The Ancient Monastery of Gesuati in Ferrara

Written by  Maria Chiara Montanari
History of a restored work.
We had the chance to restore the ancient monastery of Jesuati, which belongs to Ferrara Seminary, according to the Plan of the interventions which were financed by the State for the Jubilee of the year 2000 and which were co-financed by the Seminary.

It is a fifteenth century monastery which is erected on fourteenth century buildings. It is inserted in the medieval context of Nicholas the Second's first Addition, in 1386, which is located in the area delimited by via Pergolato, via Savonarola, via Madama and via Borgo di Sotto.

The lay congregation of Jesuati, which was founded by Blessed John Colombini of Siena (1304-1367), was approved by Urban the Fifth in 1367 and was suppressed by Clement the Ninth, with the Bull dated December 6 1668.
The members of the congregation wore a white cassock, a grey cloak and hood and wooden clogs and they were bound to take three vows. They lived on charity and thanks to their ability to distil medicinal herbs and eau de vie.

The first small settlement was extended on April 26 1429 with the permission of Ferrara diocesan curia, for the construction of an oratory which was also destined to the faithful, unlike the one which was placed in the monastery, which was reserved to the congregation of Jesuati.
Blessed John Tavelli da Tossignano took an active part in the works, thanks to the experience acquired in Venice, where he worked on the adjustment of the monastery in Saint Mary of the Visitation's church, in Zattere.
He was prior of Jesuati in Ferrara, then town and diocese bishop from 1431 until his death, in 1446; canonisation procedure is in course.
Other extensions and changes were made afterwards, owing to monastery's prestige after his death, attracting people's attention for the miracles which were accomplished through his intercession.

With the Bull dated December 6 1668, Clement the Ninth suppressed the order of Jesuati and the monastery, acting as an abbey, was given to Louis of Bevilacqua Marquis, who, in order to favour the order of Saint Therese's Barefooted Carmelites, offered them the monastery and the church. They took possession of the goods and the Order was established on August 15 1671.

After having become Consumati family's heirs, even if they extended the ancient oratory, erecting three altars in 1676, in 1696 they started to build Saint Jerome's church, which was completed in 1712.
On April 21 1951, the Barefooted Carmelites sold part of the monastery to Sisters of Charity Institute under Saint Vincent de Paoli's protection, keeping just a part of it, that is to say the part which was closer to the new church.
On October 1 1989, Sisters of Charity Institute transferred the property as a free loan to Comacchio Bishop's Seminary for the performance of sacred and worship works and activities.
On March 19 1999, with René Guidetti's act, Sisters of Charity Institute gave the property to Ferrara Archbishop's Seminary.

Now, you can enter the building from via Madama, through the courtyards which previously were Jesuati's gardens, but, at that time, you could have access to the building through an arcade which, starting from via Madama, but underneath, led to the oratory. Now, the part which is closer to via Madama belongs to private citizens and there is just a column of the ancient portico, which is encapsulated in the corner of a civil building.

Paintings by well-known Ferrarese artists and other frescos were painted on portico's walls: paintings have been partially lost and partially located elsewhere, while the following wall paintings have been preserved up to now and restored: an imposing Saint Jerome's fresco on the door leading to the fireplace room, an indefinite greenish stain which stands for the Capture of Jesus in Olive Trees' Garden, crosses which date back to different ages scanning the Stations of the Way of the Cross and the sinopite of a fresco depicting Christ Crucified, who, according to historical descriptions, had four blessed Jesuati at his feet, including John Tavelli.
A latin inscription cut on the plaster which is placed on the door leading to the ancient oratory, tells the story of the oratory, his extensions and his consecrations.

Near the fireplace room, with pavilion vaults, arches and vaulting cells resting on white-plastered stone capitals, which is sumptuously decorated with nineteenth century paintings, there is the simple but austere ancient refectory, which has been restored and brought back to its original aspect, with Christ's monogram which dates back to Jesuati period at the centre of ceiling vault and Saint Therese and Saint John of the Cross' Carmelite paintings, which are framed by two plaster ovals, on one of the far walls.
Now, the ancient refectory is a large and equipped conference room.

Apart from the rooms which have been described up to now, there are two cloisters: the smallest and square one was the courtyard with rainwater storage tanks, while the rectangular one was the garden. As regards cloister arcades, it was necessary to install glass windows, which were provided with small sized painted iron frames.
Room arrangement plan aimed at re-establishing horizontal and vertical ancient connections, according to arcade and corridor shape and size, with the construction of a new staircase, acting as an escape route for fire prevention, in the place where it was previously located, after having been demolished as it was narrow and crumbling.

All the rest already existed: the ancient cells have become the new bedrooms of a receptive structure and it was possible to install sanitary facilities without upsetting original system, which is always present. There is just an innovation: small lofts, with exposed roof structures and suitable and easy to handle skylights, have been erected on vertical walls in the western rooms on the first floor of the smallest cloister which were not ventilated and lit.

In all rooms, finishing was the leitmotiv: lime wash with reproduction of ancient colour shades, room, bathroom, hall, corridor, arcade, portico, staircase cotto floors, painted wood inner and outer frames with dark coloured opaque enamel, according to ancient customs and following the instructions of the competent Environmental and Architectural Assets Service.