The Benedictine Abbey and ex-Monastery
San Paolo d'Argon | Luoghi di interesse
Napoleon, a star architect, and a new life for the ex-monastery of the Val Cavallina
This little gem of sacred art and architecture, set at the gateway to the Val Cavallina, bears the clearly identifiable stamp of Pietro Isabello. Today we would call him an ‘archistar’ (star architect), one of the architects and designers that was most in demand in the 16th century. His was the first restructuring of this one-thousand-year-old abbey, a place still definitely worth visiting today, not just because it is part of the cultural patrimony, but also because it is a centre for prayer and meditation that is still in use, and is still very much dedicated to spirituality.
The founding document, or ‘birth certificate’, of this monastery certainly doesn’t lack detail when compared to other ancient places whose origins remain rather more obscure. The date of foundation is very precisely recorded as the 19th May, 1079; the founding father was Count Giselberto, who donated the land near to Mount Argon that was to house a complex of buildings dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. It took a rapid (for the time) 13 years to conclude the works and the godfather was Giovanni Battista Colleoni, grandson of the great condottiere Bartolomeo who had been in the service of the Venetian Republic. Giovanni Battista was entrusted with the management of the monastery, which became an abbey in 1496.
Shortly after this, in 1512, the abbey was embellished with a little cloister during its first restructuring. The cloister was constructed in the renaissance style, with decorations in terracotta and capitals with elegant friezes. It was designed by Pietro Isabello, who had his hand at the helm of successive interventions too: from the refectory which then became a chapel, to the second cloister of the complex, with its well at the centre of a rectangular, arcaded portico of 32 columns, all contributing to create a place which still today is an oasis of tranquillity and source of peace-of-mind. Enriching the inside of the abbey are the splendid Sala Capitolare and the 17th century frescoes of the refectory, from the hand of Lorenzetti of Verona.
As happened to all sacred sites in Italy in 1797, the monastery was emptied of all its treasures on the orders of Napoleon, as part of a general suppression. It was subsequently transformed into a country house. Around 140 years later, the abbey was returned to the Church, when in 1935 husband and wife Signore and Signora Prometti gave it to the Bishop of Bergamo, Adriano Bernareggi. He then dedicated it to Patron Saint Vincent of Don Bepo Vavassori. Since 1978, the clergy has transformed the complex into a centre for spirituality.
In the future the ex-monastery will have a new, central role in the life of the Val Cavallina. As well as its primary function as a centre for spirituality, the abbey will also provide space for a Museum of Migration, with a study centre annexe and the first Polo Formativo per la Nautica da diporto (Sailing Training Centre).
Promotional material by the association InChiostro: Incontri e itinerari d’arte.