Discovering the Abbey of Grottaferrata

In January I presented a paper at a local medievalist’s conference about St. Nilus and the monastery he founded in Grottaferrata. (The paper has been “published” online by the conference and can be read here.) The best part about my recent trip to Italy was that I got to visit this amazing abbey.

It is not exactly a typical tourist spot. To get there you first stop at the beautiful town of Frascati and walk or take a bus to the town of Grottaferrata. We walked (because we couldn’t figure out the buses) and had a long journey. When we finally arrived I was amazed – it had been worth every step. (And every step we would have to take on the long walk back.)

This monastery was founded under the Latin church but, due to their Greek heritage, operated in the Byzantine style. During the Schism when the Eastern and Western churches were divided these monks were loyal to the Pope but on friendly terms with the Eastern churches.


Along the way we ate at the Cantina of St. Nilus – the food was amazing. No one spoke English out there and since tourists don’t hit this spot we were stared at as we walked the streets.


The monastery was founded in an ancient fortress that was updated in the middle ages. The Norman tradition of castle building was still influential in Italy when this happened and, as a result, when you enter the abbey you think are walking into a medieval castle in picturesque England.


St. Nilus greets you as you enter the monastery. I wanted to ask him if he could get me a deal back at the cantina.


The courtyard in front of the chapel is beautiful and very large.

Another view of the courtyard. Greek letters for “Alpha and Omega” and “Mother of God” have been made with white stones.


The monastery has large beautiful iron doors.

The Italian countryside is gorgeous and there are few places from where it can be viewed so well. I took some of the landscape pictures from arrow slits in the walls.


The chapel and bell tower are very impressively built.


St. Batholomew, co-founder of Grottaferrata, stands overlooking the courtyard.


St. Batholomew was also a calligrapher and a musician.


Another large door. This one is just past the entrance.


Grottaferrata is famous for restoring old writings and some of their printing devices were on display.


Differing types of architecture and a variety of plant life make Grottaferrata a unique place to visit.


This is the only picture I didn’t take – it came from the abbey’s website. We got to listen to their evening vespers in this chapel but the light was poor and I didn’t want to be a distraction. Hearing the monks sing their chants in the traditional Byzantine style was a rare experience that I will always cherish.


The rest of my Grottaferrata pictures can be found here.

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