Abbey of Santa Maria La Nova

The abbey of Santa Maria La Nova has very ancient origins. To better tell its story we need a leap back in time of about 1700 years, although indirectly, the beginnings date back to the beginning of 400 AD. when Alaric, head of the Visigoths, razed to the ground the Temple of Apollo present there, built centuries earlier. 1The primordial structure was raised towards the East so as to turn the facade before the first light of day, according to the will of the aristocrat Plotino, builder of the Temple at the time of the 212th Olympiad of the ancient era, sadly known for the numerous human sacrifices that took place in its history.2
The keystone occurred following the departure of San Benedetto, on 21 February 547 in the convent of Montecassino.
After his death, the building of abbeys was promoted in honor of his name and in his teaching.
In 542 San Placido together with other Benedictine monks went to Sicily and on their return they stopped in Campagna to preach the Benedictine creed.
Thanks to this event, in 560, the premises for the primitive monastery were built near the ancient church dedicated to Santa Maria in Furano.
The remains of the Temple of Apollo were used to erect the first walls and, precisely in 769 AD, the Abbey of the Benedictines of Campagna was officially founded, incorporating and restructuring the ancient factories of 570 in which (not yet a monastery but gathering place for the poor) the future patron saint of the city, Sant'Antonino Cacciottolo, who lived nearby and was prematurely orphaned of both parents. In the same year, the friar named Pellegrino became the first abbot of the Campagnase abbey, closely connected to that of Montecassino.
The boarding school had an active and proactive life right from the start, so much so that in the historical period that goes from the 1800s to the 1900s it was considered and appreciated as a renowned Study Centre.
In 818, after having resided for a long time, the Benedictines abandoned their abbey to escape the onslaught of the Lombards; having escaped the danger they returned there in 823.
As already mentioned, the structure was strongly linked to Montecassino, a connection that lasted until 938 when the Order was made official in Campagna, passing under the direction of the abbey of Salerno. 3 In those years an activity of publications of texts and manuscripts also began, such as when in 980 the friar Pietro da Fondi published a parchment entitled "Life of Sant'Antonino".
Years later, around the year 1000, an event of absolute importance occurred in the history of our city: the monks, having learned of the destruction of the abbey of Montecassino by the raids of that era, took action immediately to recover and transfer to Campagna the Thaumaturgical Column used by the Saint to scourge himself against the attacks and temptations of the Evil One.
The socio-political-war situation has always substantially influenced the life of the structure: in fact, he saw , several abandonments and yet another occurred between 1000 and 1100 when the friars of Santa Maria la Nova had to leave and find refuge at Mount Palmentara due to the Saracen and then Norman devastation, at the same time erecting the convent of the hermitage of St Philip and St James.
In 1076 Robert Guiscard, the first Norman prince after a long Lombard dynasty 4, at the request of Aldemario, bishop of Sant'Angelo, ordered large-scale restoration works for the ancient buildings of the convent; these works will radically change the appearance and shape also modifying the direction of the facade, no longer to the east as originally.
The structure, again, had to undergo periods of neglect and abandonment: in December 1213 the friars moved to the abbey of Cava de' Tirreni.
In 1220 however, there was the restructuring and enlargement of both the church and the ancient buildings: this operation led to the change of name to Santa Maria la Nova, currently in suo.
Another event of absolute importance occurred on 13 December 1258 when the column of Sant'Antonino was brought to the church of Zappino in today's Old Town, which has always been a safe and sheltered place in the area. This operation was probably carried out to safeguard the sacred relic, given the umpteenth abandonment, in the same year, by the monks to still escape the raids of the Barbarians and the spread of malaria.
We should also mention a new publication on the life of the Patron Saint published in 1300 by a Cassinese monk, and the death in 1462 of the last abbot, our local Francesco Santillo 5,the last Benedictine to have held the abbey for many years. Subsequently, it became a knightly commandery entrusted to the command of Orlando Orsini in 1468 6, at the time awarded the Order of Minims.
The latter, shortly after, was elected bishop of Nola and passed the baton of commendatory to Luigi Guerriero (uncle of Melchiorre) and from this occasion a deep bond was born between the noble family and the abbey which will ensure a long and secure life over time.
This conversion to the new order probably meant that on February 2, 1483, San Francesco da Paola, believed to be a healer, was sent to France under pressure from the Pope summoned by Louis XI, who in the meantime was seriously ill. On his way to the royal court, he stopped in the convent of Santa Maria la Nova.
