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Monastero of Sant'Anna de Aquis Vivis

The important religious complex was built on the top of the homonymous mountain. Further informations on the building can be found in a document of of 1325which celebrated its foundation:in that year, Sancia, the queen of Jerusalem and Sicily, who was also the wife of Robert of Anjou(1309-1343), offered to the friar Benvenuto from Sarzana and his brothers twelve units of “sterile and uncultivated” land on the mount of Sant'Anna de Aquis Vivis, on which there were some cells with an adjoining church dedicated to Sant'Anna.

In 1589 the monastery was abandoned due to “ ladri et forasciti”. In 1625 the bishop of Carinola Onofrio Sersale reported that "in the land of Monte Dragone there’s the Abbey of S. Anna. It belongs to the fathers of the Congregation of Montecassino, with the obligation of residence; however, they haven’t resided there in three years”. In 1648 the abbey was guarded by a monk with the task of restoring it, after years and years of total neglect.

Two years later, the abbey was restored, and two monks kept residing there. In 1673 Monsignor Paolo Ayrolo stated that “the church has become a pigsty.The Fathers are indeed very happy only with incomes of 500 ducats and more”. In the early eighteenth century, thanks to the intervention of the abbots Gregorio Galisio (1704-1717) and Nicola da Salerno (1717-1722), the monastery received extensive restoration work and the addition of precious ornaments.

After this event there was no longer any useful information on the monastery. It is clear that the interventions wanted by the abbots of Montecassino were the last attempt to get it back to life, but it was too late: the building was no longer able to exert the influence of the past.

Coming from the gravel road that starts from the oldAppialeads to the plain of the secluded convent, one finds oneself in front of vestiges of a time harbinger of opulence which, unfortunately, have for the most part become visible only and exclusively through the fragments of the building that survived the collapse. At the end of the path, you can enter the enclosure which contains the church in the front which was the cornerstone of the settlement. It’s set between two large buildings that were divided into different rooms that were once arranged on different levels. Through a small arched and shallow opening, you then enter a quadrangular courtyard (whose borders are marked exactly to the north and south of the buildings) that make up the entire convent complex. The northern building has two deep parallel and communicating rooms on the ground floor, both unfortunately found in very small fragments which allow, however, to be able to trace the structural lines.

The northern building was covered with a vault and entrance placed outside the courtyard space. Above it there are still some visibleremains of a large room with openings and ocular slits above, all under a lunette vault of which traces are found for the part leaning against the masonry. Due to its particular dimensions, it must have been a representative environment made even more suggestive by the terrace on the front that overlooked the courtyard, consisting of the roof plan of the underlying environment and adjacent to the first, of which some traces of the walls and the graft of the vault in the border wall.

Walking along the long room supporting the ground floor of the hypothetical reception room, you can reach another double-span roomcovered by four crosses, whose ribs meet in the central area on a sturdy stone pillar. On the northern side, there is also a narrow, deep and very high room, originally divided into two areas, in a position adjacent to the church through an arched passage surmounted by a large semicircular light. Those rooms must once have been the kitchens, considering the masonry furnishings that can be seen between the buttresses of the church, as well as the presence of a fireplace. This function, however, must have been conferred on the room later in time, since in the terminal area, through a narrow passage now walled up, it was possible to access the church.

From a seventeenth-centuryrelief found inthe Abbey of Montecassino which depicting the church and the immediate surroundings, one can notice the layout of two communicating rooms in the place where the room is located, also with a staircase placed at the back which is close to the masonry that borders an arm of the transept of the church. Under the staircase, then, there’s an opening that leads to the church itself. The staircase doesn’t exist anymore, but the empty space remains inside the roof vault that is now closed with a wooden floor, and the trace in the masonry indicates the presence of a structure on a flying buttress. It is therefore likely that this place was the sacristy and, when the church was completely abandoned and transferred to private individuals, the location was used for other purposes. Passing the church, you canenter a second courtyard through a large ogive passage which is delimited on one side of the cult structure and frontally on the other wing of the religious complex, which consists of a series of rooms once divided into several levels, now visible only for the land part. Only a few remains of the structures that surrounded the space to the east still remain to this day.

This space — which was barely visible in the seventeenth-century relief of the structure — was probably a cloister; it’s still possible to find traces of the vaults that covered the porticoed area today, leaning against the wall of the church. Regarding the wing that overlooks the plain contained by the basin of the Incaldana and bathed by the foaming waves of the Mare Nostrum, it consists of a series of rooms disposed one after the other: the first one, which is ruined, presents an opening outside the enclosure. The next room has a double spancovered by crossbeams that meet in the center of a solid stone pillar. In one of the bays you can see the tank for the crushing of grapes. Going towards the inside of the building, there are two other rooms with cross vaults that communicate through a large arch. From there on, you can enter a narrow corridor which allows you to go in three directions. On the front, you can enter the last room of which the perimeter walls remain; on the right, you can go down into a large cistern, with a hatch that opens into the central area of ​​the cloister, like a well, which is well identified in the seventeenth century, on the right, on the opening that leads to the outside, where the arcaded terraces were.

