At Horace’s House : Sant’ Antonio, Tivoli

Sant' Antonio

In the summer of 2013 I had the great good luck to be offered a room and to stay with fellow Landmarkers in the Italian countryside near Tivoli, about 20 miles northeast of Rome. I leapt at the chance and finally last week the trip became a reality. I have just spent a fabulous week at Sant’ Antonio and made a few excursions too when I could manage to drag myself away from this wonderful old house.

According to the History Album Sant’ Antonio was built around 100 BC.  The upper parts were rebuilt in the late 16th and early 17th centuries: the monastery between 1583 and 1590; the east wing about 1625 and the church in 1647. It was acquired for preservation by Frederick Searle in 1879. The present owner, Vicomte Roger de Brisis, is his descendant but Sant’ Antonio has been managed by The Landmark Trust since 1995. It consists of a medieval monastery grafted onto a Roman villa of the time of Caesar Augustus, or maybe even before. It was rescued from abandon in 1879 by an Englishman newly returned from West Indies.

vesta temple

Temple of Vesta, Tivoli

A well-founded belief is that a frequent guest, if not an early owner, was the poet Horace. Across the ravine thunders the water of Anio, with temples of Vesta and the Sibyl poised above it. All these on the outskirts of Tivoli, the Roman Tibur, and you are approaching something very near the heart of the civilisation that has moulded Europe for two millennia.

It is fitting that the revival of this place should have fallen to an Englishman, because those two names – Horace and Tivoli have a particular resonance for his countrymen. From the Middle Ages , English boys learned their reading and writing by means of Horace’s Odes and Satires, along with the works of Virgil and other writers of the Augustan Age. Only in the late 20th century has academic education ceased to be built on these cornerstones.

In the 17th century Englishmen first began to visit Italy in large numbers and carried its influence home in the most direct manner, in their paintings, and their buildings and their gardens. The dramatic influence of Tivoli appealed strongly to painters, notably the great French creators of an ideal classical world: Claud Lorrain and Gaspard Dughet. The English imitators eg Richard Wilson, followed them here. Writers like Joseph Addison sought the places which the best paintings might be composed and the. Murmured to themselves of “Tivoli’s delightful shades and Anio rolling in cascades.”

In 1879 Frederick Searle was searching for a place to sketch the waterfall when he first saw Sant’ Antonio – “La casa di Orazio”. He made it his home; spent 20 years renovating and repairing it and encouraged scholars and archaeologists to share his discoveries. His daughter Georgina and her husband George Hallam and then her great-niece Lucy d’Aihaud de Brisis continued the tradition. In this generation Count Roger de Brisis took on the care of Sant’ Atonio and with Landmark’s help has made it possible for guests to stay here. Sant’ Antonio has long enjoyed the soubriquet ‘Horace’s Villa’ . There are several schools of thought relating to whether Horace lived here or not. It is known through the writings of Suetonius that Horace lived in Tibur (Tivoli).

The Sant’ Antonio History Album goes on to give various scholars’ opinions on the exact location of Horace’s Villa but I like to think that it was Sant’ Antonio and unless some future academic gives me proof to the contrary I will stick with this theory and the celebrity link with the house.

The Franciscan Friars took over the remains of a Roman villa – it had continued operating as a villa farm – with ample storage spaces, good water supply and fertile terraces. By becoming a monastery its survival was ensured for a further five centuries. Sant’ Antonio was a monastery complex of the lesser kind; common in the mountains of central Italy. The little church of this monastery is still an object of devotion for the many Catholics of the town. The feast day of St Anthony is 13 June.

Having read details of the architectural plans of the monastery it would appear that the arrangement of the rooms and their various uses has changed little over the centuries. We dined in the Refectory, cooked in the kitchen, slept in the monks’ cells (the numbers still painted on the doors) off long wide corridors decorated with church ornaments, crucifixes and reliquaries. Our sitting rooms – a range of three – occupy a northeast projecting wing. The main floors are of rectangular terracotta bricks laid in coursed and herringbone patterns with borders, a technique common to Italy. The small casement windows are a rare feature to have lasted so long in Italy, the details of the dark unpainted wood, the panes of glass and their fixings, and the modest catches all being precious survivals.

Welcome to Sant’ Antonio – come and have a look inside.


