The Abandonment of Santa Fiora
Archival research has revealed some fascinating clues about the history of the Roman Nymphaeum and its subsequent role as the Santa Fiora church.
The Church of Santa Fiora is mentioned in archival documents from 1234 and 1291, so we know that the Roman nymphaeum has had a life as a place of Christian worship for at least seven hundred years.
In 1291, the church is confirmed as part of the property of the Santo Spirito hospital, a rich and prosperous church-run hospital still located on the west bank of the river Tiber. For many years the hospital operated its own bank and managed many Italian estates quite profitably.
In the Middle Ages, the Manziana district was settled by wood cutters from Tuscany called the Cappanari. They are known to have worshiped at Santa Fiora, and subsequently formed a town which was named Santa Pupa. Later, as the territory was developed by Santo Spirito hospital - the feudal landlord - Santa Pupa developed into the modern town of Manziana, and spread to the top of the hill. But Santa Fiora was the first church in the Manziana district.
On 20th June 1421, the church was conceded by the hospital to a holy order of monks on the condition that it be returned to the hands of the hospital if the monks intended to leave. Santa Fiora operated as the parish church of Manziana from this date until 1575, when it was superceded by the new church of St. John the Baptist in the town centre.
We know that a "miraculous" icon of the Virgin Mary was hung in the church, and it is recorded that in 1670, the local Bishop of the Diocese of Nepi and Sutri ordered that soil be removed from around the church since humidity was corrupting that very "miraculous" portrait.
This iconic portrait which resides in Manziana was produced in the 1920s as a copy of an older painting of the Madonna. It is referred to as "The Madonna of the Flower" and it is possible that it is a copy of the altar piece from the nymphaeum church.On 17th September 1794, the Santo Spirito hospital leased the Santa Fiora church, buildings and land to the Achille brothers, and the lease contract written by Notary Bordoni obliged them to celebrate mass and religious services and to take care of the buildings and sacred vestments.
Annexed to the church at this time were burial sites, and five rooms: a barn, a stable, a cellar, a bakery and a dining room.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century the Church of S. Fiora was abandoned, and the Diocese of Nepi and Sutri was obliged to sell it. According to church records, on 17th June 1879, Monsignor M. Costantini, Bishop of Nepi and Sutri paid a pastoral visit to the little church and was in for a shock.
Manziana Parish Archive Manuscript XVI, back of page 17, Translated by Ted O'Neill
"His Excellency (the Bishop) wanted to visit the Church of the Madonna della Fiora to look for a way to fulfil the wishes and petitions of the local population to reopen the holy place for religious worship.
He found a hermit in that Church that had converted that building into a curiosity shop selling every kind of picture and other curious objects.
His excellency explained to him that these items were not compatible with the Catholic faith, and that therefore, the hermit would only be allowed to keep the items permitted by the priests resident in Manziana.
He showed arrogance and insubordination to his excellency, giving insolent answers, after which, the tenent of the holy place Mr. Francesco de Sanctis took the keys to the entrance gate and removed all the trinkets.
His excellency then observed well the dreadful state to which the church had been reduced, and considering the likely costs required to re-open it, he found no way to satisfy the wishes of the local people."
On the 27th June 1889, according to a contract witnessed by Notary Buttoni, the church complex was sold to Prince Balthasar Odescalchi. A final mass was sung and this holiest and oldest place of worship was deconsecrated on September 8th 1889.