Pietrarubbia: the castle, the village and the monastery
Pietrarubbia “is founded above a rock of strong stone of reddish color for which it was given the same name of Pietrarube, and this is its etymology”.
The reddish earth, almost rust-colored, more than the oak trees with reddish flowers that are very frequent in the area, gives the name to this place, which is also characterized by some natural high peaks that distinguish the landscape: “Above Pietrarubbia, one can see a high stone that looks like a tower composed of many pebbles fused together by Mother Nature. It is called Pietrafagnana, a memorable place because St. Francis passed there and preached in the neighboring little lodge called Bolognino” (P.A.Guerrieri, The Embellished Carpegna, 1667). The peak is still partly visible, but until a few years ago, it was much higher and “inhabited” by an eagle.
Arriving at the old village of Pietrarubbia, in which some houses and a tower have been recently restored, it’s possible to see, on the left side of the road, some remains of the enclosure walls and of the structure of the Monastery where Elisabetta Renzi lived for a few years with the intention of becoming a nun.
In 1807 or 1808, when Elisabetta arrived at the small village, it was much more inhabited than it is today: already from afar, you could see the remains of the castle on the ridge, the village inhabited by several families, and the walls of the Monastery with the adjacent church. In the vicinity, there were also many more houses of farmers who cultivated the land in the area or raised livestock.
The economy of the area was based on cattle breeding and on the crops typical of mountain areas, as well as being an important market place, with considerable trade. In the centuries after the year one thousand and until the beginning of the XVI century, the village had a flourishing life that, as the ancient testimonies report, was based above all on the fine handiwork and craftsmanship of the blacksmith. It had many specialized artisan stores, whose products reached even Rome, where the scissors of Pietrarubbia were much appreciated. Already by the end of the 1500s and the beginning of the 1600s, the economic and demographic decline of the village probably began due to various factors, both internal (the climatic changes that threatened the crops with consequent famine) and external (the evolution of the craftsmanship in the rising Italian industry). The population in 1591, when the census was recorded, was 517 inhabitants, including those who lived outside the village and in the farms nearby. By 1823, the families who lived near the now suppressed monastery had decreased to only five (cfr. G. Gardelli, Studi Montefeltrani 22/2001).
The road did not follow the current route, but when it reached the village, it ran along the walls of the monastery, as can be seen on the map:
On the rocky ridge that connects the village to the still existing tower, since the eleventh century there was a vast architectural complex that had covered almost the entire high rocky ridge which stretched between the current village and the tower mentioned above; it was extreme southern offshoot of the castle. The tower has been recently restored and it had to be higher.
In 1371, Cardinal Angelico defines the castle as unconquerable and very strong, equipped with a fortified fortress that included a tower, which seems to have been flanked by two other towers.
Guerrieri, visiting these lands in the seventeenth century, also speaks of a fortress “formed with an artificial design of which one can still see today its double walls with two drawbridges placed between steep cliffs and the ruins of its gates and strong towers, and in the inner space, one can see the courtyard with the signs of a large cistern… a square and strong tower remains standing in the most inaccessible site, one can still see parts of other very strong towers, above one of which is the public bell and a little below is the palace in which the vicar judge resides”.
The castle and the fortress were protected by a double wall on the lower part towards the village and by inaccessible cliffs along the other sides. Cardinal Angelico then continues describing the village below, which is still located at the foot of the long rocky ridge that rises to the tower, mentioning the houses along the square of the parish church of St. Sylvester and the monastery of St. Monica. The ancient village “in the past age was very inhabited and full of various artists’ stores”.
The second and third tower and other remains of the castle are visible.The castle was composed of a Fortress formed by: A: tower with enclosure; B: building which functioned to protect the castle; C: a rectangular area; D: tower, and below the tower is a wall surrounding the fortress; E and F: large buildings used as housing; G: a square defensive structure. Below – N: remains of the monastery of St. Monica
The Monastery, surrounded by walls, had a cloister inside and a small vegetable garden, as is customary in monasteries. It is still possible to see three walnut trees that are by what used to be the kitchen garden and the cloister. The building, inhabited by the nuns and the boarding students, had to be at least two stories high. There was also a well, but it was located in a public place.