The Refectory


The Kitchen

Roman wall in kitchen

Roman Wall in the Kitchen

a dble room

A Double Bedroom with Herringbone Pattern Floor

Twin bedroom

A Twin Room with Sitting Area

Upper floor

Upper Corridor

lower floor

Lower Corridor


One of the Reliquaries

sitting room

The Sitting Room

a reading corner

A Quiet Reading Corner

sitting rm

Three Sitting Rooms

Anio falls and window

The “Anio Rolling In Cascades” seen through a Casement Window

SA Garden

Former Main Entrance now Rear Door into the Garden

Main Entrance

Today’s Entrance Approached from the Main Road


Virginia Woolf, Horace and Rectories : The Ilkley Literature Festival 2013

October is the month of The Ilkley Literature Festival. I remember when ‘all’ the events took place in one venue – a children’s weekend of ‘literary’ entertainment- poetry, puppets, that sort of thing – and a weekend of talks for adults. But that is going back nearly 30 years and I noticed that this year celebrates the 40th anniversary with 17 days of talks, walks, visits and entertainment with even free Fringe events.


I usually pick a couple of talks or events to attend each year and this year was no different. On the first Saturday I chose to hear Alexandra Harris talk about her book “Virginia Woolf“.

Liverpool University cultural historian Alexandra Harris’s hugely acclaimed Romantic Moderns (Guardian First Book and Somerset Maugham Awards) overturned our picture of modernist culture. Now Harris discusses the life and work of Virginia Woolf, revealing a passionate, determined woman full of wit, vivacity and fun, whose life was shaped by her defiant refusal to submit to literary convention, social constraints and mental illness.” [ILF Programme]

The Sitting Room at Monk's House, East Sussex

The Sitting Room at Monk’s House. The armchair was one of Virginia Woolf’s favourite reading chairs. It is upholstered in a fabric designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell. ©NTPL/Eric Crichton [As seen here]

I’m expecting to get to Monk’s House next year (and felt the need to learn more about VW) with a friend and bought the book and had Ms Harris sign it for her. She hopes we will also have a chance to walk on The Downs whilst we are there … and I hope so too!

Later that afternoon I went to a Question and Answer format event featuring the FT ‘Slow Lane’ journalist and poet Harry Eyres who has recently published a book ‘Horace and me‘ a fascinating subject about whom I knew very little.


Harry Eyres, theatre critic, wine writer, poet and ‘Slow Lane’ columnist for the Financial Times, journeys into the work of the Roman poet Horace, exploring his lessons for our time. The humble son of a freed slave, Horace championed modest pleasures in the face of imperial Rome’s wealth and expansion. A celebrity in his own time, Horace influenced writers from Voltaire to Hardy – and Boris Johnson!” [ILF Programme]

And finally last Saturday it was Deborah Alun-Jones who gave a short talk, then took questions from the presenter and then from the audience on the subject of her book (which I had read earlier this year) ‘The Wry Romance of the Literary Rectory‘.


Author Deborah Alun-Jones strips away the idyllic exterior of the village rectory to reveal the lives of writers like Tennyson and Betjeman who lived and worked in them. She investigates hidden desire, domestic drama, bitterness and isolation – and the secrets of the highly creative environments from which some of the greatest English poetry and literature has emerged.

Ms Alun-Jones had travelled the country visiting rectories (and vicarages, parsonages and the like) and although she mentions Jane Austen and the Brontes they are not included in this book. A future book will look at women in the rectory. The only woman to feature in this publication is Dorothy L. Sayers. The male authors are Sydney Smith (at Foston in Yorkshire); Alfred Tennyson (at Somersby in Lincolnshire); Rupert Brooke (at Granchester – also now home to Lord Archer); John Betjeman (at Farnborough); R.S.Thomas (at Manafon); George Herbert and Vikram Seth (at Bemerton) and The Benson and de Waal families (at Lincoln). I haven’t visited any of these places and I don’t think any are open to the public. Such a lively speaker and interesting topic it was a pity that the room was only half full. But those of us that were there were very appreciative of the talk.

Shandy Hall

Here is Shandy Hall in North Yorkshire and former home of Lawrence Sterne vicar of Coxwold – also not included in The Wry Romance

I wonder if Simon at Stuck-in-a-book has a comment to make about the wry romance of being brought up in vicarage?