Church and Monastery of Santa Maria della Neve
Dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows and located a stone’s throw away from the majestic Torrechiara Castle, the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria della Neve is a masterpiece of the Emilian Renaissance and a haven of peace with a beautiful view on the Parma stream.
The Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria Della Neve In Torrechiara, also known as Badia of Santa Maria della Neve, is situated near the legendary Torrechiara Castle, one of the most awe-inspiring places in the province of Parma along the Linari way as well as one of the most famous castles in northern Italy.
The Abbey was built in the vicinity of an already-existing medieval oratory in concert with the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Justina of Padua at the behest of Count Pier Maria II De’ Rossi. The construction works started in 1471. The pre-existing late Romanesque church and the monastery were dedicated to the miracle of Sancta Maria ad Nives, one of the most ancient and widespread Christian legends about the Virgin Mary.
The cult of Our Lady of the Snows has ancient origins, dating back to the mysterious events that occurred in the 4th century under the papacy of Pope Liberius. Legend has it that a wealthy Roman couple, who were without heirs, made a vow to donate their possessions to the Church for the construction of a Basilica in honour of the Virgin Mary. In the night between the 4th and the 5th of August, the couple had a vision of the Virgin indicating the exact spot where the church had to be built, namely on the summit of the Esquiline Hill. When they told Pope Liberius, he informed them that he had had the same dream and that he wanted to see that place for himself. When they arrived at the site, much to their surprise it was covered in freshly-fallen snow. This miraculous summer snowfall started the cult of Sancta Maria ad Nives (Our Lady of the Snows), one of the first specifically dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who was recognised officially as the Mother of God at the Council of Ephesus only a hundred years later. In Italy there are approximately 150 religious buildings dedicated to Our Lady of the Snows—one of them being the Abbey in Torrechiara.
Speaking of the Abbey, the late Romanesque Church is an unaisled church with two frescoed chapels, while the monastery itself is centred on a quadrangle with a four-sided cloister walkway. The small colonnade on the east side of the Abbey offers a lovely view of the Parma stream.
Last but not least, the 17th-century sacristy and the three rooms (which are still partially covered in frescoes) that make up the Abbey Museum (Museo della Badia) are also worth a visit.