Next to the gatehouse tower of the abbatial complex is a small, single-naved building with a brickwork facing. This is Saint Bernard’s Chapel, once called “the Women’s Chapel”. It was built by Abbott Antonio Fontana in 1412 to allow the peasant communities farming the monacal agricultural lands to follow religious offices without infringing the ban on women entering the enclave. The walls of this oratory were adorned with remarkable murals during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Christ appears before Pilatus, the Adoration of the Magi, Three Saints including Saint Bernard, Madonna and Child, etc.) The tale of the decadence of Saint Bernard’s Chapel begins towards the mid-sixteenth century, with the building of a larger oratory accessible from the public road. The building was affected to be the monastery pharmacy in the eighteenth century and towards the end of the next one became the caretaker’s lodging (after the suppression of the monastery the state became the landowner). An upper floor was thus constructed internally and a chimney was fitted on a once frescoed wall. In 2004 the Monuments and Fine Arts Office mounted a ‘rescue’ operation to avoid the complete loss of the remaining film-thin coat of paint. In 2007-2008 an accurate restoration of the most important paintings found inside the chapel was carried out and it has now been opened anew to the public.
(retrieved from http://www.paolavillarestauri.it/chiaravalle.htm, with the kind permission of Paola Villa, who curated the restoration. The picture shows “Figures of Saints” (detail) after the restoration; the photograph is by A. Favara and is available from http://www.paolavillarestuari.it)