Monday 11 December 2017

Priorate

Priorate of Sant'Egidio (1080 - sec. XIV)


For the creation and the activity of the Saint Egidio Monastery, tradition attributes much credit to Albert's sister Teiperga. In an inventory list dated 1308 the monks re­call her work with gratitude, and refer to her as Mother and Founder of the Saint Egidio Monastery. Teiperga probably lived her whole monastic life at Saint Egidio, though it is not known whether or not she had founded a small monastic order for women. However, the location of the Saint Egidio Abbey in a pleasing but very solitary and isolated area, exposed to dangers and difficulties of all sorts, seemed to require the presence of men. Infact, not long after Tei­perga's death, the monks of Cluny were taking possession of the famous cloisters at “La Fontanella”. Teiperga, who was defined as blessed, in ancient documents of the time, was buried inside the church, and for many centuries the monks who cared for the tomb kept two lamps burning beside her grave. During the second half of the 15th century, when repairs were being made inside the church, the grave was removed to a site outside the building. With the gradual decline of mo­nastic life in the following years, the me­mory of the virtuous noble woman died away into folklore and legend. Because of a similarity of names it was also believed that her sarcophagus contained the re­mains of a Frankish queen, Teiperga, who had been repudiated by her husband Lothario in the year 862. Popular fantasy created yet another le­gend: it was said that a tunnel dug in the hillside offered a secret underground pas­sage between, “La Fontanella” church and the Abbey of Pontida. As a matter of fact, the two monasteries are linked, by a trail through the woods, a mule path called 'the monk's road, which is still in existence (The two monasteries are only a few miles apart, but indifferent valleys). Fabulous, too, was the popular belief that Teiperga had buried in the Fontanella Cloister a marvellous piece of medieval jewelry, a hen surrounded by twentyfour small chicks, all created in solid gold. (This legend was no doubt inspired by the fa­mous «hen and chicks', a goldsmith's crea­tion which can be seen today in the lovely little museum of the Duomo of Monza). Sant'Egidio in FontanellaAlas, the grave of the noble Teiperga had nothing so intriguing as gold chickens. But later, in the intervening centuries when re­ligious institutions were closed by law and property was confiscated, La Fontanella Cloisters became farm houses for local pea­sants, and real chickens most certainly roamed freely about the ground over Tei­perga's last resting place. Historians agree that the peak period of splendor and activity at Saint Egidio was the 12th century. Documents of the time show clearly that Saint Egidio and itspriory enjoyed an important income from its ex­tensive agricoltural territory, especially the lands lying between the Adda and the Brembo rivers, south of the S. Martino val­ley. It is well known that in the year 1177 the Bishop Girardo da Bonate, who had been deprived of his bishopric in Bergamo after being judged a scismatic, managed to obtain an absolution from the Pope, and he immediately retired to La Fontanella with his numerous household, making it his personal residence. The first prior, or head of the Abbey, of whom we have much knowledge is the monk Lanfranco. He was very active and extremely clever at managing the business of the Abbey, obtaining special rights and privileges, as well as income from various sources and often there were inheritances of considerable value. Unfortunatly the lit­tle information to be obtained from the do­cuments available does not reveal the eco­nomic importance of the Abbey, especially considering the spiritual activity of the monks, or the influence that they had on the population of the surrounding area. A document dated 1178 informs us that the residents of the Saint Egidio Abbey of that year included the prior, ten monks, and four «conversi,,, (lay brothers who did the work at the monastery). Through the written evidence that has survived the wear and tear of ages, the story of the little comunity at La Fontanella has been pieced together. There were alternate periods of prosperity and depression but lit­tle by little the decline was hastened by the lack of funds, due to poor management fo the property.

BIBL. U. ZANETTI, Il monastero di Sant’Egidio a Fontanella di Sotto il Monte, Ed. Bergamo, Bergamo 1993, pp. 124-136.