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Abbeys and agriculture
“Ora et Labora”, pray and work. This apparently simple description of a monastic order, in this case the Benedictines, in fact represents the foundations of an approach that led to the construction of churches, abbeys and monasteries, preserving works and classical culture surviving from ancient civilizations in a historical period hallmarked by a period of widespread turmoil, with the ever-constant menace of war and barbarian devastation. In addition, the monastic culture did a great deal to reclaim areas of marshes, converting this land into a valuable agricultural resource.
The Po valley plain presents many architectural monuments that express this period of history, and there are some such buildings relatively close to Milan. For example, Viboldone Abbey, with its beautiful architecture and its 14th century frescoes, is one of the most important Mediaeval monastic building groups in Lombardy. It was founded in 1176, and completed in 1348 by the Umiliati.
In the mid-16th century, the Umiliati order was suppressed, and the Olivetan Benedictines took control of the Abbey for about two centuries. Later, the Benedictines were themselves suppressed by the Austrian government, and the monks were forced to abandon the abbey.
The Benedictine order comprised monks, nuns and lay staff who conducted a life of prayer and work in the buildings grouped around the church. They cultivated their land using innovative systems.
The same approach to monastic life was shared by other abbeys in the area, more specifically Morimondo, 30 kilometres from Milan, and Chiaravalle, located in an agricultural area between the Vigentino and Rogoredo districts. They were run by Cistercian Benedictine monks, an order with slightly different characteristics but sharing the same foundations.