and looking at it from afar immersed in the luxuriant vegetation of Monte Solenne, it seems to have crossed the door of time. A road leads to the abbey that winds halfway up the coast in a mystical atmosphere and in a silence broken only by the sound of the car engine.
It is not hard to think that this intact corner of the Middle Ages that has survived the passing of centuries, one of the major documents of high-medieval art in central Italy, has been declared a national monument.
We listen to the millenary history of Federica, Letizia and Chiara, the three owner sisters who manage the historic residence.
The complex stands on the place where the hermits Lazzaro and Giovanni lived in the sixth century and was founded by the Duke of Spoleto Faroaldo II, who retired here to monastic life after being deposed by his son Trasamondo in 720.
The Latin cross church has a single nave and is an architectural treatise: the only monument that is directly linked to the history of the Longobard Duchy of Spoleto and which preserves so many signs of art and culture that developed between VIII and XII century in Central Italy.
In 1100 it was decorated with frescoes: the remaining cycles, including the beautiful scenes from Genesis with Adam and the animals, are jewels of Middle Age pictorial art. Also noteworthy is the Madonna di Loreto by Giovanni di Girolamo dated 1513. Also interesting are the five Roman sarcophagi with a pagan subject, one of which, according to tradition, housed the body of Duke Faroaldo II and the high altar, the first example of sculpture signed by author Ursus Magister.
Another peculiarity that catches the eye as soon as you enter are the two columns about one meter high positioned along a distinct groove that separates the entrance from the body of the church: these were placed to delimit access to non-baptized people who are not they could get close to those baptized who were positioned in the central part of the church, while the section between the floor of the church and the steps of the altar was reserved for the clergy, defined by two carved stone slabs.
Returning to the abbey, after various vicissitudes, it was first purchased by the Ancajani family of Spoleto in 1890 and then taken over in 1917 by the Costanzi family who still own it today and who took care of its restoration under the supervision of the Superintendency of Fine Arts. of Perugia.
In 1999 it became a splendid hotel, while the abbey church is owned by the Parish of Ferentillo and open to the public for visits.
And thanks to the works expertly directed by the father engineer, the Abbazia has not suffered any damage after the earthquake of August 2016 that hit central Italy and in particular the world of Norcia and Amatrice, so much so that it was reopened in March of the following year in time to welcome guests of the new season.
The Costanzi sisters invited us to roam freely around the complex surrounded by the greenery of Monte Solenne. The rooms obtained in the ancient cells of the Benedictine monks and in the rooms of the guesthouse and have a monastic furniture that does not betray the spirit of the place while ensuring comfort. Different from each other, they have fireplaces, shelves, niches, built-in wardrobes and even loopholes are each called with the name of a friar.
Our? Fra ’Timoteo on the ground floor with an entrance directly from the cloister because those like us who travel with four legs are assigned rooms that guarantee immediate access to the outdoors without going through the interior of the abbey which can still be visited freely.
Upstairs the loggia, enriched by frescoes among which the rampant lion of the Ancajani family crest stands out, overlooks the large cloister surrounded on three sides by a portico and which is accessed by passing the arch of the door that once allowed monks to separate the areas also intended for foreigners from the area intended exclusively for religious.
This is the place where the mystical atmosphere that can be breathed everywhere is felt most and it is here that together with our Otto we had breakfast the next morning, under the arcades near the refectory where it is served in case of bad weather.
We reluctantly left this place where you feel at peace with the world, especially in the evening when darkness falls and silence takes over the whole valley. Next time we intend to follow Federica’s advice and to reach the ghost town of Umbriano with a nice walk in the woods, one of the first castles of the Valnerina on the slopes of Monte Sant’Angelo, right in front of the Abbazia di San Pietro in Valle.
We didn’t miss the dinner at Hora Media, the restaurant located where the monks’ cellars once stood, but the generous welcome and friendliness of Carla and Alessandra deserve a separate post.
We only anticipate that it completes the magnificent offer that the Abbazia reserves for its guests by contributing with its atmosphere of the past, thanks to the medieval music in the background, to make them heard in an era different from ours or on a film set!
It is certainly no coincidence that the abbey complex has been chosen several times as the shooting location for various films including Marcellino Pane e Vino: traces of it remain in the reading room on the upper floor of the cloister where one wall is decorated with a large fresco depicting San Francesco, made for a scene from the film and left there at the end of filming.