The Abbazia delle Tre Fontane (Abbey of the Three Fountains) in Rome was built in the spot where the martyrdom of St. Paul had taken place. Legend has it that the head of the Apostle bounced three times after his decapitation and that three fountains erupted where this happened (on June 29th, 67 AD).
Abbazia delle Tre Fontane Rome
Address, opening hours and admission
Address: Via Acque Salvie, 1 – Rome (tel. +39 06 5401655). Opening hours: The three churches on the grounds of the abbey all have different opening hours. Chiesa dei SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio: 06.30 till 12.30 and 15.00 till 20.40; Chiesa di S. Maria Scala Coeli: 08.00 till 13.00 and 15.00 till 18.00 (in summer till 19.00); Chiesa di San Paolo alle Tre Fontane: 08.00 till 13.00 and 15.00 till 18.00 (in summer till 19.00). Admission: Free.
When St. Paul was decapitated, his head fell and bounced three times. After each bounce, a well appeared. The first one contained warm, the second one tepid, and the third one cold water.
The first church to be built in the spot was the San Paolo alle Tre Fontane, in the 5th century.
What to see
At the beginning of the Via delle Acque Salvie there is a gate and along the road to the abbey a statue of Saint Benedict can be seen. An inscription reminds visitors that they are entering an area of peace and prayer.
The arch that gives entrance to the actual complex was probably built in the 8th century, during the reign of Pope Honorius III. It is known as the Arch of Charlemagne (Arco di Carlo Magno), because of some frescoes that used to adorn its interior. The frescoes that can still be seen nowadays refer to the 4 Evangelists and the symbols associated with them.
Right beyond this gate there is a garden and on the left the monastery and cloister (which may however not be visited) can be seen.
There are three churches on the grounds of the abbey, of which the SS. Vincenzo and Anastasio, founded by Honorius (625) and reconstructed by Honorius III (1221), is the bigger one. It is also the first one after the entrance. The SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio is entirely made of bricks and has a tall facade. Its porch is adorned with Ionic columns and capitals.
The second church (on the right) is the Santa Maria Scala Coeli and it is located in the exact location where 10 thousand Christian legionnaires were martyred by Diocletian. It was built in 1582 by Giacomo Della Porta and consists of a small temple with side chapels and an apse.
The San Paolo alle Tre Fontane Church, which was restored in 1599, originates in the 5th century and features Paul’s three miraculous fountains. The polychrome mosaic decorating its floor came from Ostia. Half-hidden behind the other churches, it is reached by walking along a short tree-lined lane.
The area around the abbey used to be known as the Acque Salvie. The area was afflicted by malaria and was therefore not very densely populated.
Nowadays the Trappist monks sell a liqueur made of the eucalyptus trees they started planting there in 1868.
The Grotta delle Tre Fontane, where the Virgin appeared on April 12th 1947, is now an important sanctuary and attracts many pilgrims.