Follina. Notes of culture, history and flavors

Follina nestles at the foot of the southern side of the foothills of the Dolomites, in front of the wide river valley Soligo, halfway between Vittorio Veneto and Valdobbiadene, at an altitude of 200 mt above sea level.

The landscape of the Valley is varied, green and beautiful. The name “Follina” is closely related to the processing of the woolen cloth called “Pannilana”, that since the remote, perhaps pre-Roman times, was practiced in this area. The town itself and the small river that flows through it were named after the “fulloni” or fullers engaged in the production of wool fabric. In prehistoric times the human presence is attested by fi nds of artifacts dating from the Neolithic period with a fair amount of crusps, arrows, scrapers, a furnace with its Iron Age sherds and vessels and the presence of a secondary branch of the Roman military road Claudia Augusta Altinate.

The historical significance of Follina is mainly linked to the monastery of Santa Maria, a late medieval Benedictine monastery depending from the monastery of San Fermo Maggiore in Verona, that later became Cistercian. The white monks introduced the manufacture of wool, and Follina opened a flourishing period during which the abbey was built in the form we know today and became a centre of religious revival, manual work and agricultural improvements. In the mid-eighteenth century, Follina was a booming industrial little town: there were fi ve major wool mills and four silk mills, and the workforce employed exceeded one thousand units. New wool processing techniques came from England to improve the local production. In 1865 the difficult working conditions and the widespread solidarity of the working class led to the birth of the “workers” Mutual Aid and Education Society”, the first in the province of Treviso. The textile industry was important until the First World War, during which the country was severely tried by the occupation of the Austro-Hungarian troops, and also by famine and hunger. Today, only the Paoletti mill continues the ancient tradition of wool weaving. Anyway, as in the rest of the Veneto region, there are also several small and medium manufacturing factories, especially in the furniture industry.

The Abbey of Santa Maria in Follina is the most important landmark to visit. It was built between 1305-1335, on a previous Benedectine building of the twelfth century. The current basilica has got the typical Latin Cross plant with the front facing West and the apse facing east, according to the canons of Cistercian architecture. The ages of greatest glory were the thirteenth and fourteenth century, during which the inhabited monastic cloister and church took the present appearance, an important example of late Roman architecture found in Treviso.

In 1448 the Cistercian monks were expelled by the government of the Venetian Republic and a Commendam was established. In 1464 Pietro Leone, Bishop of Ceneda, consecrated the church, and you can see a memorial stone located above the door leading into the sacristy that commemorates the event (10th October 1464). In the sixteenth century, Livio Podacataro, Lay Abbot of Follina in Commendam and Archbishop of Cyprus, erected a little cloister called “ Chiostrino dell’Abate” on the south-east side of the monastery. It has got pointed arches supported by stone columns with a slight entasis and Ionic capitals. But in 1771, after a short stay of the Camaldolesi monks, parts of the monastic building and, particulary, parts of the cloister were sold and walled up to obtain housing. In 1915 the Community of the Servants of Mary arrived in Follina. The Prior of the community, Brother Anacleto Milani, wanted to give back to the entire monastic complex its past splendor. The facade of the church is Romanesque with Gothic influences, the rose window, a gift of Venice, is flanked by two pilasters and long windows. There are fine works to be mentioned inside:

• The large wooden altarpiece, perfect copy of the original one in neo-Gothic style that can be seen in the church of S. Zaccaria in Venice. It houses the ancient Nubian carved sandstone image of Our Lady of the Sacred Chalice, the object of pilgrimage by thousands of believers.
• At the foot of the chancel there is a tombstone in memory of Sofia Da Camino, giver of generous donations to the Cistercian monks.
• A Fresco by Francesco da Milano (1527) “Madonna and Child with Saints”, depicting Our Lady enthroned with the Christ Child between St. Luke and St.Anthony Abbot and the kneeling commissioner of the painting.
• A large wooden crucifix from the Baroque period by an unknown author.

The beautiful Romanesque cloister, perfectly preserved in the elegant effect of movement created by the columns that constitute it, was completed in 1268 as shown by the carved stone inscription on the north wall near the entrance that leads to the church from the cloister. An immensely valuable historical record left by the original builder monks. The bell tower with a square plan in Romanesque style stands on the intersection of the central nave.