Fall and Rise of San Lorenzo Convent Piglio

Piglio and its surrounds were subject of much attention by the factions engaged in destruction during the second world war. As with many other places of meditation and worship, the Convent and Church of San Lorenzo, perched on the lower slopes of Mount Scalambra above Piglio, was particularly so ‘blessed’.

The church and convent were damaged to such an extent that it was not until 1954 that the rebuilt structures were re-consecrated, albeit with a memorial of a large ‘torn apart’ bomb shell as part of the wall overlooking the old olive grove of the convent.

San Lorenzo is the patron saint of Piglio, so this church with its circular plan has a particular poignancy for the locals and in 2012 their commitment was recorded in the installation of a new stained glass entrance foyer for the church.

The church is adjoined to the convent of the Franciscan faith, no longer used for its original purpose, and the church has a roof, domed in two sections, that makes ‘magical’ appearances from the town of Piglio below. On any one day, standing in the square near the City Hall of Piglio you know not whether the Church of San Lorenzo exists.

On one day, there may be no sight of it above the ‘new’ town, while on another day, the dome is visible for all residents in the square. How and why the church and convent of San Lorenzo fall and rise to such an extent, if they do, is to us a mystery of God or, as some say, of geology linked to a possible rise and fall of the underlaying water table.

Standing at the foot of the church of San Lorenzo, you have no hint of any lack of solidity or change of altitude of the ground and solid buildings. There are no signs of damage from movement. Yet the people insist.

But, separate to its apparent altitude, the main reason for the zig-zag tour up the side of Mount Scalambra to the Church is to visit the cave of the Blessed Andrea Conti, a man of deep religious faith, mostly unknown to the rest of the world.

Andrea De Comitibus dei Conti di Segni, was born around 1240 at Anagni; he was a close relative of the Popes Innocent III, Gregory IX, Alexander IV and Boniface VIII, the last two were uncle and grandson respectively. From the city of Anagni, where he met the Franciscan Order, he sought transfer to the nearby convent hermitage of Piglio, where he remained for the following 40 years of his life.

It is recorded that in this convent he became a perfect model of Franciscan humility and mortification, of modesty and piety. At about 62 years old, he died on February 1, 1302 in the same hermitage where his body still rests in the church of San Lorenzo.

Today people come to the church in walking pilgrimage or by car through a lane of giant pine trees sheltering the way from the elements. To visit the cave one passes in front of the convent where, inscribed with red brick in the white stones on the pavement, is ‘PACE E BENE’.

What the convent now lacks in residents the grounds have gained in a bevy of cats, all absorbing the peace and serenity of this place. The walk to the cave is along a broad verdant carpet of grass with a stone fence on the left and tall aged pines on the right. The end of the walkway is marked by a giant blue Spruce tree on the left and an evergreen oak in front with the cave entrance on the right.

The cave has but one exclusion for entry, corpulence. To the right of the cave entrance is a cross carved in the rock wall with a grating of small holes.  Some say that these were to ward off the devil, whose incessant visits were travail to Andrea Conti. Others say that this particular cross was carved by Andrea Conti after the devil had halted his water supply, and that the cross opened a new channel for water.

There is much more to see here, where you can gaze across the hills and valleys to see the towns such as Paliano that Andrea Conti once blessed daily.

The stories, told by the friendly padre, about the paintings and statues in the church will interest visitors, while there are more ‘ways’ to wander on your personal journey of peace. A return visit to the square in Piglio seems essential to search for the dome of the Church of San Lorenzo rising out of the slopes of Mount Scalambra.