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THE IMPORTANCE OF FARFA.
"Chronicle of Farfa," compiled from its already decaying charters and records by Thomas the Presbyter, about 1092, and now preserved amongst the most valuable MSS. of the Vatican, has ever since been one of the most important works of reference for Church history. The abbots lived as princes and considered themselves as the equals of the popes. It is narrated that the Abbot of Farfa once met a Pope at Corese, and knew that he must be going to the monastery. He said to his Majordomo, who was with .him —" That is the Pope, and he is going to Farfa; of course I cannot be expected to return, but you will go back to receive him, and you will desire that the same respect should be paid to him which is paid to me, and that a fatted calf should be killed in his honour." The monks of Farfa appear never to have numbered more than 683, but the amount of their possessions is almost incredible :—" urbes duas, Centumcellas (Civita-Vecchia) and Alatrium; castaldatus 5 ; castella 132 ; oppida 16 ; portus 7 ; salinas 8 ; villas 14; molendina 82; pagos 315; complures lacus, pascua, decimas, portoria, ac proediorum immanem copiam." Till the recent suppression, the revenues of the abbot, who has long resided at Rome, amounted to nine thousand scudi annually.
But in 1686, when Mabillon made his monastic tour, the buildings of Farfa were already falling into decay. In the summer and autumn months the air of the Farfarus was considered unhealthy, and the abbot resided at the castle of Fara on the hill-side above the monastery, and the monks eight miles off, at the convent of San Salvatore. Since that time Farfa has been more and more neglected, till its very name and existence are almost utterly forgotten.
Before our visit to Farfa in April, 1874, we found it utterly impossible to obtain any accurate information either as to the present state of the monastery or the means of reaching it. No foreigner, no modern Roman, had ever been known to go there. Even Mr. Hemans, so usually indefatigable, had never seen it. Priests, monks, and bishops were consulted in vain. Two monks were found in the abbey of Monte Cassino who had been there, and who spoke of it almost with tears of affectionate admiration, but they had been there in extreme youth, and they were now very old men. Our nearest approach to accurate information about the long lost monastery came from a porter at one of the palaces, who had a cousin, who had a sister-in-law, who had a lover, who had seen Farfa. At last, a coachman was found who came from that neighbourhood, and who said that Englishmen went far and wide to see the country and underwent many difficulties to accomplish their objects, but he wondered that they never went to Farfa, for "at Farfa were the Gates of Paradise."
Finding no carriage at the Montorso station, we were glad to take the so-called diligence to Poggio Mirteto, being the only possible means of locomotion—not a very swift one certainly, as it only went at a foot's pace on the level ground, and on the hills it stopped altogether, when, as the driver explained, it was " necessary for all the company to get out and walk, to prevent the wheels rolling backwards." We at once began to reach a new country, rich in vines and figs and olives, and with lovely views towards the noble serrated outline of Soracte. Here, amidst the glowing uplands, the master of the Hotel Minerva at Rome has a great farm and a pink palazzo. Various towns and villages crest the differ
ent hills; to the left, Cantelupo, Pompeo, Poggio Catino, and Aspra; to the right, Montopoli. The largest town is Poggio Mirttto, which our driver assured us was // Parigi della Sabina, and which has rather a handsome church and piazza. Strange to say, the population of this considerable, though out of the way place, is chiefly Protestant, and there is a Protestant church here. The priests themselves, by their lives, had brought about this change of religion, said the people we spoke to.
Here we obtained a carriage, and proceeded to Montopoli by an excellent road along the ridges of the swelling hills, which are covered with olives, chestnuts, and peach-trees, with an under-carpet of corn. On the left a wide valley runs up between the mountains, which are here clothed with wood almost to their summits, ending in the rock-built town of Torfea. The further mountain is crowned by a castle. This is the famous fortress of Para, which protected the abbey at its feet in time of trouble, and which is spoken of in the chronicle of Farfa as, " Castellum Pharae in hoc Bucci, is another castle of the monastery called Tribucci or Buccinianum. A tall ruined tower on a nearer hill is called Cottetino.
Embosomed in woods, beneath La Fara, the great monastery of Farfa stands boldly out from the side of the mountain. It is on the spot where the Syrian hermit Lorenzo, who had been made Bishop of Spoleto, retired from the world about A.d. 550, and built a hermitage, where by his prayers he destroyed a poisonous dragon which had long devastated the neighbouring valleys. The exact site of his cell was long marked by three tall cypresses, but they are now only to be seen in a fresco in the church. Many brethren and disciples gathering around his retreat, he built a monastery which he called after the name of the farm— Casale Acutianus—in which it was erected, and dedicated it to the Blessed Virgin. The monastery of Acutianus became a place of pilgrimage, as containing the shrine of Lorenzo, and attained great splendour, no less than five basilicas being raised there, one of which was intended for women. But the monastery was attacked and destroyed by the Lombards in 568. It then remained desolate till 681, when S. Thomas the Venerable, while praying before the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, beheld in a vision the Blessed Virgin, who commanded him to rebuild her sanctuary and that of her servant Lorenzo. The buildings were restored, and the monastery rose to such magnificence, that no other in Italy, except that of Nonantula, could rival it. Early in the eleventh century the name seems to have been changed to Farfa. The famous Chronicle speaks of it by both its names —" Liber Chronici Monasterii Acutiani sive Farfensis in Ducatu Spoletano."
"About the year 936, the reigning abbot was murdered by two of the fraternity, Campo and Hildebrand. The last words of the abbot, addressed in doggerel Latin to Campo, were, * Campigenans Campo, male quam me campegenast is.'
"Campo was abbot in 936, and Hildebrand in 939. The conduct of Campo seems to have been particularly disgraceful: his children he portioned from the effects of the church, and he seems to have been addicted to every species of riotous and disorderly living, to the great scandal of the place and times.
"These crying sins of the Christians, says the history, calling aloud for punishment, the Agareni (Saracens) invaded the country (a. D. 1004) and surrounded the monastery of Farfa. The abbot of that time, Peter, made a stout resistance, and drove away the invaders several times; and, in the interim, found means to send away all the treasure of his convent to Rome, to Rieti, and Firmo. The valuable marbles of the church lie hid underground, and they have never since been discovered. The Saracens, when they at length took the deserted monastery, though enraged at the loss of their expected booty, admired the place so much, that instead of burning it, they converted it into a residence for themselves. The abbey was subsequently destroyed by fire: certain Christian marauders from Poggio Catino, who had taken up their lodging there for the night, whilst the Saracens were absent upon some occasion, had lighted a fire in a corner, which (being alarmed by some noise in the abbey) they left burning; and, hurrying away, the neglected fire spread, and the stately buildings were completely destroyed.
"After this, Farfa lay in ruins forty-eight years; till Hugo, king of Burgundy, coming into Italy, the abbot Raffredus began to restore it, with the treasures sent to Rome and to Firmo ; but those which had been conveyed to Rieti had fallen into the hands of the Saracens."—Sir W. Gelts Rome and its Vicinity.
From the time of St. Thomas the Venerable in 680, to Nicholas II. in 1388, the list of the abbots of Farfa is almost intact, and the place constantly increased in importance. One of its monks, Bernardo, chosen Abbot of Subiaco in the thirteenth century, pompously begins his installation-edict with: "We, Bernardo Eretoni, of the Order of St . Benedict, monk of the holy and imperial abbey of S. Maria of Farfa, and afterwards by the grace of God Abbot of S. Scolastica, &c."