Please note, the ruins of Valle Christi Abbey will not be open to visitors from 30th June 2022, for the staging of scheduled theatre events.
Situated in the hills that embrace Rapallo, in the hamlet of San Massimo, less than three kilometres from the seafront, the ruins of the Valle Christi Monastery and Abbey constitute one of the city’s most picturesque settings. The cusped belfry, with small arches and triple lancet windows in the belfry cell, stands out, still intact, over the collapsed Gothic christiarch vaults and the apse and transept, the only elements still standing. The ruins emerge in a small verdant valley, in a highly evocative environment,
enveloped in an atmosphere suspended in time, bringing to mind the solitude and mysteries of the medieval cloistered orders, and are clearly visible from the adjacent Golf Course.
The monastery was founded in 1204 on property donated to the archbishop by Tibe and Altilia De Mari. The abbey, built in French Gothic style and consisting of a single nave, belonged first to the Cistercian nuns and then to the Poor Clares of St Augustine.
In 1568, with a papal bull by Pope Pius V, the monastery was deconsecrated and, once abandoned by the nuns, was used for residential and agricultural purposes.
Valle christi theatre
The area of the ancient monastery is now the evocative night-time setting for prestigious theatrical and musical performances held every summer as part of a programme of events organised by the Valle Christi Cultural Association, set up with the aim of enhancing this monument.
We are in the 12th century and Genoa is troubled by the constant bloody disputes between opposing factions that will long torment the life of the Superba. The government of the consuls failed to contain the violent discord, and so a podestà was appointed, called from outside, in the hope that he would be able to overcome the partisan divisions and restore harmony.
In one of these repeated fratricidal clashes, the consul Angelo De Mari was murdered in 1187, throwing his wife Attilia Malfante into boundless grief.
It was out of this tragedy that, a few years later, the Monastery of Valle Christi was founded on the first crags of the hill on which the church of San Massimo already stood, with the tiny parish around it.
Wishing to react to the prevailing climate of hatred and in the gratifying vision of an oasis of serene religious peace, the unhappy Attilla Malfante found her design shared by another Genoese noblewoman, whom documents indicate only by the name of Tibia and who may have been related to her. So they both decided to build, in the countryside behind Rapallo, where they owned land, a centre for prayer and meditation to accommodate cloistered nuns.
The Archbishop of Genoa, Ottone Ghilini, lavishly praised the initiative of the two generous promoters and, solemnly, by deed of 29th April 1204, accepted the donation, pointing out that nothing would affect the rights of the parish of Rapallo, nor those of the neighbouring churches.
The monastery was placed under the direct jurisdiction of the Holy See, thus exempting it from the taxes and collections imposed by the Genoese Curia.
We do not know when work on the erection of the monastery complex began and whether the first construction already had the architectural lines that we can discern today from the ruins that remain. It is to be assumed, however, that in the three and a half centuries of its life quite a few extensions and renovations have been made, but there is no doubt that the superb imprint of the Comacini masters who worked on it has remained indelible, with all its harmony of lines and suggestive details.
The Romanesque bell tower with its soaring octagonal spire and pointed arches, the graceful small columns adorning the belfry, the almost intact apse and the fragments of the walls, which, with their living square stones, show the robust development of the building, the corroded brick floor and the crumbling steps that the grass constantly strives to conquer, are enough to fascinate us.
The Commune’s ‘Red Book’ tells us that the first nuns who took possession of the monastery were of the Cistercian order, an offshoot of the Benedictine one. This is also confirmed by the dedication to ‘Santa Maria in Valle Christi’, which echoes the cenobia, also Benedictine, of Chiaravalle, Vallechiara, Valleverde and Altavalle.
The monastery underwent considerable development and the relic of St Blaise, donated to the nuns probably by a Genoese captain following Gaspare Spinola on his successful expedition to Dalmatia in 1380, was particularly venerated in its church.
Later, the precious relic of Saint Blaise was instead transferred to our Basilica, where it is still displayed for the veneration of the faithful for the feast day on 3rd February. In Valle Christi, the crumbling walls will provide material for the construction of farmhouses, while the buildings surrounding the church and cloister will also become the hearth and shelter for the work of families dedicated to the life of the fields.