Located in Sabina, Italy, Farfa Abbey is a Benedictine abbey that was highly active during the medieval period. Geographically located between Northern Europe and Southern Italy, Farfa’s central location meant that its involvement in the politics of the Carolingian, Ottonian, and Romanesque eras was inevitable. Throughout its centuries of social and political interactions, however, Farfa cultivated a rich cultural center. Like many of its contemporary buildings, its medieval remains span hundreds of years, with structures dating back to the eighth and ninth centuries.
In the eleventh century the church underwent a renovation, onto which it added, among other things, a campanile (bell tower). Inside the extant campanile, a resplendent fresco program encompasses all four walls from the base of the tower up approximately five stories. Of what remains, the northern wall is best preserved and details a scene of the Ascension. The Apostles are depicted below the fenestration, and Christ, rising to the heavens, is shown above it. The commissioning of this scene in the eleventh century emerged out of a spiritual and theological fascination with the moment of Christ’s ascent and appears to have especially captivated the monks of Farfa Abbey.
In addition to the campanile fresco, two surviving manuscripts also elucidate a fascination with this theophanic moment. The first is a codex containing the sermons of Pope Leo I, who implored his listeners to lift their eyes to heaven as the Apostles did at the Ascension. This movement becomes realized in the campanile, as any viewer would have had to look up a few stories to see the painted figure of Christ. The second is an illustrated manuscript produced at Farfa that contains a luminous image of the Ascension, whose composition mirrors that of the eleventh-century fresco.
Boynton, Susan. Shaping a Monastic Identity: Liturgy and History at the Imperial Abbey at Farfa 1000-1125. Cornell University Press, 2006.
McClendon, Charles. The Imperial Abbey of Farfa, Architectural Currents of the Early Middle Ages. New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1987.
Reconstruction, Farfa Abbey, East End, c. 1060
Ascension, Northern Wall of Campanile, Farfa Abbey, fresco, c. 1060
Details, Campanile, Farfa Abbey, fresco
Madrid Manuscript, (Biblioteca Nacional de Espana, BN Vitr. 20-6), Farfa Abbey, Eleventh Century