The monumental complex, thanks also to some conservative restoration work, which is still in progress, is today one of the most important testimonies of the past and is a must-see destination for tourists staying in the Tigullio region.
It has recently been included in the cultural landscape after the positive results of interesting initiatives planned here.
Skirting the Genoa-Livorno motorway, on a small hill near Santa Maria del Campo, the ruins of the ancient Cenobio di San Tomaso, with its pure Romanesque lines, stand amidst olive trees.
In truth, there are only a few vestiges: a few square stone walls, a sturdy column with a base and capitals on which the arches, intended to support the roof, rest, and a few elongated, double-splayed windows overlooking the valley. What little remains of the ancient building is, however, precious evidence of a style that encompasses strength and harmony and, moreover, traces back to specific architectural and volumetric choices of that distant time, present especially in Lunigiana, but very rarely found in Liguria.
The building, in fact, has two separate naves to adhere to the custom in the Middle Ages of dividing men from women and children in the church, while the façade, which is unfortunately today very incomplete, features an ancient access door asymmetrically placed at the right aisle.
What are the origins of this Cistercian monastery?
The historian Arturo Ferretto, on the basis of archive documents, fixes its foundation around 1160, since a deed of sale of land by Giulia and Giovanni Malocello dated 4 February 1161, indicating its boundaries, mentions the lands of the Bafigo family and those of the Church of St Thomas.
It is also worth mentioning that Pope Gregory IX, taking the nuns of St. Thomas of Genoa under his protection by deed of 3rd February 1230, as his predecessor Alexander III had already done, also listed St. Thomas of Rapallo among his possessions.
And it is almost certainly to the Benedictine nuns of the Genoese convent that the initiative to build this place of prayer in the pleasant valley of Santa Maria del Campo can be traced.
Then, in 1468, a decree of the Genoese Curia was necessary to reaffirm the monastery’s belonging to St. Thomas of Genoa, attempting to prevent the usurpations taking place.
However, these were not completely eliminated and together with the loss of certain privileges, internal changes in the monastic orders, and troubled political crises, led to the progressive degradation of the Cenobio, which was progressively less and less inhabited by the white-clothed nuns and, therefore, progressively abandoned.
The Apostolic Visitor, Monsignor Francesco Bossio, made an inspection in spring 1582 and decreed inexorably: “In the oratory of St Thomas, other times the church of the Monastery of St Thomas of Genoa, since no mass has been celebrated there for many years and no income has been received, a cross should be erected there, converted to profane use, sold and the price used at the discretion of the Archbishop”.
The order was not carried out, but the Archbishop of Genoa, Rnons. On the occasion of his visit to S. Maria del Campo on 4th November 1597, Matteo Rivarola confirmed the need to alienate the assets of the little church on the hill in favour of the restoration of the parish church in the locality, and earmarked S. Tommaso for demolition if the funds for the necessary restoration could not be found.
As the bells were moved to the bell tower of St. Mary’s, a pickaxe was then used, fortunately without descending to the foundations.
And so a few fragments of this sacred building have survived to us, which, in its ruin, nonetheless manages to give us a glimpse of pure timeless beauty, and it is to be welcomed that the monumental complex has come into the possession of the municipality, through the bequest of Giovanni Merello, laying the foundations for its full valorisation in the surrounding environment.