The small church of the Monastery, “very charming”, had a crucifix inside, placed in a large, ornate frame on the altar, a crucifix that, at the closure of the monastery, could not be placed in the parish church because of its size. The church also had a bell tower with one or more bells and a cemetery.
Not far away, there was a two-story house inhabited by the Confessor and chaplain of the Nuns (from the description of rustic funds and capital … of 3/07/1818).
The Monastery stood “in a straight line, not more than 10 steps and less than 40 passing by the road” (letter of October 6, 1823, Feretrana I XXXI) from the parish church of St. Sylvester. It was dedicated to St. John the Baptist. It was founded in 1400 and belonged to the St. John Lateran Chapter.
The monastery did not house many nuns, but the written testimonies attest to a religious life lived with fervor and discipline, and to the important role played by the monastery in the life of the small village. A very significant and authoritarian witness to this is from a letter by Dr. Giovanni Lancisi, who in 1705, describing his journey from Urbino to Macerata, speaks of the place in this way:
“There is a famous monastery located in the countryside beneath the castle; nuns have lived there for 200 years, defended only by the bushes around their monastery walls. Their great spiritual example has been held in awe by the Christian world, and the Dukes of Urbino take great pride in having this monastery in their dominion. Just as in Sparta where the chests of its citizens, ready to defend their town, was its city ‘wall’, so here the monastery’s defending walls are the souls and minds of these pure and holy Virgins.In this rocky and isolated place, they live in great tranquility. The monastery’s fame has reached even the distant region of Veneto. Many women from that area have come here to live a life set apart despite the monastery’s poverty – the income is so small that it is enough for only half of each year, and the nuns must rely on the compassion of their neighbors, from whom they beg food, to make it through the rest of the year”.
Such poverty is also pointed out by the bishop of Montefeltro, Monsignor Giovanni Maria Terzi, who defines the monastery at Pietrarubbia:
“It is extremely poor and located out in the country; therefore, it takes a special vocation to a life of total solitude and a willingness to suffer all kinds of discomfort, including having very little food to eat”.
He then mentions the heavy snow with “freezing ice spells and impassable roads.” These are the same reasons given by the bishop, Monsignor Antonio Begni, who discouraged its reopening after the suppression of 1810 had been revoked.
Pierantonio Guerrieri, in his memoirs about Pietrarubbia, speaking about the monastery, affirms that it had “laudable fame and glory for having been fortified only with an elderberry hedge for three hundred years, until 1615” (Positio p. 20).
The life of the monastery followed alternate events: in 1611 the nuns were only seven, all old, and there was ‘only one young girl there to become a nun… together with two other young ones who left because they were sick’ (letter AS PS b.4). Despite this, a request was made to be able to take in single women to be educated.
In 1630, it risked being closed by the Sacred Congregation, with a letter dated May 3, which forbade any new vocations to enter Pietrarubbia, because it was in the open country without an enclosure and without the means to feed them. There were 12 of them, and with them 8 single women placed in education.
In 1658, there were 16.
In 1755, there were 21 nuns, with Vowed Religious and Oblates. There were no boarding students.
In about 1618, the wall that surrounded the Monastery was built (letter of May 16, 1618, Arch. of State Pesaro).
In 1804, the monastery welcomed again, after some years of interruption, the boarding students who were supposed to be an economic support, but they gave a different atmosphere to community life.
The minutes of the pastoral visit of 1807 by the bishop documents the spirit of religious observance that animated the nuns at the time of the entrance of Mother Elisabetta. It shows their great love for prayer, their desire for frequent communion and the exercise of mortification, especially in their meals, which were “excessively restricted“, according to the bishop. In 1810, the Monastery was suppressed by Napoleonic decree and was no longer open because of its poor conditions.
For this reason, the community was united, following an order of the Holy Congregation of Bishops and Regulars of June 14, 1816, with the Dominican nuns of St. Anthony of Pennabilli, but under the rule of St. Augustine, being that the religious from Pietrarubbia were numerous. In fact, in this monastery in 1816, we find them fifteen in number.
The others were sent to the monastery of Montecerignone, because “it was necessary to add to the few who were already there” (Positio p. 24).
In 1823, although bad weather had weakened the building, it was still standing and useable.
In 1828, it was purchased by the Fathers of the Missions of Montecitorio (Rome), who, after various negotiations that had begun in 1823 with the Lateran Chapter, proceeded to demolish it.