Address: Via delle Benedettine, 4
Point of reference for understanding the institutional and social history of the Terra d'Otranto and Lecce, the female Benedictine monastery of St. John the Evangelist was founded before May 1133 by Accardo (II), dominus of Lecce and Ostuni, Count of Montescaglioso who endowed him with the house of Cisterno with all its appurtenances.
In 1134 the antipope Anacletus II (1130-1138), in addition to ratify the possession of the property to the monastery and to grant the right to free burial for the laity, on payment of half an ounce of gold a year to the Apostolic Chamber, placed under the directly dependence of the Holy See the monastery, which thus became exempt from Episcopal jurisdiction. The privilege was later confirmed in 1178 by Pope Alexander III (1159-1181). The Coenobium was, at first, the monastery of the lords of Lecce, so that the first two abbesses, Agnes and Guimarca, were sisters of Accardo, the third, Emma, however, was his daughter and aunt on mother’s side of Tancred, first Count of Lecce and King of Sicily (1190-1194).
The Norman period was characterized by numerous concessions to the monastery of Lecce, so the feud Cisterno was joined by the hamlet of Dragoni in 1137, donated always by Accardo (II), the church of St. Andrew in 1142, which was granted by King Roger II and the hamlet of Surbo in 1190 granted by Tancredi, become king.
The transition to the Swabian domination was a period of decline for the monastery, as for the other church institutions, also attested by the scarcity of documentation (there are only two testimonies in the archive for the years 1252 and 1269).
The crisis of the fourteenth century did not leave unscathed the monastery, as seen by the acts of rent and the .smallness of the ecclesiastical tithe paid to the Apostolic Chamber in 1310 (half an ounce), particularly when compared to that paid by other ecclesiastical bodies of Lecce (the monastery of SS. Niccolò and Cataldo and the one of S. Maria di Cerrate).
The economic situation improved during the fifteenth century so that it becomes "the richest female institution of the ancient province of Otranto."
Of the medieval structure there is no more trace in the church and monastery, which underwent a series of transformations starting from the XVI century, so much that its appearance almost completely changed. The square bell tower dates back to early sixteenth century, when counsellor and treasurer of the monastery was Caldararo Matteo, whose name is engraved on the top of the tower.
The earthquakes of 1546 and 1743, the wear of time, the adjustment to the new architectural styles brought from time to time to renovations and new buildings. The reconstruction of the church started in 1606 and it was consecrated in 1761 by Bishop Alfonso Sozy Carafa (1751-1783).
The centrality of the Benedictine cloister in the social life of the city over the centuries is made evident by the numerous studies on the archive, on the Episcopal interference, on the monastic life, on the nutrition, on the management of the properties and on the artistic works preserved. However, to date, there are not enough specific and wide-ranging studies on the library holdings kept in the monastery. On the other hand, not only the enclosure, but also the absence of references to the library in published sources have probably made this task daunting. Even the report of the pastoral visit in 1648 by Luigi Pappacoda (1639-1670), a precious testimony on the internal arrangement of the monastery premises, on the nuns then resident, on liturgical furniture, give no information on to the library holdings.
First indications on the books kept in the monastery date back to 1983, when Pietro De Leo, in his contribution on the Benedictine monastic experience in Puglia, listed "St. Catherine’s letters, the works by Gersone, spiritual poems by Jacopone da Todi, the life of S. Gregorio Armeno, the Legenda Aurea by Jacopo da Varazze ". The scholar, in addition, on the basis of not specified "weak evidence", assumed that there had been kept in the monastery "St. Jerome's letters to Eustochio, Demetriade and Furia the Excerpta of St. Jerome’s Letter de de habitu Virginum ad of St. Cesario’s discourse on the nuns”.
When De Leo wrote, the cataloging work of the old collections was then in progress in the monastery, which includes editions from 1500 to 1800, whose inventory occurred in the seventies of the twentieth century.
On the first page of the Chronicle of the Library 1983, preserved in the monastery, which shows the annotations on the library from 30 March 1983 to 31 December 1990, we read “It is already a long time we have been planning a radical reordering of our huge library holdings. A cataloging of the volumes of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was started about ten years ago as well as the draft of an inventory summary. The work, however, was soon suspended”. The activity was resumed in March 1981 when "it was begun an organic indexing of books." From an inventory of the ancient collection it is known as the books were grouped by subjects: Lives of the Saints, Ascetics, Devotionals, Liturgy, Mystique, Sacred Scripture and Commentaries, History and Miscellaneous.
In 2006, in the context of the exhibition " Carte per la vita e carte per la Storia ", promoted by the Euro-Mediterranean Cultural Heritage Agency and Municipality of Lecce, it was carried on a further study on the library collections kept in the monastery. From this study it was assumed to be a correspondence between the names of the owners present in bookplates that customized some text and a list of the nuns of the monastery in 1663 and in 1664, drawn up by the notary Giuseppe Conte.
The origins of the monastic library are then due to the several boarders and abbesses who lived in the convent, their spiritual and cultural training. Alongside dowry, in fact, they often brought with them even furniture, clothes, fabrics and books.
The initiative to bring together in the present location of the library the volumes, once kept in the cells of the nuns, is due to the foresight and love for the culture of the Abbess of the monastery, mother Benedetta Grasso.
The original library holdings has been enriched over time, thanks to donations from individuals, such as the ecclesiastic Gaetano Quarta, Alessandro Rotino, Raffaele Barletta, and thanks to the decision of the monastic community, taken in the eighties of the twentieth century, to allocate 5 % of revenue to the acquisition and restoration of books.
- Books / Manuscripts (XVIIth Century)