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History

The daily life in the Seventeenth-century monastery of Santa Rosa, in Viterbo

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04 December 2021

“The year 1589 the aforementioned spinster, Sister Faustina Fioravante, became a nun. With a dowry of 350 scudi, 100 scudi she paid not to pray, thirty scudi of entrance a year and how much she wanted and was able to ask from home. This young woman was swollen with pride [...] She wanted to dress in the Roman style: a tunic of the finest wool, hat, wooden clogs and fine towels to serve her person; an antique bed, table and chests of walnut, and stools for support”.

The annotation is not strange. In those years the nuns at the monastery of Santa Rosa in Viterbo were not doing well.

 “The monastery was nothing more than a ruined house, the walls decrepid, the floor was partly concrete and partly earthenware, without a ceiling, there was little shelter from the sun and rain. In all, there were nineteen cells, all with a pathway, and all there was so ugly and bad, that it is compassionate to remember them. Their clothes were very thin, in rained most of the year, the summer a little wine. They slept in small beds in the manner of cataracts and all in a dormitory: the sick, the dead and the healthy with much discomfort and suffering”.

It is thanks to a nun whose name is unknown, but who wrote very well, that we are in direct contact with an extraordinary cross-section of monastic life five centuries later.  After reporting events learned from a previous notebook, such as that of the rich and spoiled nun, since 1591 the author had been writing only about what she personally saw. This is why Memorie segrete - Una cronaca seicentesca del monastero di Santa Rosa di Viterbo, edited by Eleonora Rava (director of the Archivio Generale delle Monache Clarisse Urbaniste d’Italia), is a special monastic chronicle, as Gabriella Zarri, historian and director of the Scritture nel chiostro series for Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, which publishes the volume, points out in the preface.

However, it is also special for the way it recounts in detail the daily life of a monastery, the habits, the budgets, the description of the possessions, and dozens of events.  A century of history of an Italian community, from the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century, told with precision and, yes, even with verve; a book that can be read like a novel, a fast-paced read.

Sembra di vederle quelle monache che “si levavano dui hore avanti giorno, dicevano Matutino, poi si posavano fino al levar del sole o verso alba chiara, dicevano Prima e seguivano l’Ore; unitamente in quella posata facevano oratione, altre dormivano, altre si partivano per negotiare”.

While reading it seems to be as if we can see those nuns who “woke up two hours before the sunrise, then they said the morning prayers, then they rested until the sunrise or towards clear dawn, when they prayed again; meanwhile, at that moment of rest they prayed, others slept, others left to work”.

Autrice sconosciuta: una monaca che probabilmente nel 1591 aveva sedici anni perché, all’epoca. a quell’età si faceva la professione religiosa. Forse Margherita da Cipro o forse Maria Maddalena Pollioni entrambe abbadesse del monastero. O, forse, tutte e due.(dcm )

The unknown author was a nun who was probably sixteen years old in 1591. That was the age that religious profession was made. Perhaps it was Margherita da Cipro or maybe Maria Maddalena Pollioni, both of whom were abbesses of the monastery. Or, perhaps, both of them. (WCW)