Relations with the Church

The great abbeys

     The Abbey of Montecassino
     The Abbey of St. Vincent al Volturno

The Chronicon Volturnense (history of the monastery written by Monaco Giovanni in the 12th cent.) describes in great detail and with a wealth of illuminations the vicissitudes of the Benevento noblemen and the establishment of the monastic centre. The founding of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Vincent dates back to the middle years of the 8th century. Three Benevento aristocrats, Paldone, Tatone and Tasone, decided to settle in the lands that they received as a gift from the Duke of Benevento, located near a monastic nucleus founded by a small community of monks in 684. The merit of improving the relations between the Volturno monastery and the court of Charlemagne, from which he originated, must be attributed to Ambrogio Autperto, Abbot around the year 777. Giosué was responsible for further developments of the monastery and for a series of architectural works that were to determine the functional arrangement of the monastic city until it was destroyed by the Saracens in 881. He consolidated the relations with the Carolingian court and reorganised the layout of the city, whose buildings until then had risen in a haphazard fashion. Thanks to his efforts the Volturno complex became one of the most important in Europe and played a significant role in the control and management of a vast territory characterised, in those days, by modest settlements and isolated castles (castella). The architectural plan, as recent excavations show, displays innovative characteristics. The model of the Constantinian basilica of Saint Peter’s in Rome was substantially revised in some of its elements, with the elimination of the transept and the addition of the ostwerk. The triapsidal three-nave church had rows of sixteen columns on each side, and the material recovered from Roman buildings was utilised in its construction. The crypt has a semicircular elongated outer ring associated with an inner space in the shape of the Latin cross. The geometrical patterns of the frescoes are heavy, to create the illusion of a sepulchre full of diamonds, polychrome marbles and multicoloured marquetry, a real subterranean paradise. The large refectory could accommodate approximately 400 monks. The entire floor of the refectory and of the other connecting halls consisted of terra cotta elements made in the monastery. Its workshops produced silver, ivory, glass enamel and bronze (bell foundries), but specialised in the production of the glass needed for the large windows and small objects. The crypt of Epifanio, abbot from 824 to 842, is frescoed with images that draw inspiration from the Apocalypse of Saint John. In 881 the monastery was attacked by a group of Saracens. Only a few decades later the monks managed to reconstruct the buildings, workshops and churches, and to return the abbey to its former splendour.