Abbey of Sant’Antimo
The Abbey of Sant’Antimo, a Benedictine monastery is situated in a picture-perfect setting just about 10 km south of Montalcino, just below the medieval hamlet of Castelnuovo dell’Abate.
It’s one of the most important examples of monastic architecture of the 13th century and by far the most important Romanesque building in southern Tuscany. The church was built around year 1100 and took the place of an older 9th century abbey. Only a few parts of the first abbey are left. It belonged to the Benedectines, and to the Guglielmite friars thereafter.
Legend has it that the abbey was founded by Charles the Great in 781. The king and his army stopped here on the way back from Rome as the soldiers were afflicted by an unknown pestilence. An angel appeared to Charlemagne, telling him to make his men drink an infusion with a local herb. The cure worked and the army was saved so the king decided to build the church in gratitude. Some say that it is possible to remnants of this period on the right side of the church where you will find the ‘Carolingian chapel’, which is perhaps the first abbey church.
The Abbey is a prestigious example of the meeting between French and Lombard Romanesque architecture.
It was then enlarged in the 12th century. Inside the church a quiet silence circulates among walls and almost transparent alabaster columns. The darkness is barely lit by shafts of light that enter the narrow windows. The extraordinary capitals sculpted in bas relief unfold like a fan with a world of symbols whose meanings seem nearly lost at the beginning of time. Almost at the centre of the church there is a small crypt.
The layout inside is that of a typical pilgrimage church, with nave, side aisles, raised presbytery, ambulatory and small crypt. Sculptures adorn many of the capitals. In the ambulatory are some frescoes, attributed to Spinello Aretino of the 15th century.
When you enter the church its solemn and severe atmosphere will take you back to the Middle Ages and the austere monastic world.
It is a mystic place surrounded by a whispering silence.
If you happen to pass through the Valdorcia region and its amazing villages such as Montalcino, you’ll remain so deeply impressed by the magical beauty of this place that you soon realize you must return to Tuscany again!