It is commonly believed to be in the year 67 that Paulo, now known as Saint Paul, was executed. Though there is some debate as to the exact year, there is no question as to where it happened. The story is told that Paul was taken far outside of the city center of Rome, chained to a column and had his head chopped off. When it dropped from his body, it bounced three times and each time a spring rose up from the ground. The execution site became a destination for pilgrimage and in the fifth century, a church was built on the site of this “miracle”. The church pictured here was built in 1599, replacing the fifth century church. It houses the execution site and three small fountains, said to be the actual springs created from Paul’s bouncing head. In addition to the original church, two more churches were built and the site became a quiet Abbey called Abbazia delle Tre Fontane. However, by the end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 17th century, after recurring malaria outbreaks, the site was abandoned and the land barren. It remained unused until around 1868 when Pope Pius IX gave the complex and the land to the Trappist monks. Since then, they have occupied the monastery and have been growing eucalyptus trees, which are thought to fight off disease. The monks produce herbal remedies, liqueurs and chocolates from the eucalyptus, which they sell in a shop on site.
Every morning at dawn, which was when this photo was taken, the monks sing chants in the Romanesque church on the left of this path, their voices carrying in the quiet morning light.