In 1514 the monastery was temporarily suppressed to build up the goods for the canteen of the constituent Collegiate Church of Santa Maria della Pace. We can confidently assert that this structure also contributed to fulfilling the growth plan dictated by the Warrior, playing a key role both in terms of logistics and future income.
In 1516 however, the feudatory count Ferdinando Orsini and the canons regents, entrusted the convent to the Minims of San Francesco da Paola. This favored the interest, again by Melchiorre Guerriero, special attorney of the Paolottis, for a substantial and resolute reconstruction of the structure with the addition of new rooms without however altering the shape of the entire structure. The works will be sent over a period of 4 years: in 1520, in memory of the end of the restructuring, a commemorative plaque was placed inside and management was granted to the Franciscan friars in Santa Maria la Nova. Following the death of the noble Campagnase in 1525, the complex was enriched by a substantial librarian bequest, further testimony to how much the Count Palatine cared about this place.
In 1590, Giulio Cesare Capaccio, another illustrious historical figure of this city , wrote to Michele Guerriero (a relative of the aforementioned Melchiorre, who in the meantime acquired the juspatronato from his uncle on the abbey), where he urged him not to take into consideration the requests, however risky, for demolition and of reconstructions that the Paolottis were advancing. The latter considered that the structure was "too old" and not suited to their daily needs. 7 The Cathedral Chapter, the city authorities and the Warrior, in 1591 gave a negative opinion and, probably, it was this that gave rise to the pretext for abandoning the structure to go to the nascent hospital of Sant'Antonio ( where today there is the Carabinieri barracks) to provide care to the sick. The fact is that following this matter the convent passed under the direct dependence of the Chapter.
Despite a brief return of the Franciscans and the consequent definitive abandonment of Campagna by the monks, shortly thereafter the convent underwent a long period of abandonment which was remedied only several years later. Indeed, in 1721, the bishop of our diocese, Mons. Saverio Fontana, during one of his pastoral visits, having learned that Sant'Antonino lived here many centuries earlier, having ascertained the degree of abandonment and the poor conditions in which the building was pouring, he wanted to renovate it at his own expense, also enriching it with sacred furnishings.
At the same time, the high prelate also learned of ancient supplications linked to the difficult past centuries: the people of the countryside in fact invoked God begging him to put a stop to the continuous invasions and destructions and that if he had interceded towards them they would take steps to establish a path of penance from the structure to the churches where the column of the Campagna saint was kept.
Thus it was that Fontana kept the ancient promise and instituted the solemn procession of Monday in Albis, which takes place still today, with the movement and actual procession of the Madonna della Neve and San Francesco da Paola for 15 days in the structure of Santa Maria la Nova to return immediately afterwards.
In 1891 the now former convent of Santa Maria la Nova, following the confiscation of church property by the state, was auctioned off and sold the following year. The Campagnasi, however, did not give up and in April of the same year, with a committee made up of the Chapter, the Municipality and the Confraternity of the Madonna della Neve, with the citizens' money, they repurchased the property again, declaring it municipal property. Thus began the steps to found a new parish that would take charge of the souls of the citizens. From the beginning it was thought to make it independent from the Chapter and, in 1931, the Mons. Carmine Cesarano laid the foundations by elevating her to vicar so that Mons. Palatucci was able to declare it in April 1959.
Further work became necessary the following dawn on November 23, 1980 when the earthquake that struck Irpinia caused extensive damage to the structure, damage that cost the restructuring duration 10 years. Only in 1990 did the archbishop of Salerno, Mons. Grimaldi, bless the building and the beautiful fresco by the late artist and citizen Nino Aiello, placed behind the altar, depicting the apparition of the Madonna of Fatima to the three shepherd children. Today the church has a beautiful entrance cloister dating back to the 16th century, a stairwell from the 16th century and the small monastery with a single nave enriched by the painting just described.
Text edited by Cristian Viglione.
Revisions: Francesco Pezzuti.

1. Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 114 - VOL. M - 2004
2. Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 115 - VOL. M - 2004
3. Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 115 - VOL. M - 2004
4. Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 114 - VOL. M - 2004
5 Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 116 - VOL. M - 2004
6. Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 116 - VOL. M - 2004
7. Valentino Izzo - Raccontare Campagna...Religious factories. p. 119 - VOL. M - 2004

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