S. Nicola di Trisulti: un insediamento certosino femminile?

Author: Valeria Danesi

S. Nicola at Trisulti: a carthusian settlement for women?

The monastery of S. Nicola at Trisulti is situated near Civita, a suburb of the small town of Collepardo in the province of Frosinone, only a few kilometers far from the famous Carthusian monastery. It could be the first and only female Carthusian settlement in central Italy.
The total lack of sources does not permit to have a clear picture of its history, whereas the architectural remains of the building — despite the state of disrepair for its usage as a barn and the number of rearrangements through the centuries — seem to suggest two different phases of construction. The second phase should date back to the 13th century, as suggested by some architectural elements close to the local Gothic style, such as the pointed arched windows on the northern wall of the church as well as the close similarities with the opposite monastery of S. Domenico, the domus inferior of the Carthusian lay brothers, also dated at the 13th century. Moreover, the wall of limestone blocks can be compared to similar walls of elite dwellings of the same period in the nearby towns of Alatri and Guarcino.
Nothing can be said on the dating of the first construction phase, which the lower part of the western and the northern walls of the church seem to belong to.
The presence of women in the monastery of S. Nicola is suggested by a peculiar double-storey building, attached to the western wall of the church. This building connects with the church throughout a door filled-in on its lower part by a wall, and a pointed arched window, walled up in its top. A similar architectural solution can be found in other monasteries of the Damianite order of Saint Claire, such as at S. Damiano in Assisi and S. Sebastiano in Alatri. The nuns’ choir is external to the church in both these monasteries, and communicates with it throughout a sort of opening/window that allows the nuns to listen to the religious functions. The external choir gives also access to other monastic areas, such as the dormitory. The creation of this peculiar architectural space could be related to the rigid enclosure imposed in 1218 to all female monastic orders by cardinal Ugolino dei Conti di Segni (who would become pope Gregory IX later on, in 1227). Monastic orders had to intervene on their architectures with the creation of new spaces and internal routes, in order to guarantee the strict enclosure of their sorores, and avoid them to leave the monastery.
The upper floor at S. Nicola with its walled up window seems to have the same function of the Damianite choir. The modern window on the eastern wall is a rework of a door that was used to connect the choir to the cenoby — only the remains of two of its perimeter walls are still preserved today — creating the same kind of internal continuous communication of the monastic spaces, typical of the order of Saint Claire.
The rigid enclosure followed by the Carthusian monks initially implied the categorical exclusion of women from the surroundings of charterhouses. Despite the full prohibition, it is likely that the strict rule may have slightly loosened in a second moment, justifying the foundation of a female Carthusian monastery near Trisulti.