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The ‘buried’ history of the Abbazia di Santa Maria di Cerrate

16 December 2022

A new permanent multimedia space complements and enriches the current offer of visits to the Abbazia di Santa Maria di Cerrate in Lecce: the narration of the Abbazia‘s history in a lesser-known chapter, which reveals and deepens its Byzantine origin and soul.

The ‘buried’ history of the Abbazia di Cerrate is the title of an immersive video-installation set up in a specially restored room in the so-called Casa Monastica, the oldest part of the complex, which today looks like a typical farmhouse in Salento, clustered around the Church of Santa Maria, but which a thousand years ago was an abbey, a Byzantine monastery. The Lecce stone blocks of the ancient walls are brought to life through projections of historical images, documents and details of the architecture, decoration and frescoes, while an engaging narration, entrusted to the voice of Lecce actor Mario Perrotta, guides the audience on a journey back in time on the trail of the Byzantine monks who lived in these rooms for centuries, trying to reconstruct their life and culture, customs and rituals.

From the reinterpreted and reassembled testimonies, few and faint but profoundly significant, a “buried” history emerges, referring back to the origin of the monastery, testifying to the life of the monastic community of Cerrate and the Byzantine or Greek rite that was practised there, and suggestively evoking its demise. These include an exceptional discovery: the discovery of an 11th-12th century Eucharistic mould, so far the only one of its kind, which was used to stamp the blessed bread in Easter ceremonies according to the Greek rite, ritually buried around the 15th century and found intact in 2014-2015 during archaeological excavations promoted by the FAI and directed, in collaboration with the Superintendence, by the University of Salento.

The story is the result of scientific research, promoted and coordinated by the FAI, which made use of the advice of university professors and the work of eight young researchers supported by the Foundation with scholarships aimed at specific, original and in-depth knowledge of the Abbazia di Cerrate in its many aspects, from architecture to frescoes, from historical sources to new archaeological data. The research brought to light unpublished details and elements of the Abbazia’s history, also demonstrating the unfoundedness of some traditions, such as the one that wanted a scriptorium in Cerrate, a centre for copying manuscripts, which is not actually documented.

Through this video-story, FAI, at the Abbazia di Cerrate as in its other properties, shows its commitment to the cultural enhancement of the heritage it manages, which is based on knowledge and its dissemination to a wide public, i.e. on the promotion of the development of culture and scientific research, in this pursuit of Article 9 of the Italian Constitution from which its mission is based.

Restorations and installations such as this one are aimed at restoring places to their full cultural value, which does not lie in the past alone, but in the legacy it has left to the territories and their communities. This is why the story closes with a testimony in griko and in the memory of the traditions still alive in the Salento that are rooted in a millenary history only apparently “buried” and reveal the Byzantine soul of this land, of which the Abbey of S. Maria di Cerrate is an exceptional testimony.

Restoration, installation and video narration were realised thanks to the generous bequest of Dr. Rossana Festa, testifying to her great love for nature and art.

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