Farfa: a short word, just two syllables, for indicating vast splendor.
Named for the Farfa River (a tributary of the Tiber) flowing nearby and cited by Ovid, Farfa is site of one of the most significant monuments in central Italy of the late Middle Ages, the Abbey of Farfa.
The first edifice on site of the Benectine Abbey of Farfa seems to have been consrtructed in the 6th-c-A.D. on the site of a pre-existing Roman villa of the 2nd-century A.D. A 9th-century text indicates the founder as San Lorenzo Siro, fleeing persecution in Syria with a small group of monks.
In a 17th-c painting we viewed on a superb guided tour recently of the Abbey, San Lorenzo holds the abbey lovingly in one hand, as if wishing to show it to the viewer:
San Lorenzo Siro’s abbey was destroyed by the Longobards and then rebuilt in the late 8th-century, by another pious monk, Tommaso da Moriana (of the area of Savoy), following a vision of the Virgin Mary.
On our recent guided tour of the Abbey of Farfa, we passed a pair of medieval reliefs of the two saints, San Lorenzo Siro….
…and San Tommaso Moriana:
During the period that San Tommaso was head of the community, new life and force were infused into the abbey under protection – as of 680 A.D. – of the Dukedom of Spoleto.
Thanks to privileges and terrains conceded by popes, dukes, and kings, the patrimony of the abbey burgeoned; the Abbazia di Farfa quickly became an economical and political powerhouse.
After 40 years of ruling the monastery, San Tommaso died in 720, leaving the abbey contested by the Franks and Longobards. The Franks took the upper hand when Charlemagne declared the abbey imperiale in 800 A.D.,thus releasing the abbot of Farfa from allegiance to the Pope of Rome.
Charlemagne, in fact, had stayed in Farfa before being crowned Emperor of Rome in St. Peter’s cathedral on 25 December 25, 800.
During his reign, the Abbey reached its maximum development and the Farfa abbot’s power became immense: the Abbey of Farfa soon controlled more than 130 castles, 6 fortified cities, over 300 villages, and at least 600 churches, convents and monasteries.
The fragments of frescoes discovered in the semicircular crypt are rare witness of the Carolingian culture….as are the four pointed arches just below the four levels of trifore (tri-partite windows) at the belltower base, pointed out to us by our guide during a tour of the abbey:
…and to enter the abbey today, you’ll pass through a courtyard to enter a building with a wide door crowned with a round arch: a section of the Carolingian abbey basilica.
Do note the narrow slit-like windows above the door: these feretoie are windows for defense, characteristic of medieval fortification architecture:
Do see my video our visit to the Abbey of Fara.
See a video of our charming lunch spot near the Abbey of Farfa
See the video of our visit to the Convent of the Poor Clares not far away.