The housing of the religious communities
In the past the religious communities, groups of men or women who freely decided to spend their existence in a religious community following written ordinations, were numerous in Cortona. Those who supported a religious ideal in the first millennium were organized by the rules of Benedetto (Benedict) di Norcia (480-547) and his successive reformers San Nilo (910-1004) and San Rumualdo (952-1072). The followers of the latter took the name of the Camaldolesi. In the second millennium the Cistercian religious "Community" organized itself mainly according to the Benedictine rules, which were reformed by San Bernardo (St. Bernard 1090-1153). The Augustines followed the rules unified by Sant'Agostino (St. Augustine) in 1255. The Franciscans followed the rules of San Francesco (St. Francis 1180-1226), whereas the Dominicans followed San Domenico (St. Domenic 1170-1221). The nuns of the Franciscan community of Santa Chiara (St. Claire) called themselves the Clarisse (the Claires). In 1500 the Franciscans organized themselves into three orders: the minors, the conventuals and the Capuchins. Today the "Communities" are modest in size and in number but their houses are still accessible: many of them are oversized in comparison to their needs and architecturally rich, while some of them are modest, but still interesting from the historical and artistic point of view. Here are some to be noted:
MONASTERY OF SAINT FRANCIS (13th century) It was built by Brother Elias, who died there on April 22, 1253. An oratory, a meeting room (capitular) and the sacristy of the adjacent church of San Francesco remain of the most ancient parts of the church. the remains of two biforate windows of the meeting room are still visible. The monastery was arranged around a 13th century or previously built courtyard, the traces of which can still be seen on the side of the church and the oldest part of the monastery. The porch of this courtyard was demolished in 1896 after the suppression of the monastery by order of the Italian government in 1866. It is managed by the Conventual Franciscans like the holy monastery of Assisi.
LE SANTUCCE (13th century) It was constructed like the monastery of Santa Maria Maddalena in about 1270 by the Benedictine nun Beata Santuccia of Gubbio, who died in 1305. The complex is made up of structures from the 1200's, the 1500's and the 1600's and is picturesquely placed along with the church. Now in a noticeable state of abandon, the refectory is covered by half moon vaulted ceilings. Today it is the home for the elderly in need of rest and care.
THE CONVENT OF THE POOR CLAIRS (13th century) Margherita the refugee from Laviano, after entering the city through Porta Berarda in 1272, took shelter in this house which was donated to her by the noblewomen Marinara and Raniera De Moscari. Today a private home, once housed the community of the Francescan Terzieri, who were popularly known as "The Poor Claires". It is from here that she took part in the material and spiritual reconstruction of the city that had been destroyed during the sack of 1258. Among the ruins to which the Cortonese had returned in 1263, Margherita took care of the poor and of the infirmed, giving life to the "Confraternità di Santa Maria della Misericordia " (The Sisters of Mercy). After the death of the saint the convent was restored and expanded. It continued to be a land holding of the Franciscan orders until 1808 when it was suppressed under Napoleon. Since 1917 it has been home of the "Sisters of the poor of Sister Savina Petrilli". On the inside the legendary room of Margherita can be seen along with two medieval wells excavated in the rock. There is an interesting church dedicated to St. Jerome, a Baroque work from the second half of the 17th century. On the main altar there is a painting from 1659 which portrays the Madonna and the Saints by Pietro Berrettini. Among these saints is Santa Martina, to whom Berrettini was especially devout and to whom he would erect one of his most beautiful churches in Rome. The painting was finished with the collaboration of Lorenzo Berrettini.
THE CONVENT OF SANTA MARGHERITA (14th century) The house was built contemporarily with the church immediately after Margherita’s death. It housed the Franciscan Capuchins, who were charged with the care and the surveillance of the church and the religious rites taking place to venerate the body of the saint. Remainders of the ancient structure can be found on the lower part of the building. In 1385 the imperial vicar and the Signore of Cortona Uguccio-Urbano Casali entrusted the tasks performed by the Terzieri (which had become a heavy job due the great flow of people) to the Benedictine community from Monte Oliveto. Soon after in 1390 they renounced their duty of veneration and guardianship of the saint, which was then turned over to the Minor Brothers of the Franciscan order, who live in the monastery. The present day structure was completed around the end of the 15th century in accordance with the plans drawn up by the Franciscans.
THE MONASTERY OF SANT'AGOSTINO (14th century) Founded in the early years of the 1300's it was noticeably restructured in the 1600's. The building is rectangular in shape and elevated on the left side of the church with a central courtyard. One should visit the Capitular Hall, the solemn staircase and the internal courtyard. The lunettes at the interior were painted with scenes from the life of Saint Augustine in 1669 by G. Guasparini from Umbertide.
SANTA MARIA DELLA MISERICORDIA HOSPITAL (15th century) The construction of this hospital began in 1441 with the scope of unifying the many small medical assistance centers which existed within and on the outside of the walls of Cortona. Its care was then turned over to the Confraternita di Santa Maria founded by Santa Margherita. It presents an elegant Renaissance porch that runs along the facade on Via Maffei. Through various ages, especially ours, the complex has undergone heavy reconstruction to adapt it to changing needs.