Home to three churches, Abby Tre Fontane is a beautiful spot right outside the walls of Rome and is located on the route of the Via Laurentina. Amidst groves of eucalyptus trees, and tucked away in a time reminiscent of the Middle Ages, is this sacred place of pilgrimage and contemplation. What’s the significance of this place among all the many others in Rome, you ask? Here, in 67 AD, is where tradition holds St. Paul to have been tortured and beheaded and where three fountains sprang forth from the bounce of his head upon the ground. The first spring brought forth hot water, the second warm and the third cold, and in place today, the pilgrim will see three shrines.
A citizen of Rome, Paul was to not be crucified or executed within the walls of Rome, but taken here to await his sentence of death. Solace awaits the invitation to sit with St. Paul- to pray and consider his time spent here. Love, strength of conviction,and faith- when times are their darkest permeate the entirety of this space. So too is the poignant reminder that the fire lit with St. Paul did not end there, but is within each of us as followers of Christ today. In this moment, I thought of my own husband, his kinship with St. Paul and how his small constant flame of faith was suddenly set ablaze when he heard God calling him deeper in faith.
Walking back up the path, towards the Church S. Maria Scala Coeli, one cannot miss the statue of St Benedict calling all to listen and obedience without delay. “Pray and work. Here hastens those who want to see the heavens open; and the difficulty of the route not distracting from the holy plan. Always difficult things are achieved with great effort. The blessed life always passes through a narrow path” This church constructed in the 12th century derives its name from a vision of a ladder that ascended to heaven from purgatory that St. Bernard of Clairvaux had in 1138 while celebrating Mass.
Last, but certainly not least is the church of Ss.Vincenzo and Anastasio built in 625 and rebuilt by the Cistercian monks between 1140 and 1221. Enclosed with these walls of brick and columns of marble is a church of alluring austerity.I sat here for some time, at first conversing with God. Feeling a need to fill the seeming simplicity of this space, I spoke at length till my thoughts racing about in my head had come to a standstill. Then like a wave, an overwhelming sense of serene solitude enveloped me and all I longed for was to remain. I was being shaped by the silence- stripped of all my pretenses and burdens I carried and created anew.This is the joy of contemplation, and life in this Trappist monastery.
Yet, prayer and reflection are but part of the life of those who feel called to live within these cloistered walls. As an active working community of faith, the Cistercian monks produce many products of unsurpassed quality and taste. Olive Oil, honey, jelly, chocolate, beer , liquors, and natural skin care products are a few of the many items sold at the Abbey of the Three Fountains. If only my pockets and suitcases were deep enough, I would have supported the monastery for a year or more. Yet, I could not help but recognize that the gift of spiritual solitude I had found there, far outweighed anything that could ever be purchased.
Reflect: Ever think about the attractiveness of monastic life? If so why? If not, can you envision the essentialness of this quiet time of retreat in your own life? Action:Take time today, to sit and allow yourself to be worn and shaped by the sound of silence.