Abbey of Thelema (Cefalù)

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Thelema Abbey is the name Aleister Crowley gave to the house where he lived in Cefalù for three years. The English magician and occultist completely covered the walls with erotic frescoes, which were covered over by the local population after his expulsion from Italy. Today the building is in a complete state of neglect, despite attempts to sell it and turn it into a museum.

The History of the Villa Santa Barbara or Thelema Abbey in Cefalu

In March 1920, Aleister Crowley rented Villa Santa Barbara, a small country house outside the center of Cefalu. He renamed the one-story building, consisting of five different rooms, Thelema Abbey. His goal was to create a true temple where he could celebrate his rituals of ceremonial magic, worship of the sun and sex, and perform under the influence of various drugs. Crawley completely covered the walls of the mansion with his own frescoes. These included portraits of himself as well as various orgiastic depictions. Crawley lived in this house until 1923, when he was expelled from Italy by Benito Mussolini. The magician’s frescoes were completely covered over and the building was abandoned. In 1955, filmmaker Kenneth Anger visited the abbey to make a documentary that was never released and is now considered lost. On that occasion, he rediscovered the murals by removing the layers of lime from the walls himself.

The Abbey of Thelema in Cefalù: the origin of the name

The name Thelema Abbey, chosen by Aleister Crowley to rename the Villa Santa Barbara in Cefalù, is a reference to a very famous literary work. It is La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel (Gargantua and Pantagruel), a series of five novels published in the 16th century by the French writer François Rabelais. In the last book, the protagonist Gargantua, at the end of his adventures, wants to thank the monk who helped him by giving him an abbey. But the monk refuses, preferring instead to found a new one according to his own rules. Thus was born Thélème Abbey, whose name comes from the Greek word “will” and whose main rule is “Do what you will.

The Thelema Abbey and Crawley’s paintings

The frescoes that Aleister Crowley painted all over the walls of Thelema Abbey were mainly erotic murals. Stylistically, the magician was inspired by Paul Gauguin and created paintings that were somewhere between figurative expressionism and surrealism. Most of these works have been lost or destroyed. The only room that retains some of its original appearance is the bedroom, which Crowley called the Chambre des Cauchemars (Chamber of Nightmares). Some of his inscriptions can still be seen here, such as “Stab you demoniac smile to my brain/Soak me in cognac, cunt and cocaine”.

How to get to Villa Santa Barbara in Cefalù

Villa Santa Barbara, Aleister Crowley’s Thelema Abbey, is located in Cefalù in the Contrada Santa Barbara. It can be reached on foot from the center of the village in about 20 minutes. However, the best way to reach it is by car or motorbike. The ruins of the house are located near the Cefalù Municipal Stadium, and there is a small parking lot in the immediate vicinity. The Abbey of Thelema is a private property and therefore it is forbidden to visit it. The building is also in a state of complete neglect and is therefore subject to possible collapse.

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