Thomas of Maurienne

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An imaginary portrait of Thomas of Maurienne. Thomas of Maurienne.jpg
An imaginary portrait of Thomas of Maurienne.

Thomas of Maurienne (died before 720) was the first abbot of the Abbey of Farfa, which he founded between 680 and c.700. Although the sources of his life are much later, and he is surrounded by legends, his historicity is beyond doubt. [1]

Thomas is said to have hailed from Maurienne, where he was a monk before he travelled to Italy. [2] According to the twelfth-century Chronicon Farfense of Gregory of Catino, Thomas was on a pilgrimage when in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, he had a vision of the Virgin Mary, who told him to go to Italy and re-establish an abandoned basilica that had been founded in her name. With a small group of disciples and divine guidance, Thomas found the ruins of a basilica in a deserted region in the Sabina. [3] The reliability of this story is thrown in some doubt by the extensive use of topoi, such as the vision, the pilgrimage, the desert and "the reoccupation of an earlier Christian site". [4] It was believed in Thomas's day that the basilica had been founded in the sixth century by a certain Laurence of Syria, about whom nothing concrete is known. The church certainly stands on a terrace excavated in Late Antiquity and archaeological digs by the British School at Rome (1978–85) have uncovered a late antique wall enclosure on the site, although the church itself has not been excavated. [5]

During Thomas's abbacy, three monks from Farfa established the monastery of San Vincenzo al Volturno. According to San Vincenzo's historian Ambrosius Autpert, in his Chronicon Vulturnense, it was Thomas who directed the monks to "the oratory of Christ's martyr Vincent [where] on each side of the river is a thick forest (silva densissima) which serves as a habitation for wild beasts and a hiding-place for robbers." [6] Also during Thomas's tenure the abbey received a privilege from Pope John VII in 705, which also recognised that the abbey was founded by "Bishop Laurence". [7] This Papal privilege (privilegium) included a confirmation of the abbey's first (undatable) grant of land, from Duke Faroald II of Spoleto. The charter refers only vaguely to lands which were apparently demesne, quoting a letter the Pope had received from Faroald. [8] (Gregory made an effort to identify the extent of this donation by looking to oral sources, and he quoted "very old venerable elders, with true testimony related to them by their predecessors" who equated Faroald's donation to eleven curtes of about 11,000 modia in total. [9] ) Through his donations Faroald claimed to have "restored that place through Abbot Thomas and your [Papal] recommendation (commenditum)", thus placing the initiative in the original land grant with the Pope. Faroald seems to have desired the Pope to confirm—or "strengthen" (firmare) by exercise of his spiritual powers, namely, the "chain of anathema" [10] —Faroald's own conditions of the grant. [11] The Pope went further, he "established and decided" (statuimus et decernimus) that nobody should place any exactions on the abbey and he severely limited the role of the "neighbouring bishop" (vicinum aepiscopum). [12] Thomas was ordered to put the Papal privilege on display. [13]

According to the eleventh-century martyrology of the abbey, the Martyrologium Pharphense, Thomas was buried at the thirtieth milestone, as later was Abbot Hilderic (died 857). [14] Thomas had been succeeded by Aunepert by 720. [15]


