Italy has a really high concentration of churches, convents, and other Catholic facilities, with estimates ranging from 20.000 to 40.000 religious buildings throughout the country. However, many of them are also abandoned due to a wide variety of factors. Economic trends, lack of funds for restoration, population shifts towards larger cities, and natural disasters (such as the rather frequent earthquakes in the south and center of the country) have all contributed to many notable religious buildings and churches being abandoned. One of them is a convent in San Bernardino. Located in the Orte municipality (Viterbo province), the Convent of San Bernardino showcases a very back-to-basics stylistic approach when it comes to its architecture, in contrast with other convents, which have a more lavish style, inspired by the baroque current.
The more understated style of this convent reflects the Franciscan order, which owned the San Bernardino convent in Italy. Franciscans are known for their philosophy, which involves practicing poverty and shedding from material possessions and privileges in order to be more connected to God and experience a closer bond with Jesus.
The convent’s origins can be traced back to 1463. The structure underwent many changes throughout the ages, with expansions and renovations to fit the needs of the occupants over time. A memorial plaque points at the year 1751 as the time of a major renovation of the church, which was later used as a seminar along with the rest of the convent. Essentially, it was a study facility for people who were seeking to enter the priesthood and specifically the order of the Franciscan. The convent also had extensive gardens with some greenhouses and other facilities to produce (supposedly) vegetables for the occupants and possibly for sale to the general public – Many convents do offer local products to the population, often sold at local fairs or to visitors. Another notable facility is a large hall, which was probably used as a community aggregation center. The few remaining black and white pictures showcase some of the friars happily playing pool with some local kids.
The facilities were in full swing up until the 20th century, when the convent was further expanded, with an added gym and even a print workshop. Over time, however, the convent started to fade out, becoming progressively abandoned, up until 1994, when it was left to its own decay. It is not exactly clear why the Franciscans abandoned the convent, but it is likely a lack of students interested in entering the Franciscan seminary. Others have also speculated that a waning population (Just about 8.000 people according to 2014 data) contributed to a lack of interest in the many activities the friars were promoting in the convent, including the printing workshop – Unsold and unshipped copies of some of the books printed in the facility are still piled up in a corner! With a decreasing number of students and population decline in the area, perhaps it was no longer possible to keep the convent afloat – but this is only speculation because we don’t really know the real reason why the facility was actually abandoned by the Franciscan, marking an abrupt end to centuries of almost continuous use of the convent.
To this day, the buildings are in ruin, considered dangerous for lack of maintenance. Vandalism is present in many areas of the former convent, which has also been stripped of many things by looters.
The San Bernardino convent in Italy is apparently for sale as well, with an asking price of just over 3 million euros for the entire structure – A relatively low ask for a convent with ancient roots and centuries of history!
More photos of the abandoned convent can be found below: