Declared a “national monument” in 1874, the Abbey of Fossanova is the oldest example of Cistercian Gothic art in Italy and, together with the Abbey of Casamari (in Veroli), one of its highest expressions. The complex was built in the late twelfth century by the transformation of a former Benedictine monastery, perhaps dating back to the sixth century, of which only a faint trace above the rose window of the church. The ancient monastery, built on the remains of a Roman villa, the veins in fact sold in 1134 by Pope Innocent II to some Burgundian monks, led by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who followed the strict rule emerged from the reform of Citeaux (1098) marked on the original Benedictine orthodoxy. The Cistercians first I provided to rehabilitate the marshy area, through the excavation of a “new ditch” – hence his “Fossanova” name – in order to adjust the level of dell’Amaseno waters. The work of construction of the church, in local stone, so it was only begun in 1187 and 10 June 1208 Innocent III I consecrated the altar.
The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary and the martyr St. Stephen, perfectly reflects the severity of the Cistercian order, founded on the vote, isolation and Opus Dei: an architecture solemn, austere elegance, naked and without ornaments pictorial, in a mysterious atmosphere of simplicity and deep spirituality. A Latin plant and strongly characterized dall’ogiva, the temple is allowed for that matter, as the only “gorgeous” items, the large and magnificent rose window and the beautiful mosaic of the lunette of the portal; the same bell tower, visible from a distance, is of great beauty.
Connected to the church by the “Door of the singers” is also the cloister, the true focus of community life. Romanesque and Gothic on three sides in the fourth, gravitate the most important buildings of the abbey (Refectory, the Winter Meeting Room, Chapter House) and those that retain the most obvious signs of the close relationship between Fossanova and the Knights Templar.
The Abbey of Fossanova is linked to the story of the death of St. Thomas Aquinas, which took place March 7, 1274, in a small room, still visible, the Abbot House, the guest quarters. The “Angelic Doctor” was on his way to France to attend the Council of Lyons, convened early in the same year by Pope Gregory X: party Napabbazia fossanovaoli few days before on the back of a mule, had stopped in Maenza to visit his niece Francesca, but here she began to experience a fever that quickly had become worrisome. So it was that St. Thomas, aware of oncoming death, would be led to the nearby Fossanova to spend his last hours in prayer and meditation. According to tradition, he expected the transition according to the Franciscan use, that is, lying on the bare floor. At Foresteria (the former infirmary of the monks), you are accessed from the cloister, passing through a small garden where is a tombstone with half bust of the saint-philosopher in memory of the event (in the cloister of the footprints are visible which, according to legend, were left by the mule carrying the Holy upon his arrival to the Abbey). Mystery remains today the fate of the remains of St. Thomas. It is commonly believed that his skull is kept in the Cathedral of Priverno. Long ago, however, he circulated the news that someone had discovered the “true” remains of the saint, exceptionally preserved, near a village of Ciociaria: early is not heard from again.