For more than seven hundred years, the Franciscan monastery of Santa Chiara has stood overlooking the glorious waters of the Amalfi Coast in the town of Ravello, the “city of music” and the “pearl of the Amalfi.” Poor Clares came to Ravello in 1297, just after the death of St. Francis, and the monastery and town have flourished together for almost a thousand years.
The monastery grounds, church, and manuscript library have been deemed historically significant by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism. The sisters support themselves financially by means of a historic hotel and by producing limoncello.
But the monastery now stands at the brink of suppression and destruction, thanks to recent interventions by Rome, which reached a crescendo just last week when two of its nuns were defrocked for attempting to remain in the cloister in which they had vowed to live out the rest of their lives.
In March of 2021, the monastery received an order from their monastic federation to close down and for its five nuns to transfer to various other monasteries around Italy. When news spread of this, the town of Ravello mobilized to stop what the mayor, Salvatore Di Martino, described as a loss of one of the city’s most symbolic places, both architecturally and spiritually. Townsfolk organized demonstrations, and the city government convened emergency sessions to pass resolutions calling upon the religious authorities to find a way to spare the monastery.
On their part, the five nuns all initially refused to leave the monastery. Then, two of the nuns reconsidered, agreeing to be transferred elsewhere, leaving three sisters: Sister Massimiliana, Sister Angela, originally from India, and Sister Maria Cristina, who is ninety-seven years old and, reportedly, quite feeble.
The three sisters consulted canon lawyers to find a way to stop the federation from taking the monastery, which has been assessed at 50-60 million euros and is considered prime tourist real estate, situated as it is in one of the most touristic spots of Italy. The sisters, along with the entire city of Ravello, feared that the monastery would be turned into yet another hotel, a rather dubious and corrupt trend concerning which I wrote last year. This would be an especially cruel fate for Santa Chiara, one of the oldest and historic monasteries of the cloistered Poor Clare order.
Armed with the advice of the canon lawyers, in April of last year, the nuns attempted to bypass Cor Orans and the federation’s claims to the monastery and its assets by donating all of it to the pope himself. If accepted, then the federation would lose any control over the monastery and the pope could decide to allow the sisters to carry on their spiritual mission in Ravello. Having taken this step, the three sisters remained in their cloister, against the wishes of the federation, pending the response from Rome.
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