Opera – The Abbey of Mirasole

An Umiliati abbey close to Milan

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The name of the Abbey comes from the name of the village – vicus – Mirasole in which it was located. Certainly, due to the presence of a religiously significant place like an Abbey, the name Mirasole also takes on a different allusion, evoking the tension of ascetic life to keep one’s gaze fixed on Christ, the sun of life.

The grangia of Mirasole (granges were rural units dependent on an Abbey, around which a set of buildings used for agricultural and residential purposes were composed) was founded at the turn of the 12th and early 13th centuries by the Umiliati brothers, with a community of only laypeople. The Umiliati, recognized as a true order by Pope Innocent III in 1201, spread throughout Lombardy, founding numerous houses – including Mirasole – and fitting into the agricultural and spiritual reclamation project that led to Milan being surrounded by a crown of Abbeys. The rule of the Umiliati was an absolute novelty, adapting the Benedictine and Augustinian precepts to the intense working activity of its members, particularly in the field of wool processing. The Umiliati were the first in the history of the Church to have a third order, the so-called tertiaries, that is, laypeople recognized as an integral part of the religious order, even though they lived in their own homes.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the Umiliati Abbey of Mirasole was a flourishing center of religious life and agricultural activity. Just think that in 1344 the community consisted of 44 members: 29 friars, 11 nuns, and 4 servants; and that between 1387 and 1398, the annals of the Fabbrica del Duomo record an intense collaboration with Mirasole for the annual supply of fine timber to the Veneranda Fabbrica. Probably for defensive purposes, the entrance tower dates back to the fourteenth century, which configures the Abbey as a fortified grange with a square plan, originally surrounded by a defensive moat with two entrances equipped with a drawbridge.

Starting from the second half of the fourteenth century, due to the demographic and economic crisis caused by the Black Death epidemic, there were no more tertiaries, and the number of hired workers was insufficient for the work. The friars then decided, as was usual for religious orders of the time, to allow representatives of Milanese bourgeoisie and nobility to rent increasingly large plots of land to recover liquidity. The friars limited themselves to collecting meager rents and, in addition to this, tenants benefited from all productive activities.

In 1482, Mirasole was reduced to a commendation, that ecclesiastical disposition whereby the Pope grants a vacant office, such as that of abbot, to a religious or layman who enjoys the revenues of the Abbey without becoming its holder and can administer the property through a representative.

Following the failed attempt on San Carlo Borromeo by an umiliato from the house of Brera, in 1571 Pope Pius V abolished the order of the Umiliati. In 1582, the ownership of the Abbey of Mirasole passed to the Swiss College of Milan, established by Pope Gregory XIII for the education of Swiss clergy. Here ended, after over three centuries, the monastic life of Mirasole and, except for the church and the cloister, all the Abbey buildings were leased to tenants and hired workers. The subsequent historical and architectural events of Mirasole were influenced by Napoleon. After the end of the Italian campaign, in 1797, Napoleon suppressed the Swiss College and donated the Abbey, complete with funds and land, to the Ospedale Maggiore of Milan, to reward it for the assistance provided to his sick and wounded soldiers.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, the tenant of the land occupied the entire main building, built the neoclassical porch with a terrace, and even transformed the cloister into the courtyard of his home. In 1876, due to the insufficiency of alms, the Hospital obtained a reduction of masses from the Archdiocese of Milan; in 1903, the Church was declared closed to worship services, and from that moment on, Mirasole began a long period in which it was inhabited exclusively by peasant families. The last ones date back to the 1950s.

The Hospital promoted a first restoration intervention in 1930 and, in 1964, another of greater scope. In the 1980s, the definitive works were carried out, thanks to the work of Franca Chiappa, benefactor of the Hospital.

From 2013 to 2016, the Abbey was the seat of the Italian priory of the Regular Canons of Prémontré. The Prémontréans settled in 12, immediately starting an incredible rebirth of the place: together with extensive renovation work, they integrated community and ascetic life with fervent pastoral activity, allowing Mirasole to be revived both from a religious, civil, and cultural point of view. Due to the precarious numerical situation of the community, reduced from 12 to 2 brothers in just two years, in July 2015 the religious order communicated to the Hospital the rescission of the lease contract signed in 2013. From this, the Sviluppo Ca’ Granda Foundation – an entity established by the Policlinico for the management and enhancement of the rural heritage owned by the Hospital – announced a thirty-year lease tender for the Abbey complex.