Not far from the Antico Castello, stands the monastic complex of the Clarisse, which overlooks the sea at the entrance to Via Aurelia di Levante and embraces Piazzale Josemaría Escrivá (formerly Piazzale Libia) with a long portico.
Built in 1600 (the foundation stone was laid on 24 December 1633) following the closure of the Valle Christi Monastery, the building was inaugurated in 1688 and three years later was officially declared a cloistered convent of the Order of St Clare of Montefalco, remaining so until 1902.
After being deconsecrated, it was used during the Great War as a barracks, then in the post-war period as a boat shelter and warehouse, and finally as a primary school, until the restoration in the early 1970s, which transformed the structure of the former church into an auditorium theatre: the nave became a 265-seat auditorium and the church’s marble altar, carved in 1772, was moved to the Basilica of San Gervasio and Protasio.
What were formerly the rooms of the convent now house the Gaffoglio Museum, containing the collection of works of art and other objects of great artistic value, donated to the Rapallo municipality by Attilio Gaffoglio and his wife Cleofe in 2000.
A bit of history
About a century had passed since the closure of the Valle Christi monastery, when, on Christmas Eve of the year 1633, Rapallo’s archpriest Gio Battista Angeletti presided over the solemn ceremony for the laying of the foundation stone of a new building destined to house cloistered nuns in our village. As indicated by the silver medal set in the stone, the monastery was dedicated to Saint Clare of Montefalco and the work found support for its realisation in the bequests of Rapallo residents Paolo Bardi, Sebastiano Figari and Andrea Castagneto.
With these legacies, it was in fact possible to purchase from the notary Giacomo della Torre the vast property in the locality known as ‘the garden’, on the eastern espalier of the town sloping down to the sea ‘outside the eastern gate of the town, about two stone’s throw from it’.
The façade of the monastery of the Poor ClaresThe work was fraught with difficulties, as it was a major financial commitment, so that there were suspensions and delays so that in July 1670 only the church could be considered partially finished.
On 4th July 1688, the first Mass was celebrated in the new church, attended by Rapallo’s notables, and the building could also be used for sacred representations during Holy Week, staged by the Confraternities. Other years had to pass, however: administrative difficulties and disputes regarding the nuns’ dowries and also complaints and complaints about the inadequacy of the premises to guarantee complete enclosure.
In fact, even after the approval of the appropriate “Capitulations” and the “placet” of Archbishop Giulio Vincenzo Gentile, there was a complaint addressed to the Cardinal of Carpegna in Rome, denouncing how the monastery was adjacent to the beach where one could see “quantities of naked people bathing and always hearing the scoundrels and prisoners of the prisons, both civil and criminal, shouting and saying filthy words” located in the not too distant castle.
On 19th June 1691, the archbishop of Genoa had to personally carry out an inspection, ordering some necessary works to make the enclosure even more rigid, and finally, on 2nd July 1691, he entrusted the provost of S. Pietro in Banchi with the task of transferring Mother Maria Limbania Serravalle and Sister Felice Barbara Pallavicini from S. Tommaso in Genoa to the new monastery, who took on the task of establishing the first religious community.
In the midst of the solemnities in honour of Our Lady of Montallegro, on the evening of 3rd July, a decorated galley brought the two Augustinian nuns to Rapallo, who, the next morning, went in procession to our Basilica, visiting the other churches and St. Anthony’s hospital.
Solemn Mass was held in the church of St. Clare and, at the end, amidst volleys of firecrackers, the nuns took possession of the new monastery. The notarial deed recording the beginning of the enclosure was then drawn up.
In 1698, Sister Maria Teresa Giannini, an Augustinian from the convent of St. Nicholas in Genoa, was called to govern the monastery. The life of this community numbered around forty religious, and their numbers remained unchanged for almost two centuries. Even in 1846, there were 28 professed sisters, 1 novice and 8 sisters.
In June 1902 the surviving nuns left Rapallo.
Once the convent had been cleared, by resolution of 28 June 1905 the Municipality announced a competition for a project to reorganise the area, and in 1908 the Rapallo engineer Enrico Macchiavello began the alterations.
While classrooms for primary schools were built in the surviving wings of the monastery, the church was declared ‘suppressed’ by a deed of 29 October 1912 and the marble altar, sculpted in 1772 by Schiaffino, transferred to our parish basilica in 1919.
During the First and Second World Wars, the deconsecrated building was used as a barracks and depot. It then became a shelter for boats and bathing equipment until 1972 when, after particularly complex and difficult work, it was transformed, respecting its architectural lines and recovering every element, into an auditorium theatre.
Today, after a recent adaptation and upgrading, the entire monastery complex is on its way to becoming a cultural and museum centre of essential importance for Rapallo.