It’s already enchanting the Tuscan landscape between the mountains and the hills crossed by ancient roads on which one can run into unexpected encounters with art and history. But more gems of such journeys are places of worship: monasteries, churches, abbeys and sanctuaries. Many of these places have retained that role of “peace reserves” that in past centuries has attracted in Tuscany theologians and hermits, starting with two of the most famous, St. Francis and St. Romuald.
Holy paths between churches, monasteries and abbeys
It still amazes the profound silence that reigns around the ancient country churches, often built before first millennium, outside urban centers and animated only by figures carved in stone: grape vines, snakes, sirens with a double tail and even fouls, which result from rural world. Moreover the name “pieve” comes from the Latin word plebs, plebeian, people. In fact, most of the churches located in the countryside and some, especially in the more “wilderness” of the region as the Maremma or Casentino, is surrounded and almost hidden in the dense woods.
Among the jewels of the Val d’Orcia stands the Abbey of Sant’Antimo, which is said to have been founded by Charlemagne in 781. At one time the monastery was surrounded by walls like a castle, today remains only the church built in travertine that gives an extraordinary shine. The beauty of this abbey from the golden hues that emerges between the tree-covered hills of the Starcia Valley enchants everyone who visits. During Sunday Mass, the Augustinian monks sing Gregorian chants that create an atmosphere within the ancient walls a bit ‘supernatural.
Worth a detour the village of Bagno Vignoni. Here a stop does not include churches or monasteries but an old swimming pool, located right in the center of the country, which collects the iodiocalcaree substances rich in thermal water, magnesium and iron sources of renowned since Roman times and then visited by St. Catherine and Lorenzo de ‘Medici.
It stands on a hill between gullies and cypresses the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore, founded in 1313 as a hospice for hermits. Outside the monastery a tower built in 1393 and decorated with a Madonna and Child by Della Robbia. the great abbey heart is the cloister with its famous frescoes of St. Benedict Stories painted by Luca Signorelli and Sodoma.
The monastery has a rich library and the pharmacy, where the labor of the monks translates into honey, liqueurs, ointments and various remedies.
A dense forest hides almost completely from view the Abbey of San Galgano, the most representative example of Cistercian Gothic style in Italy. The monastic complex was built in the place where in the twelfth century Galgano retired to a hermit’s life. The Holy chose the hill of Monte Siepi, where he was then made the eponymous chapel where the attraction is represented by the sword in the stone, a symbol of his rejection of war and guarding of which today there is a large colony of cats.
The Abbey, once flourishing, began to decline in the sixteenth century until it was decided to remove and sell the lead in the church roof.
Today its charm is determined by its appearance almost ghostly: the high windows and the rose window as wide-eyed on the high Gothic naves silhouetted against the open sky. And the first time we were in San Galgano we have been abducted by this decadent beauty, while our Arturo has enjoyed his entertaining activities with a partner of the same race play in the green fields around the abbey: we want to remember so.
Different but deep suggestions those that live by visiting the Sanctuary of La Verna, perched on top of a mountain in the woods of beech, oak and chestnut of the Mugello and Casentino: the place where St. Francis received the stigmata.