Convent of the Passionist Friars
The convent was built by Saint Paul of the Cross (in the world Paolo Danei), founding father of the congregation of the Passionist Fathers.
It seems that the saint, born in Ovada (AL) in 1694, during his trip to Rome in 1722 made a stop at Mount Argentario, then part of the State of the Presidi, and fell in love with the beauty, quiet and serenity that this place emanated. . After
a few years, in 1728, he then returned to the Argentario and asked for permission to occupy a small, long-abandoned hermitage dedicated to St. Anthony, to make it a place of retreat and prayer.
The hermitage consisted of a small chapel and two simple rooms with only four beds and therefore, to save space, a hut was first built as a kitchen and storage room; subsequently the construction of the actual retreat began, the perimeter of which, according to legend, was traced on the ground with a stick by St. Paul himself. The laying of the first stone, on which was the inscription “God will save you 1733” was placed on 4 March 1733 and the building inaugurated on 14 September 1737, dedicated to the Presentation of the Most Holy Mary in the Temple. The new complex included a small church, 15 cells and the premises necessary for the life of the religious: infirmary, sacristy, library, kitchen, refectory, pantry, community room, etc. The construction however was hasty and the materials
used poorly, so after the death of the founder, in 1778, it had to be almost completely rebuilt. The retreat was the operational center of the congregation that was originally called “The Poor of Jesus” and then “Congregation of the Minimal Regular Clerics barefoot under the invocation of the Holy Cross and Passion of Jesus Christ”, until St. Paul transfers the general headquarters first in Sant’Angelo di Vetralla and then in Rome.
In 1779 the bell tower was added and in 1881 the church was restored, which also included two chapels, one dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel and another to Santa Maria Maddalena. During such
work had to lower the floor, thus discovering how the benefactors of the Congregation were buried in the chapel of St. Mary Magdalene, including Agnese Grazi, first disciple of the saint, and her brother Vincenzo Grazi, and in that of Michael the Archangel instead the brothers of the congregation. In 1798, after the descent of the French and the proclamation of the Roman Republic, the retreat hosted numerous religious who fled from the Papal States, including some cardinals, but the place, albeit isolated, in 1799 was joined by a group of army soldiers French, engaged in the siege of Orbetello, who sacked it and damaged its sacred furnishings. In 1810, following the suppression of the religious institutions promulgated by Napoleon, the retreat was abandoned and its assets rented by the Community to private individuals, who apparently stole the most valuable furnishings, also profaning the church and its burials. Only in 1814, after the fall of Napoleon, the religious were able to return there.
On 24 April 1820 the retreat was visited by Ferdinand III of Lorraine, Grand Duke of Tuscany and on 8 April 1825 by his successor, Leopold II. In 1836 there was a new overall renovation of the building which began to take on its current appearance. In 1866, with the law that sanctioned the abolition of religious orders in Italy, the retreat was once again abandoned. The government thought of different uses of the building, it was thought of as a college or as a prison, but in the end it decided to put the property up for sale, divided into lots. All the lots were purchased by devotees linked to the religious, who then gave them to Father Emanuele di San Giovanni, rector of the congregation, who was then able to welcome the religious again, causing a certain uproar among the civil authorities.
In 1897 it hosted the venerable Galileo Nicolini, seriously ill, who died 13 days after his arrival, at the age of 15, in the odor of sanctity. In 1915 it was requisitioned by the army which accommodated 200 soldiers and in 1943 it became asylum for many people, even briefly hosting the municipality of Porto Santo Stefano and the civil hospital.
In 2000 it was visited by Pope John Paul II who stopped to pray in the chapel of the convent.
TO BE SEEN:
One of the main attractions of the Presentation Retreat is the splendid view of Orbetello and its lagoon. In the church, with a typical nineteenth-century appearance, on the high altar is a Presentation of Mary in the Temple, probably a copy of a painting by Sebastiano Conca, commissioned by Cardinal Altieri, abbot of the Tre Fontane between 1737 and 1738. In the transept on the right a painting with Santa Maria Maddalena Penitente, signed by Angelo Falaschi, an otherwise unknown artist, probably belonging to the Roman school of the eighteenth century. On the altar of the left transept there is a St. Michael the Archangel, a copy of a painting by Guido Reni, made in 1822 commissioned by the father of a novice to replace a previous much damaged canvas of the same subject. In the first chapel on the right there is a painting by the Manchiano painter Pietro Aldi,
dated 1880, depicting the Madonna indicating to San Paolo della Croce the place where to build the convent. In the chapel on the left you can admire the bronze urn containing the remains of the venerable Galileo Nicolini, the work of the artist Passionist Father Tito Amodei (1926-2018). In the choir Madonna and Child with the Sacred Heart and St. Joseph, popularly known as the “Madonna del Monte Argentario”, donated by Tommaso Struzzieri before becoming a Passionist Father and scarred by the French in 1799, as indicated by the cuts still present.
In the crypt there are some objects that belonged to St. Paul of the Cross and some reliquaries.
HOW IT IS REACHED:
The convent can be reached from the SP that connects Porto S. Stefano to Orbetello and Porto Ercole, through a road that branches off from it in the locality of Punta degli Stretti.
IN THE SAME AREA YOU CAN ALSO VISIT:
Fortress of Porto S. Stefano; historic center of Orbetello (Etruscan walls, Spanish walls, Cathedral of S. Maria Assunta); historic center of Porto Ercole (Rocca); Forte Filippo; Forte Stella; Duna Feniglia Nature Reserve; Punta Telegrafo.
IF YOU LIKED THE CONVENT OF THE PASSIONIST FATHERS YOU CAN ALSO VISIT:
Rocca di Manciano (panorama and collection of paintings by Pietro Aldi) (48 km).
At the time of construction of the retreat, the lack of water was a serious problem. Father Giovanni Battista, brother of St. Paul of the Cross, then had a procession organized with the cross on his head and, having reached a point not far from the retreat, he had excavations made, finding a spring. Initially this was channeled and brought to the retreat square, but since it was an opportunity to meet the people of the surroundings and to chatter, it was then diverted to restore the place to the silence necessary for meditation. The spring still exists, near a self-service that bears its name and occupies a pleasant wood just a short distance from the retreat.