In the town of Nemi, located in the hills south of Rome, the Order of the BVM of Mercy has a large friary which was for many years was used as a formation house. This beautiful building is overlooking the volcanic Lago di Nemi. The house is connected to a famous shrine chapel entitled Santissimo Crocifisso (most holy cross). The shrine and the friary have a long history.
The Santissimo Crocifisso shrine was built in 1637; the adjoining monastery housed a community of Franciscan monks before they were replaced by the Mercedarians. The shrine draws its name from the story of the crucifix that surmounts the building. That crucifix was crafted in 1673 by a Franciscan friar, Vincenzo da Bassiano. He reportedly was frustrated in his efforts to carve the face of Christ, and resigned himself to leave the task unfinished, going to sleep and planning another effort the next day. When he awoke, however, he found the image sculpted exactly as he had wanted it. This miraculous crucifix became a source of veneration for the people throughout Italy.
In the late 1800’s when then Master General and reformer Peter Armengol Valenzuela arrived in Rome, the Order only had two convents: Saint Adriano and Cagliari. On March 19, 1881, the Master General acquired Nemi, a former Franciscan convent put up for auction. For many years thereafter the house was used as a formation house for postulants and novices of the Order.
A recent event occurred at the friary in 2006 news agencies gave this report:
Pope makes surprise personal pilgrimage August 23, 2006
Pope Benedict XVI quietly slipped out of Castel Gandolfo on August 22, to make a private pilgrimage to a shrine in the nearby town of Nemi.
The Holy Father made the unannounced trip on Tuesday afternoon, leaving his summer residence with small police escort and making the 10-mile trip by car to Nemi, where the Santissimo Crocifisso (Most Holy Cross) shrine is located.
The Pope was accompanied by his brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, and a few members of his staff, the Media news agency reports. After praying before the Blessed Sacrament, they joined the Mercedarian priests who administer the shrine for Vespers.
Later the Pope visited the Mercedarian monastery. His stay in Nemi was about two hours.
From all indications, it appeared that the Pope had planned the visit so that his arrival would be unexpected. This was the second such pilgrimage of his summer stay at Castel Gandolfo.
Over the years this once famous site has fallen into disrepair. A large scale reconstruction was begun to bring this ancient building back to its original beauty. This project has taken several years of work. During the work the house was really in bad shape: The interior walls were missing with dust and debris everywhere. The windows were still the original ones….many with broken glasses.
Recently the restoration is nearing completion. For the first time in years, a retreat for the friars in Italy took place at in Nemi. Br. Scott, an American studying in Italy had this to say:
“There have been MANY changes with renovations to Nemi: the outside has been repainted/repaired, new windows, and new floors in the 3nd (old Novitiate and Postulancy) and 4rd floors (rooms for visiting students during the summers). The old Novitiate Chapel (later a makeshift library/storage) was redone with new flooring, windows, etc., and is now a small “meeting room.” The old cells were too small, so interior walls were removed to enlarge the rooms….and private bathrooms were put in for every individual room. The 3nd floor now has individual rooms for 20, with an additional 10 on the 4rd (which are larger than the ones on the 3rd floor, so each room on the 4th floor technically could hold two instead of one). This is in addition to the rooms reserved for the community on the 2nd floor. At night there are small, blue LED lights that illuminate the hallways so you don’t have to turn on the larger lights. Also, air conditioning/heating was placed in every bedroom where previously there were neither. We used the smaller refectory (the former novice/priests’ refectory) as opposed to the larger one used formerly for postulants and those coming for our school (work is still not finished there).”
A new chapter begins in the history of this ancient house. In the future, the Province hopes to hold retreats, Chapter meetings, and other large gathers. There overlooking Lago di Nemi we can remember our past and look forward to the future!!