In these two vastterracesit is possible to find traces of stone pillars, which must once have been part of a system of pergolas, from which it was possible to admire the suggestive panorama of the coast below. The second and steeper embankment, on the other hand, is contained by a solid plastered stone wall which has a staircase on a flying buttress at the end that allows it to connect to the underlying part. On the wall it’s possible to see a series of pillars that formed the final part of the arbor. The two large buildings, both the northern and eastern ones and the other rooms above the church that are now abandoned, were once connected thanks to a path placed on deep arches placed around the apsidal area of ​​the church, which were supported by powerful buttresses. This path allowed, in addition to the connection above mentioned, to observe the remaining part of the splendid mountain landscape which was visible from the nearby dovecote to the great fortress of Petrino. The church today has undergone several transformations compared to the original seventeenth-century relief.

Then there are two entrances which are positioned on the walls that enclose the nave, precisely in the third bay. The one on the left — that is now closed to the public — led to the sacristy; the one on the right, also walled up, led into the cloister. However, there is the trace of another entrance to the cloister, located along the same wall, but in the area of ​​the first span, walled up and not depicted in the seventeenth-century relief.

However,the entrance to the cloisterfrom the courtyard facing the church and the adjacent deep environment still exists. Due to its state of conservation, the church undoubtedly represents one of the most interesting architectural elements of the complex. The structure of Sant'Anna seems to be the result of an atypical architectural style. We are indeed in the presence of a building with a single nave planimetric scheme and pointed cross vaults that close the three bays through which the space is divided; next to the central pentagonal apse, then, there are two other bays that are smaller in size and still present a pentagonal scheme, which determine a sort of enlargement of the choir or the presence of a covered transept with a cross vault (That unfortunately today has collapsed). The central apse, like the side ones, has a pointed barrel vault with smal ribbings that rise from the floor along the corners of the walls, up to the apex of the vault.

The central space is illuminated by small openings made within the spaces delimited by semicircular pillars that articulate the wall. At the center of the side apses, however, it’s possible to see other openings. The nave, on the other hand, has small ogive openings below each cross. The right one filters light from the outside, while the opposite ones open onto the rooms that flank the church on that side. On the whole perimeter of the nave there are some masonry seats and in the first span, near the entrance, four hatches open on the floor, two on each side, which introduce to rooms occluded by resulting material. They were most likely the graves for the burial of the corpses of the brothers.

The entrance to the church is located on the western wall, which overlooks a closed courtyard. This opening consists of a small opening delimited by stone elements, at the ends of which there are some shelves placed to further support the architrave. Above the opening, with a static and decorative function, there’s an ogival discharge arch where a lunette was created; there’s also a small oculus higher up.The architraved compartment, crowned by an ogive lunette contained in the later band of the smooth jambs, is typical of the Angevin architecture. All these elements are inserted within a large stone facade, through which the windows and the entrances of other rooms that overlook and flank the church open.

Near the complex there’s a dovecote, an isolated tower-shaped brick structure which presents a circular plan, placed on a stone base.

The tower is divided into three levels: in the first one, four pointed arch openings have been obtained, framed many arches resting on pilasters and leading to a small covered cross-shaped room; on the second floor there’s the actual dovecote, with the entrances for the birds on two further levels; at the end of this delicate structure there is a pediment resting on another series of small pilasters; finally, at the top, there is a small lantern with other entrances for the pigeons. The dovecote overlooks a water sourcewhichin the past, according to popular belief, seemed to have therapeutic properties, especially towards sterile women.

There is no certain information about the construction time of the precious dovecote: we can only find that, in the aforementioned seventeenth-century relief of the structure, an element is depicted at a certain distance that could ideally be sent to a source of water included in a quadrangular enclosure. The design could probably refer to the dovecote, but there’s the chance that its construction took place in the nineteenth century, when, through the current of the so-called Gothic revival, many buildings inspired by the canons of medieval architecture were built.

Recently, the complex was donated to the Diocese of Sessa Aurunca: finally, after many years, the population can freely access the remains of the ancient monastery (once visited only by a select few) and fully enjoy its beauty; from time to time, you can also attend the celebration of religious manifestation or folkloric events.

Texts by Francesco Miraglia & Corrado Valente
Photos by Concetta Di Lorenzo & Attilio Troianiello
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