College of the Virgins of Jesus

The College of the Virgins of Jesus is a building complex with composite architectural features, the result of the fusion and juxtaposition of buildings constructed at different times and for different purposes. It was initially the home of the Aliprandi family from which Elena, wife of Rodolfo Gonzaga and mother of the founders of the College, was born. The main core of the building can be dated back to the 16th century with certainty. In its general lines it respects the typical Mantuan manor house structure. The façade is 17th century and occupies the entire Via Perati, onto which the main entrance opens. To the west, the building overlooks a vast vegetable garden that dominates the countryside below, while to the south is the courtyard, accessed through a main door. In the stately part of the building one can identify the androne (on which the rooms opened) that leads to the portico, from which one can access the upper floors by means of an ellipsoidal staircase. The arcade motif is echoed in a loggia, closed by large windows, onto which the bedrooms opened. All these rooms are currently used as a museum.

The College of the Virgins of Jesus was founded on 21 June 1608 by the three granddaughters of St Louis: Cinzia, Olimpia, Gridonia and seven other women from Castiglione. Their rule soon received canonical approval, although the institution was rather unusual in Italy. The model of the College of Hall (Innsbruck), initiated by the daughters of Emperor Ferdinand, was taken into account in its realisation. This 'gathering of noble women' was intended to devote itself to prayer and the education of 'young girls'. It was its secular configuration that spared the college from Napoleon's suppression of religious institutes. From the beginning, the spiritual care of the 'ladies' was entrusted to the Jesuit Fathers, who ensured it, initially, with the presence of Father Cepari in Castiglione. Until a few decades ago, the statute stipulated that each novice, in addition to her personal dowry, should bring a work of artistic value to the College. Non-noble women could also enter the institution, provided they were willing to serve the various needs as 'oblates'. The College's contribution in times of calamity, pestilence and political difficulties was decisive. In 1859, the 'ladies' also did their best to assist the wounded in the battle of Solferino and San Martino. In 1952, the institute became a religious congregation, approved by the Holy See. Today, the 'sisters' run a primary school and a kindergarten, and host a boarding school for schoolgirls.