The convent of San Pietro
Borgo di Terzo | Luoghi religiosi
Spiritual home of the Abbess Gisella and her enterprising way of life
To have a daughter that was a nun was a question of status in the Middle Ages. Supporting a convent or even founding one was an investment in eternity in all senses. Thus it was that the only convent in the Val Cavallina dedicated to Saint Peter was designated for the daughters of the noble families of the area, such as the Terzi and the future De’ Bullis, and for the ongoing prestige of their descendants. Historical chronicles show us that the nuns who went on to become Mother Superior emerged as formidably powerful women at the centre of an extremely lively microcosm.
One of these was the Abbess Gisella of the 14th century, who was responsible for the spiritual and bodily nourishment of the members of the convent. Along with prayer and meditation, her nuns were occupied daily with a myriad of activities, as we can know from both the historical records and the structure of the intriguing convent, which is situated on a hill near Borgo di Terzo: a veritable microcosm set in the heart of the Val Cavallina.
Barns, granaries, stores, wine cellars, allotments and a space dedicated to flowers and plants offer us indications of the sort of life the nuns led here. We can almost imagine them running the grains of wheat through their hands like a rosary, while praying under the porticoes and loggias of the convent.
However, what perhaps one would not have imagined were the relationships the nuns had with the rest of the region: wine and cereal cultivation, commercial transactions, renting out of land, connections with local families… Indeed, there was a constant ferment of activity between the church, the convent premises and the village folk. The convent of San Pietro was a complex of buildings entrenched on the hill, whose existence has been documented as far back as 1122 and whose relationships with all the valley were in fact extremely close.
Not everything has survived the centuries, however. The current convent building superceded the original edifice in the 16th century and the Romanesque church of the convent, which is mentioned in documents, disappeared along with the original convent building. However the tranquillity of the place preserves in its silence a history of profound spirituality, a religious devotion that co-existed alongside the energetic lives of the nuns, true entrepreneurs of the Middle Ages.