Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The silent monastery with the hippo’s smile

It may not be world-famous or on the ‘must-see’ list for most tourists, but Lombardy’s Certosa of Pavia, also known as ‘The Chartreuse’, is one of Italy’s most interesting monasteries. Built in the fourteenth century, with its ornate facade, arches and spires, it oozes gothic charm and was reportedly styled after Milan’s iconic Duomo.
Aside from the stunning frescos, one of the monastery’s most curious features is mounted in its crypt. Along with the holy communion artifacts and treasures is an intriguing triptych. Created by artist Baldassarre degl’ Embriachi, it features painstakingly engraved ivory, and in a rarity for the region, is studded with the teeth of hippopotamus.
The monastery is still active today, and visitors gleefully stroll around the grounds hoping to catch sight of a monk wandering between cloisters in their robes. For those lucky enough to spot one, interactions are brief as the clergy of Pavia have traditionally sworn a solemn oath of silence, which many are reluctant to break, but like the hippo in the crypt, they’re sure to offer up a smile.