I am a big fan of the Italian writer Marcello Simoni. One of his book sequels are “L’abbazia dei cento peccati”, “L’abbazia dei cento delitti” and “L’abbazia dei cento inganni”. I read all of them of course.
They are crime and mystery stories, situated in the middle age. The kind of story I like the most. I learn about history in a very entertaining (and intriguing) way.
The story of the books is about the lapis exilii, a precious relic, mentioned in an old parchment. Maynard de Rocheblanche, a knight, tries to find out what it is about and to bring back the parchment and the relics to the original place, an abbey in France. On his way to find the subjects he has to stay for a long time in Ferrara and the abbey of Pomposa.
Reading the books I was getting very curious about this abbey. It is situated south of Venice, halfway to Rimini, not far away where I live when I am in Italy. So last summer I had the opportunity to drive to Ferrara and Pomposa together with a friend.
The abbey is a Benedictine monastery not far away of Ferrara and once upon a time built on an island. It is famous today not because of the books but because it keeps Carolingian manuscripts in its library.
Already in 874 in this very place there was an abbey, very well known for the Carolingian art. For long time it was one of the most important places in Italy with a rich cartulary. In 1152 during a winter of heavy rain the river Po broke through the dam near to Ferrara and as a consequence the river re-located its riverbed. The area around Pomposa got more and more swampy and gave the perfect base for malaria. Due to this and the black death the abbey lost its importance to the impoverishment of the dying neighboring area.
The last monks left the abbey around 1671, it became at some point a private property and only in the 1930 of the last century it became property of the state and restored.
The church of Santa Maria is a triple-nave Ravennan Romanescque style basilica. Beautiful the arcaded aisles and carpentry rafters. During the time the abbey grew in power and influence and was also enlarged during the 11th century with a segmental apse.
Inside the church there is a geometric decorative inlay stonework, a so called cosmatescque. It’s a typical Medieval architecture art and used for a special kind of mosaic inlaid pavements. The frescoes in the apse are by Vitale di Bologna (also mentioned in the book) and some other masters of the area. Instead in the hall the frescoes are by a scholar of Giotto.
Really impressive is also the campanile, the bell tower. It’s free-standing, 48 meters high and Romanesque.
We entered the place from the Palazzo della Ragione, which was built before 1026 and facing the church. Here we got the ticket to see the ground.
My friend didn’t know anything about the place, I knew all out of the books I read. So we had all to be surprised.
The first place we entered after the Palazzo della Ragione and crossing the garden was the refectory. It has beautiful paintings. The ceiling is a masterpiece of woodwork, the pavement a huge mosaic. No furniture, a bare room with some information boards explaining the paintings.
We got out of the refectory and up to the Pomposian museum. It is situated in the dormitory, once divided into cells for the monks. Today it is a huge room with a lot of artifacts found on the ground during restoration. I liked a lot the pottery and glass as I am always fascinated by old glass. From the windows – once every monk’s cell had a window – I could see a little forest right behind the abbey.
Just behind the dormitory there is the chapter house. It was the monks meeting place. The pavement is lightly wavy, maybe due to an earthquake. And again the beautiful wooden ceiling. Dark wood with bright colorful paintings at the wall and a mosaic pavement that doesn’t distract at all.
I was amazed by the beauty of this place. Of course it looks completely different to what I imagined out of the books. Especially because today there is no way anymore to see it was once an island and surrounded by woods. The land is flat and really bare of trees.
I felt a little like walking in my books, sitting inside the church or outside in the sun and thinking about the story, the people walking and living here. What a fun to go in places you read before in a historical thriller!
Pomposa, Ferrara, Emilia-Romagna/Italy:
For further information:
Abbey of Pomposa