I spent several years researching Pope Celestine V, and wrote a novel in which he was a significant character. Don’t bother looking at Amazon–it remains unpublished.
One of the most exciting days during my research in Italy was visiting the Abbey of the Holy Spirit, which was founded by Pope Celestine in the late 1200s. At the time of our visit, nine years ago, the abbey was in the middle of an extensive renovation, and was closed to the public. However, with the help of an Italian friend, I was given a tour guided by the architect who had worked on the restoration from its beginning.
At that time, we picked our way through construction debris and materials, plastic draping, and electrical cords. The paintings on the walls were just emerging as a blanket of grime was removed.
But most meaningful to me was a visit to the crypt–probably the oldest section of the abbey, because much of the existing construction was done after a devastating earthquake in the early 1700s. Long strings of construction lights left shadowy corners in the crypt, and dust from the restoration work covered the floor. The architect pointed out a fresco picturing the future pope, Peter of Morrone, with a group of monks.
I noticed a large panel of concrete in the floor with an iron ring set into it. When I asked what it was, the architect and my friend placed an iron bar through the ring and lifted the panel to one side. We peered in, but the poor lighting revealed nothing. Then my husband aimed his camera down the hole, and the flash went off.
The resulting photo is my favorite of our travels, an image that awes me to this day. We were looking into the ossuary, the place where monks’ bones were laid to rest. Amidst the dust, the human bones are visible, bones of men who served God hundreds of years ago. The monastery was closed more than 200 years ago, so the remains we saw were from the 18th century and earlier.
Today, the restoration is done, and the results are beautiful! Here is a video tour, narrated in English, of the Abbey and a couple of other nearby sites.
Have you visited a monastery? Is there a particular one whose history intrigues you? Tell us about it in the comments!