Legend has it that the Abbey of Saint Mary of Cerrate was founded after a vision of the Virgin appeared to King Tancred of Altavilla, Count of Lecce, after chasing a deer into a cave. It is much more likely that the complex was constructed when Bohemond of Altavilla (1058-1111) chose the location for a colony of Greek monks who followed the teachings of St Basil the Great.
These Basilian monks, who had taken refuge in Salento from the iconoclastic persecutions of Byzantium, helped the Abbey become one of the most important monastic centers in Southern Italy. Cerrate flourished for centuries, as both a religious and agricultural center, until 1711 when the abbey was sacked by Turkish pirates and fell into a state of abandon.
The Abbey of Cerrate is one of the most important examples of Romanesque architecture in Puglia. The structure consists of a beautiful limestone basilica, adorned with elegant relief sculpture over the main entrance, and a columned loggia added to the north side. The interior of the building was completely decorated with frescoes, on which work began in the 13th century, and which are today stored in the adjacent museum. The Church is complemented not only by an arcade but also by the Monks' House, the Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions, and a building erected in the 16th century, which probably originally served as a cowshed and is now an exhibition space. remains of two ancient underground olive oil mills and wells for collecting the oil.
FAI's main objectives will be to restore the entire complex and make it operational, create a visitor center, and reopen the site to the public.
Friends of FAI has committed to restoring the Abbey's interiors, which represent the most important artistic and architectural features of the church, including two baroque altars, as well as exceptional Byzantine style frescoes.
The Baroque Altars: The church contains two altars from the 17th century. The main altar, dedicated to Saint Irene, is covered by a ciborium, which according to its Greek inscription was sculpted in 1266. A second altar, dedicated to Saint Oronzo, the patron saint of Lecce, is located laterally in one of the naves, and covered by an elaborate baroque ciborium.
The frescoes at the Abbey of Saint Mary of Cerrate represent one of the most significant examples of Pugliese art of the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. The Abbey's interiors were originally entirely covered in frescoes, of which several significant portions still remain.
The project will also entail restoring the Abbey's ten original columns, maintenance of the stone floors, restoration of portions of the Abbey's walls, and restoration of the Abbey's furnishings (the 18th century confessional, wooden and straw chairs, and other liturgical furnishings). The restoration will is slated to begin in 2013 and is expected to be completed within 2 years. The Abbey will remain open during the restoration.
We wish to thank our patrons for supporting the restoration of the Abbey of Cerrate. Thanks to their generosity, we have provided a grant of $300,000 to fund this project.
Luciano & Giancarla Berti
Carla Bossi Comelli
Martin & Sharleen Cooper Cohen
Simon & Nathalie Marshall-Lockyer
Peter & Merle Mullin
Steven & Harriet Nichols
Andy & Mary Pilara
Gianluigi & Claudia Quenin
Jan Shrem & Maria Manetti Shrem