Not far from the center of Maiori, nestled within a cave and clinging to the rocky cliffside that descends from Mount Falerzio towards Capo d’Orso, you will discover the monumental complex of Santa Maria de’ Olearia.
These are three superimposed places of worship that have undergone alterations and modifications over the centuries. Of particular note are the 12th-century frescoes that can be glimpsed while walking, immersed in silence, and captivated by glimpses of blue and light that make the experience at this site truly enchanting.
As evidence of the vibrant monastic life that flourished in the area since the first millennium, the structure is divided into three chapels adorned with numerous frescoes depicting scenes from the life of the Virgin and various Saints, offering an intriguing glimpse into medieval art.
The abbey complex of Santa Maria de Olearia, comprising three small superimposed churches adorned with a variety of frescoes, emerged as a hermitage between 973 and 987, founded by the hermit Pietro and his nephew Giovanni. It later evolved into a Benedictine proto-monastery and then an abbey, earning its name “Olearia” due to the lush olive trees that surrounded it. After the last abbot’s passing in 1509, the site was abandoned.
Within the surviving monumental portion, notable mural frescoes are attributed to Leone Amalfitano, a Benedictine monk from the 11th century who stands among the illustrious lineage of Italian artists proficient in painting, architecture, sculpture, and woodwork.
The catacombs have revealed additional paintings from the 7th and 8th centuries, significant for their historical and artistic value. From this sacred sanctuary, where pure expressions of authentic faith blossomed, Friar Gerardo Sasso di Scala recruited followers to establish the Order of the Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem.
Three other monasteries and abbeys are worth mentioning, each with historical records and memories. One, founded in the 8th century and governed by foreign cenobites, stood at the foothills of Mount Falerzio and was known as Santa Marina de Stellis. Another, also located near Falerzio, bore the name of San Nicola de Carbonaris. In 1274, one of its abbots served as the Archbishop of Amalfi’s representative at the Second Council of Lyon. Finally, a Benedictine abbey was situated on the Erchie beach, a hamlet of Maiori believed to have derived its name from an ancient temple dedicated to Hercules. The abbey was established in 979 by the Doge of Amalfi, Masone III, and was known as Santa Maria de Ercule.