It was a noble woman from Sorrento who wanted the building of a church and a monastery dedicated to the daughters of the people of Sorrento and itssurroundings. In the course of years the Sorrento ecclesiastical- conventual complex acquired also the building of the monastery of the Santissima Trinità in Sorrento.
The history of the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Sorrento (lying not far from Sant’ Antonino Square) is deeply linked to that of the homonymous convent nearby which still today houses a monastery of women’s seclusion.
Both, in fact, were built, according to Bernardina Donnorso’s will, in a particularly delicate historical period: that in which the invasion of Sorrento by Saracens occurred (1558).
The earliest acts about the Sorrento ecclesiastical-conventual complex, in fact, go back to 1566, year in which the pious woman, Giovan Marino Anfora’s widow, ordered its building, providing it with houses and various farms so that it welcomed the “daughters of the people of Sorrento and its surroundings”.
Showing a remarkable protesting store towards the Sorrento noble class – to which she belonged both for her direct descent and thanks to her marriage – she decided that noble and rich women remained out of the rising monastery.
This was something inconceivable for the noble Sorrento which, so far, right in its old town centre, boasted the presence of five women’s convents which were not only exclusively reserved to women belonging to the Sorrento patriciate, but they even made distinctions because they belonged to a family enjoying the honours of the Sorrento Sedil Dominova instead those of the Sorrento Sedile di Porta and vice versa.
The results, besides controversies and the “scandal”, were positive thanks to more and more frequent retirements in the local seclusion of Santa Maria delle Grazie of Sorrento.
Bernardina Donnorso died and was buried in the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Sorrento in 1594, but the monastery and the church let built by her had a quiet life, in fact, in 1812 king Gioacchino Murat – when the convent of Santissima Trinità in Sorrento was suppressed – allowed the same monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie to incorporate its building into itself.
But the process that afterwards brought to the unification of Italy, as for other churches and monasteries, implied hard consequences also for Santa Maria delle Grazie.
The church was closed and the nuns were forced to leave the monastery, but the town administration made an appeal to the Civil Court of Naples. This one – with a sentence as of September 7th 1874 – condemned the State property office to give everything back to the Monastery. The judicial controversy continued up to the Court of Cassation of Rome which confirmed the previous sentence.
In the meantime, nevertheless, all the properties of the Monastery had been sold to private citizens and, for this reason, the State property office had to indemnify the monastery, but the paid sum was very low and, moreover, it was paid off with government securities. The most important aspect was the fact that the monastery was safe and the nuns could occupy it again in 1875.
Since then, neither the Church, nor the Sorrento monastery, which was part of it, have registered significant novelties but restoration works.
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