The Abbey of Saint John the Evangelist is an important Benedictine complex, founded in Parma in 980 by bishop Siegfried II. It includes the church, the monastery and the Antica Spezieria grocery, of which we have records dating as far back as 1201.
In 1477, a battle between feudal lords started a fire that damaged the old building, but also launched its reconstruction. The current layout of the complex was defined in 1766, when the minister of the Duchy of Parma Guillaume du Tillot made the Spezieria a laic business. At that point, the monks had to close the door leading to the monastery – leaving an opening through which medicines could be passed to friars inside – and created a front entrance for clients. The Spezieria was later entrusted to an external pharmacist, and managed by the Gardoni family until 1881. Thirteen years later, it was purchased by Italy’s institution for public domain assets, the Demanio, which turned the complex into a museum in 1951.
Today, visitors can access the evocative Antica Spezieria to learn stories about life and business centuries ago, with the aid of a number of antique books and typical tools used at the time, from glass vases to mortars and pestles.
The first room you’ll access is known as the room “Of Fire” because it has a fireplace. Furnished with tall wooden display cases, it was where clients were tended to. The second is the “Room of the Mortars”, with its large 18th-century table, marble and bronze instruments and lacquered glass showcases.
The third is the “Room of the Mermaids”, named after the sculptures in the pilasters along the walls. The ceiling was decorated in the 1600s with a painting of the Eagle of Saint John, while the showcases are full of precious botany volumes written between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Finally, you’ll reach the “Room of the Well” or “of the Alembics” where medicines were prepared, with its red Verona marble sinks and adjacent cellar, where spices and medicinal herbs were once stored.
Antica Spezieria of Saint John
Borgo Pipa, 1/a