The Monastery in Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose'

Who does not remember the imposing monastery in Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose' (1980). Both in the novel and in the movie, it loomed dark and forbidden in the story and the landscape.
In 1327, Franciscan friar William of Baskerville, accompanied by and Adso of Melk, a Benedictine novice, arrive at a Benedictine monastery in Northern Italy. Melk, the unreliable narrator of the story, tells us that "it is only right and pious now to omit [the name of the abbey]"(p11)

Umberto Eco took great care in weaving fact and fiction together in his story. So, the curious among us want to know if Umberto Eco modeled his fictional monastery on an existing one.

"Conjecture allows us to designate a vague area between Pomposa and Conques, with reasonable likelihood that the community was somewhere along the central ridge of the Apennines, between Piedmont, Liguria, and France," writes Adso(p3). That's a rather large area and Adso's remark isn't helpful at all.

So, what other clues can we find in the story? Let's start at the very end. After departing the ruined monastery Adso writes "We headed east. When we reached Bobbio again."(p498) Therefore, the monastery must have been situated to the west of Bobbio.

Are there any existing once great monasteries that stand west of Bobbio? Well, there are a lot of smaller ones, but one seems a very interesting candidate: the Sacra di San Michele, built high on Mount Pirchiriano, looking menacingly down onto the small city of Fonte di San Pietro. For much of its history the abbey was under Benedictine rule. Situated just 20 kilometers or so from Turin, in the region of Piedmont, it might therefore well have been the unnamed monastery of 'The Name of the Rose'.
The monastery fell into a gradual decline and was finally suppressed in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. The complex includes the ruins of the 12th-15th centuries monastery, which had five floors. The remains of a chapel reproduced, in its octagonal plan, the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. 'This was an octagonal construction,' writes Adso.(p21)
 
The website of the Sacra di San Michele proudly tells us that Umberto Eco wrote a letter to the rector saying that 'I last visited it (the Sacra di San Michele) with the director of the Name of the Rose, who initially thought to shoot the main scenes there...". (letter of U.Eco to Rector A.Salvatori, dated 20 February 1995)

We now have a number of clues that point to the Sacra di San Michele as being the source or inspiration for the unnamed monastery in Umberto Eco's 'The Name of the Rose'. Can we ever be certain? No, but that's the joy and mystery of a (partly) fictional story.

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