Opening hours: every Sunday 9.30 a.m. – 1.30 p.m.
— Hystory —
The abbey is considered to be one of the most important Benedictine communities of the Amalfi Coast.
It is a fine example of early medieval architecture and art, first documented by Salazaro in 1871 in his work “ A Study of Monuments from the IV to the XIII centuries in Southern Italy”. The book contained several drawings of the frescoes in the abbey.
The history of the building dates back to the time of the first bishop of Amalfi, Leone, who gave permission to a certain Peter the Hermit for the construction of the church ( as reported by the Liber pontificalis ecclesiae amalfitanee). Peter was, in all probability, a monk from Sicily or Calabria, who came to the Amalfi Coast to escape the Arab invasions of the X century, which caused a mass exile of monks, in particular, Greek Orthodox monks.
Peter’s nephew, Giovanni, became well known for his piety. This led to further construction work which increased the size of the building with the arrival of numerous anchorites. Development of the monastic community dates to 1087, when Duke Ruggero Borsa gave the hermitage to Pietro Pappacarbone, abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of SS. Trinity in Cava dei Tirreni. The first abbot was Taurus, as we can see from a commemorative plaque. The last abbot was Giacomo Silverio Piccolomini in the XVI century. In 1508, the monastery was incorporated in the Diocese of Amalfi.
The building has three chapels, one built on top of the other. The remaining part of the building has been transformed into private houses.
The material used for the construction of the abbey ranges from marble for the columns and capitals, bare rock to mortar covered with plaster. The paintings and frescoes are the most important features of the building.
The frescoes of Santa Maria de Olearia contain important evidence of artistic cycles of medieval painting in Campania. The frescoes in the catacombs are certainly the earliest. Comparing styles with other works of the time, we can date the frescoes, which present the image of the Virgin Mary in prayer, to around the X century, with local stylistic elements combined with elements of eastern art. The first level is pretty much as it originally was. Access to the chapel is now through a small entrance hall. The chapel is square shaped with three east facing apses with an approximate half metre difference in the level of the floor.
The chapel is decorated with a series of frescoes on two levels. One represents the Virgin Mary in prayer. She is dressed in red with a blue maphorion. The saint depicted on her left has a military style attire associated with St. Demetrius. A church in the nearby town of Maiori was dedicated to him. On the right of the Virgin Mary, we can see the figure of a saint presented with a beard, dressed in a white tunic. This is probably a representation of Saint Paul. Below this scene there is a marble design.
Above this scene we can see the remains of a fresco depicting the four rivers of Heaven. Two of the three apses have decorations which are different in both style and age. Three headless figures are present in the south apse. The central figure is Christ dressed in a white tunic, St. John the Baptist is on his right and St. John the Evangelist is on his left. The central apse has the figure of Christ in a Benedictine pose. This figure has a white tunic with a golden collar and he is holding a scroll in his left hand. Two archangels, dressed in “loros” ( noble) tunics with golden rings, are on either side. Successively, we see the figure of the Saint with a red maphorion. This figure must have been painted after the wall separating the apse chamber from the south part of the building was knocked down. The robe of the benefactor and the beards of the figures seem to indicate a longboard connection, but the artistic style has a heavy eastern influence.
The main chapel is on the second level. It looks out onto a large terrace. There are fragments of frescoes belonging to several different periods, with the date 1110 clearly visible. Most of the frescoes in the main chamber were discovered during the 1988 restoration. The scenes of the Annunciation and the Visitation are depicted on the south window, the Nativity is the central image, with the Virgin Mary lying on a pallet, Christ is depicted above the Virgin on the right. A donkey and ox are depicted near Christ. Below this, we can see Joseph whose gaze is directed towards us. We can only see the fragments of two people in the image of the first bathing of Baby Jesus, due to colour fading , the scene is not visible. The iconography of this type of nativity scene is inferred by the apocryphal Gospel. The external wall bears a badly damaged crucifix. The left side of the northern wall has an image of the Magi, on their knees, presenting gifts. Only the lower parts of The Virgin Mary and Child remain. A round figure of Christ Pantocrator stands out from the blue vault, with four angels and two archangels, alternating with evangelical symbols. There are framed figures of the Old Testament prophets where the vault meets the walls.
Above the main chapel, lies a smaller chapel with a barrel vault ceiling. Its apse faces north and there is a small window in the south facing wall. The chapel is decorated with a series of images of the life of St. Nicholas. The cult of St. Nicholas developed in the east between the V and VI centuries, and in the VII century in the west. The images should be viewed starting from the south-east corner. The first image refers to the miracle of the sailors, during a moment of crisis, praying to St. Nicholas for help.
The Praxis de stratelais is on the east wall. This refers to the only known event in the early years of the cult. The first part represents the revolt against the Port of Andriake, then at Myra. St: Nicholas is informed of the death sentences given to three Myrian citizens. He grabs the sword from the executioner’s hands and frees the citizens. In the second part, St. Nicholas goes, in a dream to Constantine and his first minister Ablavio, ordering the release of the three innocents. The last part represents the gratitude of the men in question.
We can see a standing Virgin Mary and Child, with San Paolino on the right and St. Nicholas on the left. St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist are figured on the arch of the apse. They are pointing to a circle, where we can see a lamb. The under-side is decorated with a majestic Christ in a heraldic shape, supported by four angels. To the south of the heraldic mandorla we can see a series of badly damaged images of saints. St. Nicholas and St. Cesario are pictured on either side of the window. The difference in artistic styles indicates the presence of several artists.
Patronage of “Città di Maiori – Costa d’Amalfi”