dedicated to St. Gregory, the oldest Benedictine monastery in the area was founded by St. Pier Damiani around 1060 in Morciano; just a few kilometres from the town centre, only extensive ruins remain. Founded in the 13th century in the heart of Rimini, one of the most important Augustinian monasteries has a church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, known as the church of Sant’Agostino. It is one of the town’s largest churches and its apse and bell tower chapel house some of the best examples of the “Rimini School of Art”, one of the most important movements in northern Italy in the 14th century.
The church and monastery in Verucchio are also Augustinian and today house the Museum of Villanovan Civilization.
A masterpiece of the “fourteenth-century Rimini school”, the Crucifix came from the ruins of the Augustinian monastery of Poggiolo in Talamello; initially attributed to Giotto it is in fact by Giovanni da Rimini and is now in the parish church of San Lorenzo. Renovated from 1521 on, the church of San Cristofero in Pennabilli (known as Sant’Agostino) houses a miraculous 15th-century image of Our Lady. The oldest Augustinian church in the Montefeltro is in Miratoio. Dating from 1127 but renovated several times since, it houses the relics of the Blessed Rigo da Miratoio, an Augustinian hermit who died in 1347. Pennabilli is also the birthplace of two other illustrious Church figures. The first is Father Francesco Orazio Olivieri, born in 1680, who embraced the Franciscan order and left in 1712 to become a missionary in Tibet.
He arrived 4 years later, after an extremely difficult journey by sea and across the world’s tallest mountains that surround the kingdom of the snow, cut-off from and unknown to the rest of the world. Under the guidance of a lama, he studied the Tibetan language and religion and translated several sacred works from Tibetan, even writing an Italian-Tibetan/Tibetan-Italian bilingual dictionary with over 3,000 words - the first of its kind in a western language. As a sign of his appreciation, the 7th Dalai Lama first granted him permission to purchase land and build a monastery in Lhasa and then to preach and convert the faithful. The other key figure was Brother Matteo da Bascio, born in the village of Bascio, who became an Observant Franciscan in the monastery in Frontino and was ordained priest in 1525. Keen to return to primitive Franciscan rigour, he left the monastery and Pope Clement VII granted him the personal privilege to wear a long habit made of rough material (like the one St. Francis of Assisi had worn, but with a longer, more pointed hood), strictly observe the rule of absolute poverty, live like a hermit and preach freely. His example soon attracted many followers who wanted to rekindle the original spirit of Franciscanism and this led to the founding of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin (given this name due to their peculiar habit). Thanks to the support of Duchess Caterina Cybo of Camerino, the order was approved by the Pope on 3 July 1528 in his bull Religionis zelus.
From as early as the 13th century, the Dominicans had a huge monastery in Rimini with a demolished church. There are remains of an imposing Dominican monastery in Pietracuta di San Leo where an elegant complex was built in 17th-century thanks to donations from Rimini-born Giovanni Sinibaldi. The imposing façade, part of the cloister and church (1640) can still be admired. This is where the 14th-century Crucifix, now in the diocesan museum in Pennabilli, came from. The Congregation of the Hieronymites had monasteries and churches in all the area’s main towns; those still standing are in Saludecio and Sant’Agata Feltria. The Franciscan message recalls the presence of the saint who in May 1213 was given Mount della Verna by Master Orlando de’ Cattanei da Chuisi in San Leo and a monastery dedicated to St. Igne was built in 1244 in the same town, where he had been guided by a sacred fire. It has a fascinating cloister, bell gable and church dedicated to Our Lady.
Continuing his journey towards Rimini, the saint stopped at the foot of the hill on which Verucchio stood, where there was a hermitage, and performed some miracles. He made a spring of water with beneficial properties burst forth and planted a dry cypress-wood pilgrim’s staff. The hermitage became a monastery and is still a mystical and spiritual place in Villa Verucchio. Now 25 metres tall, after its tip fell off on 6 December 1980, and with a trunk circumference of 7.37 metres, the ancient cypress planted by St. Francis is in the cloister. The adjacent church has a 14th-century portal and houses a Crucifixion painted the same century by an artist of the “Rimini school”.
Franciscans are still present in Santarcangelo and Montefiore Conca too. Rimini recalls St. Anthony of Padua who, according to legend, performed the Miracle of the Fish and the Miracle of the Mule here to covert Patarini heretics. The Temple of Sant’Antonio in Piazza Tre Martiri was built in his memory in the 16th century. The Malatesta Temple, the area’s most important Franciscan church, is also in Rimini and next to it is a monastery destroyed in the last world war.
Monasteries still standing include the 16th-century ones in Maciano (Pennabilli) and Montemaggio (San Leo). The oldest Marian sanctuary in the province is also Franciscan; dedicated to Our Lady of Graces it is close to Rimini on the hillside of Covignano. The most famous in the Conca valley is the Sanctuary of the Madonna in Montefiore that dates back to the 15th century when the hermit Bonora Ondidei commissioned a fresco of Our Lady Suckling her Child for one of the walls of a chapel in the woods. In 1409, the hermit left the chapel to the Franciscans, but all that remains is the wall with the holy image, still referred to as Our Lady of Bonora.