Monastero dei SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane (Tre Fontane) – Roma, Italia (Est. Early 4th Century CE/Modern Est. 1868, Brewery Est. 1873)
In May of 2015, the Trappist brewing community gained an 11th member: Monastero dei SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio alle Tre Fontane (The Monastery of Saint Vincent and Saint Anastacio). Tre Fontane’s ascendance to the vaunted ranks of a Trappist Brewery marks the third Abbey to gain the rights to label their beers as Trappist in as many years. First, it was America’s first Trappist Brewery at Spencer Abbey; then shortly after Spencer joined, the Netherlands gained its second official Trappist brewery when Zundert gained its official status.
In an increasingly secular world where less people give to monasteries or leave their lives behind to dedicate themselves to a Catholic abbey, the dwindling communities living within the hallowed walls are having trouble maintaining their secluded lifestyles and the often decaying monastic grounds. And it’s not just the mother abbey that concerns them, but often a monastery is not only responsible for its own well-being but that of one or more sister abbeys. It’s expensive to maintain a large facility let alone several. To make ends meet and to fund their various charitable ventures, it’s become increasingly popular to rely on their ancient heritage of providing hospitality to pilgrims, which included brewing beer for sale, to provide beer for consumers thirsting for special monastic beers.
The Abbey of Tre Fontane has a rich and unique history dating back to the earliest days of Christianity. Located in Rome, the spot where the monastery sits has seen some of the pivotal moments of Roman Christianity. On June 29th, 67CE; the Apostle, later Saint, Paul was beheaded during the reign of Nero. It was said that his head bounced 3 times, in part, giving the location its name. Later, Saint Zeno and over 1o,ooo Christian Roman Legionaries were executed on the spot in 298CE during Diocletian’s Christian purges.
The first religious building to occupy the site can be traced to Constantine the Great during his reign in the early 4th Century when he established a church in honor of St. Paul. The first record of a monastic community occupying the site comes in the later half of the 6th Century when General Narses, the governor of Italy under Emperor Justinian, established a monastery attached to the Church of St. Paul for Greek monks. As the Mohammedan Arab armies invaded the lands of the eastern Romans (also known as the Byzantine Empire), Cilician monks fled before the invading forces bringing with them many early Christian relics.
As the community grew in importance along with the rise of Rome as the center of the early Catholic church, the monastic community at Tre Fontane increasingly appears in church records long with its growing list of relics. During the 8th Century, the community suffered a serious fire but due to the importance of the location, the community, and the relics it housed; the Pope, Adrian I, invested considerable sums to rebuild and revive the devastated community.
The monastery grew even larger and richer in 805 when Charlemagne and Pope Leo III sent monks to collect relics from the monastery during Charlemagne’s campaigns in Italy. When the monks showed up at the besieged fortress, the walls suddenly collapsed. Leo III and Charlemagne gave the abbey vast tracks of land as a reward for the use of the relics. Despite this grant of wealth, the monastery succumbed to the ravages of time and slowly fell into decay over the next few centuries. Several popes and various groups of monks attempted to keep it thriving but failed.
Enter the Cistercians
In 1140, Pope Innocent II gave the monastery to Cistercian Order who began the work of reviving the ancient grounds. The biggest problem historically with the location of the grounds is that it’s rife with Malaria which has caused problems throughout the abbey’s history. To help with this problem, Pope Eugene III, who had been an Abbot at the monastery, allowed the monks to use a castle offsite during the summer to help keep their health up. The rise of the abbey from this period marks the historic height of the Tre Fontane Monastery. Finally in 1306, the monks completed the construction of the various buildings and churches.
Over the next 5 centuries, the fortunes of the abbey waxed and waned until 1808 when Napolean occupied the papal estates and secularized the abbey, forcing out the Cistercian monks. The conquering forces stripped the archives, possessions, and relics of Tre Fontane.
The Modern Story
After the revival of the Papal rule, Pope Leo XII tried to revitalize the abbey but the Franciscan Friars who he entrusted it to only were able to partially reopen the malaria ridden grounds. Pope Pius IX made another attempt in 1858 with the help of the head of the Trappist Order but the potential costs were too overwhelming to even being the project. Fortunately in 1867, they used the 1800 year anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Paul to raise the money to revive Tre Fontane.
On April 21, 1868, a Papal Bull re-established Tre Fontane as a Trappist Monastery when monks from La Grande Trappe (France) began the arduous work of restoring the abbey. One of the big early projects was to drain the swamps that had caused centuries of malaria problems. To aid them, the monks also planted eucalyptus trees which naturally keep away mosquitoes. They were also granted even more land if they’d plant at least 125,000 more trees as part of a government initiative. This coupled with mosquito nets and quinine helped the monks survive the formerly malaria ridden abbey grounds.
In 1873, the monks installed a distillery and has since then been producing high quality liquors based largely around some of the ingredients grown on the lands of the monks, eucalyptus being the most prominent ingredient used. The most famous of these liquors is the Eucalittino. They also make a eucalyptus grappa and a hazelnut cream liqueur.
In 2014, the monks began brewing a beer which they called Birra dei Monaci or Monk’s Beer. On May 4th, 2015, Tre Fontane and its beer received the official ITA (International Trappist Association) go ahead to add the famous hexagon to the label and use the name of the Trappist Abbey on the beer. Thus, in 2015 Tre Fontane became the 11th official Trappist Brewery.
At 8.5% ABV, The ITA describes Tre Fontane Tripel as: “The high carbonation gives the mouthfeel a pleasant dry finish. The mildly sweet aftertaste comes from the soothing flavor of eucalyptus herb which cleanses and refreshes the palate. While the beer gives the impression of being light, it has abundant body. The high alcohol content adds a warm, refined feeling to the soothing highlights of the eucalyptus.”