The first stones for the foundation of the abbey of Chiaravalle della Colomba were laid down in 1135, when San Bernando di Chiaravalle (the great reformer of the Benedictine order, from which originated in France the order of the Cistercians) welcomed the request of Arduino, bishop of Piacenza, and built a community of monks for his diocese.
On 11 April 1136, with a document called “institutionis paginam”, in order to build the monastery, Bernardo di Chiaravalle was given some lands formally lay the foundations of the future abbey.
The event was not without clamours, and what made it even more solemn was the legend that almost immediately was connected to this place: a white dove (and this is from where it gets the name “della Colomba”, mentioned even on the official papers) had been twirling in front of the bewildered eyes of the monks, pointing with some blades of straw at the spot where the future monastery should have been built.
Actually, it’s more likely that the name “Santa Maria della Colomba” (original dedicatory name of the basilica and monastery) refers to the mystery of the Annunciation, harmonizing with the strong spirituality linked to the worship of the Virgin Mary, which has always marked the Cistercians communities.
Since then, up to the Napoleonic era, the existence of the monks was deeply connected with the religious and civil life, turning the abbey into a reference point for all northern Italy in little time. Faithful to the Benedictine motto “ora et labora” (pray and work), the monks reclaimed and farmed the lands, bred the animals, and continued with their studies and cultural activities, spreading their spirituality.
Even if praised for the great religious, scientific, literary, and agronomic activities, from the 14th century, the abbey started to go into decline, as it occurred to other orders. The spread of wars, the raids, the famines, and, most of all, the authority crisis with an ever-growing intrusion of other powers, led to the disruption of the religious and spiritual fabric that had nourished until then this place.
At the beginning of the 19th century, two decrees by Napoleon sentenced the life of the monastery: the archive, the library, and the furniture went lost, the thousands of hectares of land and buildings became the property of the city hospitals of Piacenza, and the monks were forced to move away. In Chiaravalle, just two religious men remained: one as a priest and the other as a teacher.
Things started to change at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to Monsignor Guglielmo Bettuzzi, the abbot and priest of Chiaravalle: He convinced the Superintendence to start the recovery works of the complex, bringing to the old beauty some pieces of art that had been forgotten, such as the Crucifixion displayed in the Sacristy.
About a century ago (1937), the monks came back within the old walls of the abbey, and every year they renew the spirituality of their cloistered life made of contemplation and hard work, including meetings, events, and conferences.
You can freely visit the abbey and the monastic complex at any moment, and you can even book a guided tour.
There are many people who come here to make travel back in time, who want to experience with their own eyes the charm of the Middle Ages. Among these, the many pilgrims from the Via Francigena always find an open door and some rest in this religious haven.