Renowned for its Gregorovius inspired "Civita", the Benedictine Abbey of San Sebastiano rises from the territory of the contrada bearing the same name, situated between the coast and Monte Pizzuto in the of Comune di Alatri − a fraction of the province of Frosinone − circa 4 km from the city centre.
This Sixth century abbey was built on the remains of an ancient Roman ruin in the valley of the “Servidè”.
The main access routes − arriving from Via Colle Massaro, Via Allegra and Via Salerno − are not easily passable. The road arriving from the low ground has recently been refurbished, but is extremely narrow; it is the only road that was originally used by the monks who travelled between the Monastery of Subiaco and Montecassino, after the crossing of an ancient Roman bridge that spanned the Cosa river.
The main entrance to the abbey is a great door situated on the north wall − through which one arrives in the square, or second cloister, in front of the new church.
The service entrance is found on the western facade of the complex, and leads into a large space in the west wing of the first cloister, demarcated by a socle topped by six beautiful mullioned windows − four with triple lights and two with double lights.
The aesthetic conditions of the buildings in the complex are in effect not ideal, however it is the sobriety of the architectural structure - inspired by a canonical, absolute simplicity - which creates the impression that the buildings are in a worse state of degrade than is actually the case. In fact the abbey is now private property, is inhabited and frequently visited.
Originally, the architectural complex provided the vital services for a community of 12 individuals who had chosen to live an autonomous, Spartan life led in seclusion and far from any urban centres.
The architectural complex does not present elements of particular worth. The buildings, the product of ten centuries of construction, are not architectural models and as a result of their austere, Spartan simplicity, show the signs of their slight state of degrade more easily. If one excludes the traces of ancient frescoes present in the old church and the valuable cycle of frescoes executed by the school of Cavallini in the new church, the areas of major interest, without artistic ambitions or merits, include:
- The Refectory with its square, barrel vaulted ceiling supported by a single, central column;
- The Parish (originally the Abbot or Prior’s hall), characteristically composed of three splayed windows on the western side and a groin vaulted ceiling, and a central semi-circular arch.
The Southern wing of the cloister is delimited by a portico composed of octagonal columns topped by simple medieval capitals. The two fountains in the cloister are of more recent origins.
Of further interest is the small cloister, or rather the square created between the buildings, adjacent and overlooking the entrance to the new church. This area is physically divided from the main cloister, by means of a wing – from the centre of which a large window opens at the height of the first floor, above the vestibule from which two ramps extend into divergent stairways.
The entire complex constitutes a highly original architectural solution, which is coherent with the restructuring carried out by the scholar, Giovanni Tortelli when the abbey was transformed into a Renaissance style villa. It has been said that during this period, the scholars of the abbey translated the first dictionary from Greek into Latin, thus favouring the diffusion of Platonic philosophy in the West.
Tradition holds true that the Monastry of S. Sebastiano was founded by the patrician Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius, a contemporary of Cassiodoro, who as was the latter, would be one of the most important Italian administrators of the Sixth century.
Liberio nominated Servando, a monk imbued with celestial grace, for the execution of all works relative to the foundation of the first nucleus at the Abbey. Benedetto (towards the end of the sixth century) having left Subiaco for Montecassino, seems to have passed through this area, asking for hospitality at Servando.
It is not certain that the monks of Servando adhered to the Benedictine order − and there is the possibility that they practised the theory of Western monks. It is possible that they adhered to the Regula Magistri and that indeed, this monastic order was introduced in central Italy by the monks of Servando, while some authors go so far as to maintain that the Regula was in fact written here.
- The first decades of 1200. Gregorio IX entrusts the Abbey to the poor nuns of S. Chiara d'Assisi who commissioned the creation of the frescoes in the new church, attributed to the school of Cavallini, as well as restructuring works aimed at enlarging the cloister.
- In 1441 the Monastry was suppressed and its wealth transferred to the Vatican.
- In 1450, Pope Niccolò V concedes the right to spend long periods of rest at the Abbey to his friend and scholar (responsible for the Vatican Library) Giovanni Tortelli di Alatri. And the abbey's administrative function would be transformed into one of Ecclesiastic Benefice.
- 1654: Innocenzo X annexes the Abbey to the Church of S. Agnese in Agone, Piazza Navona - Rome, which at the time was under the jurisdiction of the noble Doria Pamphili family.
- 1853: the prince Andrea Doria Pamphili concedes the lease of the Abbey to Salvatore Vienna until the third generation of sons.
- 1908: the heirs of Salvatore Vienna enfranchise the patrimony of the dominion of the Prince Doria Pamphili and become the owners of the Abbey according to Civil Law.
The complex is legally divided into three distinct sections belong to three different landholders.
The first, and most important consists of the OLD CHURCH, with its traces of antique frescoes; the NEW CHURCH with the important cycle of frescoes attributed to the school of Cavallini, the Refectory, wings and main cloister.
The second section includes a HALL WITH A VAULTED CEILING on the ground floor, currently utilised as the parish and open to the faith, with the statue of S. Sebastiano created by contemporary craftsmen, (originally, it was probably the Abbot of Prior's hall). This space, communicated with a larger hall on the first floor by means of an internal, wooden staircase originally demarcated as the monks' dormitory, it is now used for activities and as a deposit for RURAL AND PASTORAL ACTIVITIES. In fact, today according to tradition one often finds domestic animals such as goats, ducks, pigs, and chickens in the Abbey's courtyard.
The third part, constructed in ca. 1400, is made up of the rooms on the first floor. Originally the apartments of the Abbot, they now make up the offices of the FONDAZIONE "L'ABBADIA", and a small art gallery dedicated to old world and antique art, and in particular the exhibition of works of great dimensions.