One of Italy’s hottest bridal salons? A monastery in Cascia

Photo: Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

Once again, tough economic times have people turning to the Church for help.

From The New York Times: 

The seamstress gently fastened the ivory-colored silk-covered buttons of the lace corset. She took out the embroidered veil and laid it over the bride-to-be’s long black hair. Girlfriends and family members watched in silence, their eyes glistening.

“If you have a dream and we can make it come true, we’ll do our best,” said Sister Maria Laura, a cloistered Augustinian nun and onetime seamstress.

In a country synonymous with designer fashions, Sister Maria Laura runs one of Italy’s most unlikely ateliers at the St. Rita monastery, a medieval complex perched in the central Umbrian hills.

For years, the monastery has operated a secondhand wedding dress depot, once frequented mostly by young women from disadvantaged families. But as Italy continues to suffer from the fallout of a prolonged recession, what was begun as an act of charity for a few young women in need has become a trendy choice for growing numbers of brides who want to keep their wedding costs down.

In the process, the atelier has become a full-time job for Sister Maria Laura, who oversees an expanding collection of donated wedding gowns — now numbering in the hundreds — in various sizes, train lengths and styles (though white and its pale variations still dominate the color scheme).

The monastery — once home to St. Rita, an abused bride and a widow before becoming a nun about 600 years ago — has long been a pilgrimage site for Italian women, who come to pray to the saint to protect their marriages. The collection, as it were, began when some women brought their wedding dresses as an offering of thanks.

Brides-to-be arrive every week at the monastery, often accompanied by their mothers and sisters, as if they were visiting a wedding showroom.

“If I can’t find it here, I simply can’t afford to buy one,” Chiara Cariolato, 21, who comes from a family of six, said anxiously on a rainy Sunday morning, as she walked through the monastery’s garden of roses, the flower traditionally associated with St. Rita.

Many brides simply make donations as a token of their gratitude. Some have left up to $1,200, Sister Maria Laura said, others nothing at all.

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