The origin: the monastery of the queen
History of the monastery
The Monastery of Santa Maria in Valle, which comprises the church of San Giovanni and the Longobard Temple, is one of the most important urban centres of Longobard Cividale, preserving the main monumental remains of that period. The monastic complex is an important testimony to the history and urban evolution of Cividale, in particular concerning the area known as “Valle”, in the south-east sector of the town: a hollow extending from the Cathedral and the old Palace of the Patriarch, now home of the National Archaeological Museum, down to the steep banks of the Natisone. In the Early Middle Ages, the Longobard Gastaldaga, seat of the royal court in the town, was located in the Valle area. That use is well suited to the monumental evolution of the area, where the church of San Giovanni in Valle was built and still stands, the oldest and most important building of worship in the town after the cathedral, founded in the first half of the 7th century, as well as the Longobard Temple, a work of incomparable value of the late Longobard period, certainly ordered by a prestigious patron, very probably the royal family. The origin of the Monastery, already mentioned in a source of the 9th century, is also linked to the royal demesne; it was probably founded in the late Longobard period and is mentioned for the first time in written sources of 830, in a diploma issued by Lothair and Ludwig with which the Carolingian emperors granted the Patriarch of Aquileia jurisdiction over the Benedictine women's monastery of Santa Maria, situated inside the town walls and adjacent to the church of San Giovanni, which at that time was not included in the donation because it was still part of the Gastaldaga. Therefore, until that date also the monastery, which stood next to the royal court, was part of the royal demesne and was evidently a royal foundation. It is hard to say on what spaces and especially on what places of worship the coenoby could count in the royal court at the beginning. Indeed, the monastery originally occupied only one part of the Gastaldaga and from the beginning it probably utilized the Longobard Temple and the chapel of the royal palace, which became the monastic oratory of Santa Maria in Valle, as places of worship. Only later, towards the end of the 9th or the beginning of the 10th century, were all the properties still under the control of the imperial servants, namely the western zone of the area of Valle with the church of San Giovanni, definitively granted for the enlargement of the monastery. This was probably linked with the new needs of space due to the transfer to the coenoby of Cividale of the nuns who formerly resided in the monastery of Salt, near Cividale, founded by three Longobard noblemen and by their mother Piltrude who was its first venerated abbess. Her memory was perpetuated also in the coenoby of Cividale where, until 1968, in the presbytery of the Temple there was a tomb, made in the Middle Ages or later, called the “Tomb of Piltrude”. From the Carolingian period the monastery of Santa Maria in Valle remained for a long time among the properties granted by the empire to the Patriarch of Aquileia, as is confirmed in a diploma of Otto III of 986, where the coenoby appears among the properties of the Patriarchy. It always remained a women's coenoby and it was the favourite refuge of the women of the noble families of the town. In the medieval period the importance of the monastery in the panorama of the ecclesiastic institutions was such that it was granted more and more privileges and received more and more donations that contributed to increase its power and prestige. All this favoured the monumental expansion of the Monastery which took place between the sixteenth and the eighteenth century, giving the complex its present configuration, with the places of worship and the monastic spaces arranged around the large cloister. However, in the last two centuries, after the phase of great expansion, also the monastery of Cividale declined like the other religious institutions. However, it did not lose its monumental importance and its role as an urban centre. The monastery itself was suppressed under Napoleon and the buildings became state property. In 1812 it was bought by the Municipality of Cividale and, after restoration work, used as a state school for the girls of Cividale under the direction of Benedictine nuns. In 1925 a decree by the emperor of Austria allowed the Monastery to reopen on condition that the nuns took on the job of teaching girls.
In 1843, to support the few Benedictine nuns left, a community of Ursuline sisters from Gorizia moved in and remained in the monastery until a few years ago, in 2000, when it became the property of the Municipality of Cividale del Friuli. The monument has recently been restored and enhanced in order to improve its enjoyment by the public as a World Heritage site.