How did this lovely little abbey get its name? Despite its affiliations with a plethora of other saints, the abbey’s name comes from St. Paul. And to understand what the name means, we need to head to the third, and final, church of the abbey, which we reached after a very quiet and contemplative stroll along a path between trees swaying slightly in the breeze.
The Church of St. Paul of Three Fountains was built on the spot where Paul the Apostle was beheaded by order of Emperor Nero in the first century. The first church at this spot was built in the 5th century. It was rebuilt in the 16th century by Giacomo della Porta; this is the second of the two churches at the abbey with this distinction.
As for what makes this church unique, the story goes that, when Paul’s head was struck from his body, it bounced three times. And in each spot where his head touched the ground, a spring arose (never mind that the area already had a long history for having springs).
Of particular note are the three shrines, each one with a metal depiction of a severed head (a close-up of which is at the top of this post), indicating where the saint’s head touched the ground and a spring miraculously bubbled up.
Perhaps because of these springs, the abbey has planted large groves of eucalyptus. We were the only ones here on this lovely day, and we sat there in the quiet and soaked it all in. From outside we could hear the gentle sound of birds chirping and trees rustling in the wind. Idyllic.
This beautiful little locale has gone through a number of changes, including being given to various religious orders. Today the abbey is run by Trappist monks, who are, apparently, quite industrious. On the way out, we stopped inside the tasteful gift shop and bought some of their beer and chocolates — both really good!
Before hopping on the bus to return to the apartment, we stopped at the unusual site near the bus stop. The Grotto of the Three Fountains, also known as Our Lady of Revelation, is a sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary who appeared to a local man and his three children here in 1947. The shrine’s site is chock-full of little memorials to loved ones.