Thursday, September 24, 2009


The Spirit of Saint Francis

We have at last made a long overdue visit to the Couvent de Corbara - something we should have done decades ago. At the moment, the convent is a retreat centre and home to a community of Catholic monks who are members of the relatively new Order of Saint John, but the Convent’s origins go much further back than 1975 when the order was founded.

Perched on a hill behind Paoli’s Port of Ile Rousse in the Balagne, the Convent presents a striking view to motorists passing along the twisty lane connecting the village of Corbara with its close neighbour, Pigna. You can visit the Convent any day of the week except Thursday, but we chose to visit on Sunday 20th September, one of two days in which Corsicans formally celebrate their heritage.

We were shown round the Convent and attached church by Frère Jean-Marc, who told us a little about its history and along the way explained something of the life of the monks who live there. It was founded as an orphanage in 1430, but just over 30 years later the Franciscans established a convent there and it has been a convent for most of its life since then. Badly damaged in the politically unstable 1700s, the buildings had to be abandoned shortly afterwards. The place lay in ruins for over 50 years, but was brought to life again by another religious order – this time the Dominicans. When World War I broke out, the religious life of the Convent was once again interrupted as the monks were evicted so the place could be used as a POW camp. The monks returned in 1927.

This peaceful place is now in the hands of the Order of Saint John, whose founder spent an earlier part of his religious life as a Dominican. There are images in the church honouring both St Dominic and the original source of the Convent’s religious inspiration, Saint Francis of Assisi. While we were there, we enjoyed watching a smiling monk feeding a huge family of baby tortoises, each just a few centimetres long. It seems that the ideals of this animal-loving saint live on amongst the Convent’s current occupants.

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