Franciscan Convent S. Salvatore of Portoferraio
Convent of S. Salvatore and the small church of S. Cerbone; Elba was never the coveted residence of male religious communities, with the exception of two Hospices or Hermitages of the Camaldolese and two Franciscan Convents. One of the latter was opened in 1421 by the Observants at the Church of S. Cerbone in the valley of Marciana , but, due to the harsh climate and the dangers of the sea that the religious had to meet to go there, was closed after about fifty years of difficult life. It seems that the dangers of maritime travel were not only imaginary, because the first Guardian of the Convent of Vetreta in Massa Marittima, sent by the Superiors to San Cerbone nell’Elba , drowned on the return journey. The Franciscans returned to Elba when Cosmopoli was founded by Cosimo I dei Medici who, seeing “the shortage of masses, confessions and other ecclesiastical things in the new city”, says a chronicler, opened a convent of Observants entitled “Convento S. Salvatore “and undertook to support 12 or 13 friars by passing them the same food as that of the students of the Sapienza University of Pisa. The first group of religious sent by the Minister of the Franciscan Province, Fra Berardo Draconcini, confessor of Cosimo, was made up of a Vicar, a preacher and two friars. Shortly thereafter, a Guardian was also appointed to the Chapter or Congregation. Soon the friars reached the number of twelve. Together with the Convent, the construction of the church dedicated to S. Salvatore was also begun, which had nine altars and was consecrated on 17 September 1606 by the diocesan Bishop Alessandro Petrucci. While the Convent was very poor and even the building was not successful, the Church was instead furnished with ducal magnificence and equipped with silver chandeliers and candlesticks. According to the Franciscan chronicles in the Convent of Portoferraio lived and died in the concept of holiness for his heroic poverty and charity, a lay friar, Fra Battista da Rontano della Garfagnana.
Between Battista and the Convent of S. Salvatore
Fra Battista in 1563 was in the convent of Fiesole and was a gardener, when his Guardian , Fra Dionisio Pulinari, invited to take part in the Chapter of the Tuscan Province, asked him if he wanted something as he left. “If it were possible, he replied, I would like them not to send me to the Convent of S. Salvatore dell’Elba, but, he added, I will always obey.” Instead, it was precisely in the Chapter that the decision was made to send Fra Battista to Portoferraio, despite the fact that his Guardian, among other reasons for avoiding him, also included that of the holiness of life of the good layman. The major superiors relied on the same reason as Fra Battista’s holiness to send him to you. When the decisions of the Chapter reached the Convent of Fiesole, Fra Battista was in the garden intent on working and some friars shouted at him from the window: “Oh, Fra Battista, news of the Chapter has arrived and you must go to Elba . Come on, at this moment there are some friars who have to go to Florence and if you want you can go immediately with them “. convent, he immediately took the road to follow obedience, being so poor that he had nothing to take in the cell. Equal to his obedience and poverty was his charity.
Brother Baptist reaches Portoferraio
They were in Portoferraio many confined, abandoned by all and deprived of everything. Brother Baptist became their friend and support. Some, found exhausted and close to death, he took them on his shoulders and carried them to his cell where more than one of these unfortunates died. When Brother Baptist died, the Church was not yet finished and the friars buried him near the Convent. In that place lived a Captain of the Grand Ducal Militia who complained to the Guardian about the stench that according to his servants sent the corpse and gave orders to reopen the tomb and remove the corpse and bury it elsewhere. In the presence of the friars and of the Captain, they immediately began to dig over the tomb of Brother Baptist; but as soon as two or three hoes had been hoed, a smell spread around it so sweet that the Captain himself begged the friars to leave intact the tomb of a man so holy that even when he was dead the scent of his holiness would spread.
The sixteenth-century chronicler who handed down to us the story of the life and burial of Fra Battista of historical-legendary flavor such as the Fioretti, reports other details of the Convent of S. Salvatore or, as they said then, of the Place of Portoferraio.
Convent and Church
From the earliest years the Convent of S. Salvatore had the dormitory, the refectory, the kitchen, the canova and the vegetable garden but for some time remained without the church and even the cistern. The water supply of Portoferraio must have been a serious concern even in the time of our Chronicler who still continues to point out how the commitment to provide the table for the friars in the manner and in the terms of that of the students of the Sapienza of Pisa, was not at all maintained, even if he saves the Grand Duke, but puts all the blame on the ducal agents. Perhaps the Chronicler did not keep in mind that Duke Cosimo was dead and therefore Father Draconcini, confessor of the late Duke, no longer enjoyed great authority at court. Certainly Father Pulinari, as the Chronicler was called, was of a somewhat impetuous temperament, and he easily wrote that it was easier to agree with the infernal spirits than with the ducal agents, that the Convent of Vetreta near Massa was for cause of malaria and the miasma of the grand-ducal vitriol processing, a carnage, where he would have gladly sent all the friars who had given a favorable opinion to reopen that convent. But returning to the Convent of Portoferraio he says that the table was modest as befits the rank of the poor Osservanti friars. The Convent, in addition to the sanctity of Fra Battista, was illustrated by the doctrine of some Franciscans such as Fra Paolo da Pisa who taught there in 1585. The Convent was suppressed in 1802, the church and the adjoining convent building were later used as barracks until the last war, and despite some additions, the architectural lines of sacred and religious construction still remain intact. Those who go up to the church of the Misericordia, or to the Viste, immediately notice the former church and the former convent with the cloister with clearly visible arches although filled with walls. As for several centuries these buildings have been able to preserve an aspect that clearly expresses their original character, so let us hope that the necessary repairs do not spoil or tamper with this sixteenth-century building, if I am not mistaken in the neoclassical style. With the departure of the friars the Franciscan spirit did not die out in Portoferraio, which even today is kept alive there by a thriving Congregation of the Secular Third Order in the Church of Mercy so close to the ancient Convent that it is its most legitimate heir and continuator.
After the suppression of the convent in 1802, the church and the adjoining convent building were used as barracks until the last war, and still preserve, despite some additions, the architectural lines of sacred and religious construction intact. Those who go up to the church of the Misericordia, or to the Views, immediately notice the former church and the former convent with the cloister with the arches clearly visible even though they are filled with walls. Just as for several centuries these buildings have preserved an aspect that clearly expresses their original character, so let us hope that the necessary repairs do not spoil or tamper with this 16th century construction, if I am not mistaken, in the neoclassical style. With the departure of the friars, the Franciscan spirit did not die out in Portoferraio; even today it is kept alive by a flourishing Congregation of the Third Secular Order in the Church of the Misericordia, so close to the ancient Convent as to be its legitimate heir and continuator.
Former convent of S. Salvatore, today “De Laugier Cultural Center”
The former convent of S. Salvatore hosted the Zoccolanti Fathers of the Franciscan Order, until it became the base for the ’Order of the Knights of Santo Stefano . Founded in Portoferraio in 1562 at the behest of Cosimo I de ‘Medici, to create a network of fortified outposts in the Mediterranean, of which the Island of Elba would be the focal point to prevent Saracen assaults. Currently, the historic building houses an important “De Laugier Cultural and Congress Center” of the city of Portoferraio , which over time has kept its title to the Napoleonic officer of Elban origin Cesare De Laugier.
Where is the former convent of S. Salvatore
Today in the former convent, there is the De Laugier cultural center, inside the historic center of Portoferraio; entered from Porta a Mare, we follow to the Town Hall where the Salita is clearly visible Napoleon . Halfway on the left we find the large square and the De Laugier Cultural Center.