  1. The earliest source on his life is late ninth-century the Constructio monasterii Farfensis . For its (un)reliability, cf. Marios Costambeys, Power and Patronage in the Early Medieval Italy: Local Society, Italian Politics, and the Abbey of Farfa, c.700–900 (Cambridge: 2007), 13–14.
  2. The Constructio describes his origins thus: “Fuit namque in Gallia vir vite venerabilis, Thomas nomine, ut alii ferunt Maurigena exortus provincia”, in Costambeys, 2 n5. On the religious situation in Thomas's homeland at about the same time, cf. Costambeys, 2–4.
  3. On the (historical) establishment of monasteries in frontier regions, such as that of Farfa on the frontier between the Duchy of Spoleto and the Duchy of Rome, cf. Costambeys, 4–6. On the (literary) establishment of monasteries in "deserted places far from habitation", cf. Costambeys, 7. For the status of the Sabina in the early eighth century, cf. Costambeys, 8 and 184–207.
  4. Costambeys, 7–8. Although it has long been known that pilgrimage to Rome was commonplace by the eighth century, it is only now being revealed how prevalent were pilgrimages further afield, to the Holy Land. It is also now evident that non-Italians made up a significant portion of the monastic population in Italy at this time, cf. Costambeys, 149. Thomas's five successors in turn were either Provençals, like himself, or from Aquitaine, both in the south of the Merovingian realm, but neither region was Frankish.
  5. Costambeys, 9. Cf. O. Gilkes and J. Mitchell, "The Early Medieval Church at Farfa: Orientation and Chronology", Archeologia Medievale 22 (1995) 343–64.
  6. San Vincenzo was actually founded in a former villa in a well-settled area. For the forest as a topos in monastic literature, cf. Chris Wickham, "European Forests in the Early Middle Ages: Landscape and Land Clearance", L'ambiente vegetale nell'alto medioevo, Settimane di studio del CISAM, 37 (Spoleto: 1989) 479–548, republished in Wickham, Land and Power: Studies in Italian and European Social History, 400–1200 (London: 1994).
  7. Costambeys, 9. The charter was twice copied by Gregory of Catino: in the Prae-Regestum and the Regestum Farfense.
  8. The wording in the letter is “aliquas donationes nostras in cespitibus vel servis et coloniciis” (some donations of ours in lands, slaves and bondsmen), cf. Costambeys, 74 and 254–55.
  9. Costambeys, 74–76, has a little more to say on the identity of these curtes.
  10. In Faroald's words: “Et qui hoc praesumpserit sub anathematis vinculo vestra almitas eum alligare iubeat”, cf. Costambeys, 254 n14.
  11. Which were that nobody should commit insolentias aut concussionem ("novel practices or threat of violence") or deprive the abbey of its property, cf. Costambeys, 254.
  12. Costambeys, 254. Either the Bishop of Rieti or a possible bishop in the Sabina either at Cures or Vescovio is meant.
  13. Costambeys, 255: "Therefore your religious will display this obtained tuitio (protection) of apostolic privilege, the fruitful and praiseworthy conceded benefit" (Iccirco vestra religio hanc apostolici privlegii tuitionem indeptam, fructuosum atque laudabile concessum beneficium demonstret).
  14. The twentieth-century abbot Ildefonso Schuster, "Martyrologium Pharphense ex apographo cardinalis Fortunati Tamburini OSB codicis saeculi XI", Revue Bénédictine 26 (1909) 432–36 and 27 (1910) 75–94, 365–85, published this martyrology.
  15. Costambeys, 150.

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Ragambald was the Abbot of Farfa from 781 until his death. According to the abbey's twelfth-century historian Gregory of Catino, Ragambald was born in a city in Gaul (Gallia), that is, Francia, but he does not explicitly call him a Frank. Succeeding Probatus, a local-born abbot, Ragambald was the first of a line of abbots from Francia, including Altpert (786–90) and Mauroald (790–802). The significance of the Frankish presence at Farfa and of Ragambald's abbacy is summed up:

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Lucerius was the third Abbot of Farfa, succeeding Aunepert in 724 at the latest. He was originally from Provence and had been raised at Farfa by Thomas of Maurienne, the first abbot. Lucerius' abbacy was a period of growth and expansion on the part of the abbey. In his first year, he received a grant of a church with its (unspecified) lands from Duke Thrasimund II of Spoleto. This church, dedicated to Saint Getulius, lay within the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Rieti, and according to the tenth-century Exceptio Relationum Thrasimund had to compensate the bishop for his loss.

Benedict was the Abbot of Farfa, Italy from 802 until his death. He is the first abbot mentioned in the eleventh-century history of the abbey written by Gregory of Catino whose origins were not known.

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Gregory of Catino historian and monk of Abbey of Farfa

Gregory of Catino was a monk of the Abbey of Farfa and "one of the most accomplished monastic historians of his age." Gregory died shortly after 1130, possibly in 1133.

The Libellus constructionis Farfensis, often referred to simply as the Constructio in context, is a written history of the Abbey of Farfa from its foundation by Thomas of Maurienne circa 700 until the death of Abbot Hilderic in 857. It is about the "construction" of a powerful abbey with vast landholdings. It was used as a source for two later histories, which are basically continuations: the Destructio monasterii Farfensis of Abbot Hugh and the Chronicon Farfense by Gregory of Catino.