Mar 23, 2017
In the year 1212, the woman who became Saint Clare of Assisi founded the Poor Clares order of nuns. From the beginning, Poor Clares sisters were entirely cloistered and took vows of poverty much more extreme than those of other nuns of the time; they owned no property whatsoever, individually or collectively, and depended on alms for survival.
For the past 700 years, Poor Clares in Naples, Italy, have lived here, in Santa Chiara, a church and monstery complex built for them by Queen Sancha of Majorca and King Robert of Naples. The complex was extensively remodeled in the eighteenth century, with the addition of exuberant ornamentation, especially in this garden, that seems difficult to square with the nuns' professed poverty and simple life apart from the world.
Indeed, the tiled benches illustrate decidedly non-religious scenes, from masked pageantry at Carnival to peasants chasing after pigs. The tiles on the columns are garlanded in flowers and fruit: lemon trees, grape vines, figs and bananas. The designer was Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, an architect and sculptor known for imposing a personal stamp on every project, no matter what the client might have had in mind.
For two more centuries, the Poor Clares stayed on in Vaccaro's fanciful cloister, until 1995, some years after they had downsized to a smaller monastery next door. For the first time, their garden was opened to visitors from outside the order.