Not far from Rome, on a foot-trail departing from the historical village of Orvinio, in the province of Rieti, region of Lazio, Italy, lies a magnificent abbey in ruins locally known as Santa Maria del Piano, sometimes called Santa Maria di Pozzaglia.
According to legend, it was built by Charlemagne in the 9th century following a victory on the battlefield of nearby Pozzaglia Sabina against a marauding Saracen army in the plain nearby.
However, the earliest written evidence dates back to the early 11th century, when the abbey, at the time owned by the Benedictine order, was cited in the register of the nearby Farfa Abbey, and controlled much of the surrounding territory.
The Abbey is also mentioned in documents by popes Leo X and Innocent X.
An inscription on its façade states that “Bartholomeus hoc op fierifecit 1219”, or presbyter Bartholomew restored the church in 1219.
By the early 1500s, the monastery fell in to rapid decline. Replaced by Franciscans in 1582, the Benedictines were reintroduced in 1683 but, eventually, the monastery was abandoned after the Napoleonic invasion.
Either way the cross-shaped church has a double apse and a 20-meter tall Romanesque bell tower from the 11th century, restored several times.
The bell tower was connected to the convent of which only few remains are still visible on these days.
Despite most of the decorative elements have been stolen, including the rose window which is still visible in old pictures of the site, traces of Corinthian capitals, bas-reliefs and Roman element still remain.
The abbey was abandoned again at the beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon suppressed religious orders and a period of decay and abandonment caused serious damage to its structure.
Moreover, from the mid-19th century, it was also used a graveyard for those who had died of cholera and an earthquake around the same period caused near collapse.
It was only in the 1950s that part of the complex was restored, despite in the 1970s several precious architectural elements were stolen.
To reach it, trail 315 leads from the pictoresque village of Orvinio down to the Abbey (2 hours return), which is also located on Saint Benedict’s Pilgrim Trail.
Images from web – Google Research