All within easy reach of Montisi, some a day trip, some shorter, these abbeys will give you an insight into three of the most important ecclesiastical monuments in Southern Tuscany. All in different architectural styles, they will inspire you with their beauty, spirituality and individuality.
Abbey Monte Oliveto Maggiore
Start close to home at the Abbey Monte Oliveto Maggiore on the edge of the charming village of Chiusure. The Abbey itself was founded in 1313 and was for centuries the prime land owner in the region. Building started in 1400, was completed in 1526 and the Abbey was fully restored in the 19th century. Imposing, with a tall gothic style bell tower it is built in striking red brick and has a strangely modern appearance.
The secret however is in the grand cloister and the beauty of the frescoes is truly what makes this place special. Depicting the Life of St Benedict, they were painted by Luca Signorelli and Il Sodoma between 1497 and 1505 and are considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance. If you speak a little Latin you will be able to translate the inscriptions but many of them speak for themselves. The detail is simply amazing.
Try and keep a little time and visit the old library and pharmacy, full of ancient books and artefacts. The church itself is Baroque in style with outstanding inlaid choir by Giovanni Da Varona. For the religious, Mass on Sundays is in Gregorian Chant.
Refreshments are available at the restaurant at the entrance to the abbey or in Chiusure
For further information have a look at the website for the Abbey.
Abbey San Galgano
From the Benedictine to the Cistercian, take a longer journey across country to the ruined abbey at San Galgano, near Chiusdino, the first Gothic church in Tuscany. Construction started in 1220 and was completed a few decades later. It was, at first, an immensely successful and powerful abbey. However it went into decline in the late14th century and was closed finally in the 18th century when the campanile collapsed onto the roof. Now, only the walls remain, a ghostly testament to the grandeur of its initial success. The location, in a wooded valley, is beautiful and a great place for a picnic.
The Abbey has a wide programme of musical and cultural events mostly held inside the ruin in July and August which we shall feature.
For those interested in folklore the tomb of St Galgano is in the nearby chapel or Rotonda di Montesiepi, it is said, like King Arthur of England, St Galgano buried his sword in a rock to symbolise his rejection of war and the start of a new monastic life.
Refreshments are available near the chapel.
Read more about this wonderful Abbey here.
Finally, take the road to Montalcino and head out to the perfect Romanesque abbey St’Antimo. The present church was built in the early 12th century but the Abbey’s origins stretch back to the 9th century. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne founded a chapel here, now used as the sacristy or vestry to the main building.
The location is stunning, nestling under the village of Castelnuovo dell’Abate. The Abbey is surrounded by fields, olive groves and vineyards.
The interior is simple, spiritual and filled with light streaming in through narrow windows. Recordings of the monks who lived here singing the religious offices in Gregorian Chant echo around the walls. You can admire too some ancient carvings on the capitals or the columns and a painted crucifix adorns the main altar. Truly a peaceful retreat.
Refreshments are available in the village.
Read more about this enchanting Abbey here.