Long before the luxury country house, the site was known as Refari or Moscatelli…
|LA PREGHIERA - THE MAIN HOUSE and MONASTERY|
|Phase 1 - c. a.d 1190|
The buildings were constructed as a chapel and an early religious establishment, probably by the Brothers of the Mount of Olives, “I Olivetani”; Inception of the work on the site possibly began in the 1100s, with the foundations of the oratorio, the private church, for the devotions of the holy order.
The monastery – that is, the main house, La Preghiera, the living quarters for the monks – would have been constructed after the church or oratorio, as the prime concern of the monks was to communicate with God, not to preoccupy themselves with their own creature comforts.
Animals would probably have been housed on the ground floor when the main building was constructed. Work, study, meals and administration would have taken place on the middle floor, with storage, grain and produce drying, and sleeping on the top floor.
There are spy holes on the middle floor looking towards the river Aggia and to where its crossing used to be. This river was closer, wider and shallower than today, and probably ran almost to where the front garden well now stands. The river Aggia runs some 3km to Trestina, to join the Tiber, il Tevere, which flows to Rome.
The roof pitch of this first part of the monastery ran from north to south; there is the outline of a sundial on the south wall, and to its left, the edge of the original monastery wall, above which is the outline of the original roof edge.
|The Second Period, c. 1300 - c. 1400|
It is probable that there was no start or stop date, the work gently progressing as time and labour allowed. The second phase would perhaps have incorporated an “L” onto the original building, the area today occupied by the ground-floor room, where the old arched front door, above which was a coat of arms, still gives access to the north garden, and where, set into the floor, was found a square cut stone of the reliquary type in which a sacred object would have been placed: bones of a saint, part of the true cross, etc. Remember, many people still “touch wood” – the wood of the cross – for luck, or to ward off evil.
On the first floor, the dining room has two spy holes on the northern wall and in the office, there is another spy hole, which can only be seen from outside. On the second floor, the billiard room bears signs of chimneys having been incorporated into the second roof line on the east side, showing the original roof lines; the south wall shows where existing roof tiles were roughly built over to support the final enlarged roof which was built in the fourth stage.
|The Third period|
This period, running perhaps 1400 - 1450, probably saw the start of the loggia, and perhaps the very small “porter’s lodge” on the ground floor between the museum and the laundry room, where a night-duty monk would have been in attendance to provide sustenance – bread and water – to travellers passing the monastery on the Franciscan route from Cortona to Assisi. Note the spy hole; the doors which were outside his lodge (note the brick edging), would never have been opened during the hours of darkness.
When the restoration work was taking place between 2000 and 2004, the brick oven was discovered under the old stone stairs that stood where the wooden stairs are today. This would also have been used to keep warm broth available for passing pilgrims during the cold months and also to feed the monks.
This period saw the start of the double tiered loggia, which is erected parallel to walls built in the last period, but distinctly at variance to the line of the fourth period of building when the balance of the loggia and the “Bishop’s Lodging” were added.
The loggia was on the west of the building, which at the time was probably a “hospital” run by the monks, and where ailing patients and elderly monks rest outside in the warmth of the afternoon sun, sheltered from any possible north or east breeze, and also the mid-day sun, shining from the south, the church side.
All of the building in the main house was more or less complete by the time Christopher Columbus, Cristoforo Colombo, or Cristobal Colon, set sail for the New World!
|The Fourth period|
By about 1650 the surrounding hillsides had been deforested and the land began to slide down against the south wall of the monastery. By the 1700s a new back door had been inserted at a higher level, as the ground floors were untenable because of the moving mud and earth.
The evidence of a very well-worn doorstep under the bread oven cut into the arch of the loggia, in the south end wall of the loggia - built some two meters high on the wall, above the current, and original, ground level, and cut into the end arch of the loggia - supports this theory.
