In the summer of 2009, a group of contemplative nuns of the Order of St Augustine left the hermitage of Lecceto on the outskirts of Siena to settle in the diocese of Rossano-Cariati, in Calabria in the south of Italy. They had been invited there by the local bishop to found a new community - one that would make visible through prayer and fraternal life the living presence of Jesus Christ.
Living in a house loaned by the diocese for the first 10 years, in August 2019 the sisters finally “opened for business” in their own Monastery of St Augustine. Located on the mountain of Rossano, this place, designed for contemplative living, stands like a guard watching over the Calabrian countryside in one direction as it stretches far into the distance, and over the rugged shores of the Ionian Sea in the other. It is, in short, a place to enjoy communion with the beauty of the Creator.
The top of the sacred mountain of Rossano was once occupied by Basilian monks who fled here to take refuge from the First and Second Byzantine Iconoclasms in the 8th and 9th centuries. Today, on the same site, stands the youngest monastic foundation in Italy and the first female monastery of the Order of St Augustine in the entire southern part of the country. Within the walls of the monastery, resulting from restructuring the former summer seminary of the Diocese, a community of just five sisters lives a life of prayer and recollection as a call to remember the primacy of God in the life of every one of us.
The redevelopment of the monastery, funded in part through donations received via online crowdfunding (in true mendicant style), has been an event in the entire province of Cosenza, for as our sisters themselves state, "it was always about having an ecological house at the vanguard of care for the common home, where beauty and communion with creation are at the centre of everything." In fact, from the very beginning of the renovation work they decided to insulate the monastery with thermal blankets and to install solar panels so they could be energy self-sufficient. But of all the innovations and smart repurposing undertaken, the one thing that most captivates the many daily visitors to the Corigliano-Rossano community is the botanical garden (or "Garden of the Essential", as it is known). This project was initiated in order to awaken in visitors' hearts a nostalgia for the beauty of the Creator and at the same time to foster an encounter with others and with nature.
The garden remains a work in progress. In fact, in every monastic foundation there is a need for a plot of uncultivated land that can be ploughed, worked and nurtured, as an analogy of the heart of each person and the process she undergoes as she draws closer to God, the only place of rest. Working the land, moreover, is a living and explicit sign of love for the land, and especially for this specific place that welcomes the sisters, where they are both temporary custodians and, at the same time, wholly responsible for taking care of it. And, not least, rejoicing in its beauty. In wishing to share this abundant gift of God’s creation - there are more than 30 varieties of plants, flowers and trees encouraged to flourish there - the nuns are planning to build a guest house, where they will be able to share their love of nature and the Augustinian way of life with each visitor or pilgrim.
"We begin the day asking the Lord to open our lips, like the life of man, which is born of God, and at night we abandon ourselves in the heart of God, surrendering to him our silence"
The sisters combine their daily life of prayer with manual work, mainly ceramic handicrafts, which, after all, is one more way of working the land. As they themselves say, "we begin the day asking the Lord to open our lips, like the life of man, which is born of God, and at night we abandon ourselves in the heart of God, surrendering to him our silence, our suffering, which wants to embrace all the sufferings of humanity, like the mother who suffers for the cries of her child and wakes up for him". Indeed, the monastic vocation carries with it an immense desire to give oneself totally to God and, through Him, to others.