By the end of the 1800s the mud had consolidated within the south part of the building, which was no longer a religious house – the Bishop’s Lodging – and this part was turned into a tobacco drying tower. The property had passed on to private owners and in the 1950's tobacco planting at an industrial level had begun in the valley. The south wall, now some 50cm thick and securely buttressed, was built above a retaining garden wall of only some 30cm thick above the by-then hardened mud - a frightening discovery when the solidified mud was removed some several hundred years later in 2001!
|THE CHURCH of OUR LADY of the SACRED HEART |
The original church, built, or started, probably in the early 1100s, was gradually swamped by mud slides and abandoned by the 1600s. The part of the church remaining above ground was restored and heightened by 1871; it was easier to build above the existing walls, rather than try to excavate the base of the church from two metres of soil. The building again fell into disuse and the decayed shell was restored in 2002.
An external observation of the church, on the side of the structure not in direct sunlight, shows a distinct difference between the early mortar of the lower part, up to the window sills, and that of the upper part. The light coloured mortar is in better condition as one rises to the window-sill level, where it would have been more protected by the overhang of the original roof. At the mortar joint is a distinct levelling course of smaller stones, which, when the wall was heightened, became the base of the new upper part of the walls. This line also arrives at the front of the church where the original “shoulders” are still in position. The church has a vaulted ceiling under a pitched roof.
The original church, as the earliest structure on the site, would have been at the level of the lower garden, the original land level. Beneath the existing church floor there is undoubtedly another floor, some two metres down, with the distinct probability of a crypt for burials beneath that. The bank of yellow and white chrysanthemums - a funereal flower in this part of Umbria - have been planted in memory of the spirit of the departed monks. The duty of the monks was prayer and holy observance, and the church, very similar in shape and style to that of St. Francis in Assisi, would have been built long before the monastery. The monks, as with the followers of St. Francis, would have sheltered in simple thatched wooden huts whilst their work of constructing the church was undertaken.
The first church was overwhelmed by the encroaching mudslides, and abandoned by the late 1500s. The second church was built behind the first one and at a right angle to it; this building – the barn or granary known as Moscatelli – served as a temporary church until perhaps the mid 1600s, by which time the mud in the original church had hardened and the monks had heightened its walls by a further four meters.
After being abandoned, or sold by the monks, the property passed to a maker of fishing nets, which in dialect were called reffe. Refari, the name of the street, is taken from one of trades undertaken in the house. The surrounding land was planted with hemp for making the nets. Later the property passed into the hands of the Irace family, who probably called the site “Moscatelli” after the muscat grapes that were grown there. The family restored the church in the 1870s and dedicated it to “The Virgin of the Sacred Heart”. The family grave is to be found in another nearby church. The church of Refari again fell into disuse in the late 60s when the parish church of calzolaro was built, until it was re-roofed and refurbished in 2000 - 2002.
The four coats of arms appearing on the extremities of the wall tie-bars are of the province of Perugia, the Griffin; the Brotherhood of the Mount of Olives, the sugar loaves of the Holy Roman Empire, with olive sprigs; and the Tunstill family, three wool combs and the rose of England, signifying the Lancastrian and Yorkist origins.
|VILLA MOSCATELLI or THE BARN or GRANARY |
Built as a temporary church, this building is decorated with internal frescoes, probably executed by a passing artist in return for board and lodging; remember that Luca Signorelli, Piero della Francesca, Fra Angelico, Rafaello and Michaelangelo all lived and worked in these valleys; they all passed along the dusty roads with a mule, and a box of paints, looking for patrons. In Villa Moscatelli traces of decorated plasterwork were in existence on the walls and pillar bases, and two halves of two pillars were found during excavation and reconstruction. Note that the lower part of one of the columns has suffered two earlier attempts to cut the slot to support a timber fence post. Doubtless a novice stone-cutting monk suffered a good ear-tweaking from the Abbot! These columns would have supported a sheltered loggia for the monks for prayer and contemplation, on the southern side of the building.
The diverse levels of Villa Moscatelli again bear witness to further incursions of mud. The floors are at different levels on the ground floor and show where the internal walls of the barn and its outbuildings would have held back the slides of slurry, which, when dried and hardened, gave rise to new floor levels (as rooms were added on).
© John Tunstill 2005
Updated by Liliana Tunstill 2007