The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is one of the most magnificent examples of monastic architecture in Italy, in the heart of the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany.
A bit of history
The Abbey was built in 1272 by Giovanni, of the noble family Tolomei, in a territory at the time called Accona, according to tradition, indicated in a dream by Jesus and Mary. Giovanni Tolomei, who changed his name to Bernard (in honor of the saint of Clairvaux), led a hermitical life for years and received the monastic habit by the bishop Guido Pietramala, according to the Benedictine rule.
In the Abbey Olivetan monks live according to the Benedictine rule and it is located in a solitary and wild place, in a context of great artistic beauty and spirtual serenity.
The Abbey welcomes the visitor with a beautiful entrance door (photo 1) and a crenellated tower of the 16th century, along a drawbridge.
After the entrance and the modern restaurant on the left, you continue through a beautiful tree-lined avenue surrounded by a beautiful park of cypresses and larches (photo 2).
Crossing the park one reflects on the fact that the Abbey, really large, is far only for a few meters but you can not still see it, because it is well immersed in the beautiful nature of the place.
When you reach the Abbey you can finally see the structure in all its grandeur, with the characteristic bell tower of the abbey church (photo 3). You can be stroken by the austere style, fully consistent with the typical serenity of the Benedictine monastic environments.
For visitors, a guesthouse and a pharmacy are usable where you can buy tonic liquors, honey, jams, in addition to the usual souvenirs.
One of the aspects that distinguishes this Abbey compared to the other numerous (and equally beautiful) abbeys in Italy is the presence, in the Cloister, of a very nice cycle of frescoes (photo 4), by Sodoma and Luca Signorelli, depicting scenes of life of St. Benedict.
Among these, we note the fresco “How Benedict welds the broken wessel” (photo 5), in which emerges, at the center of the representation, a self-portrait of Sodom, and the “How Benedict teaches the Holy Doctrine to the peasants who visit him” (photo 6), also from Sodoma, which depicts the first manifestation of the Benedictine motto.
The Cloister is of great impact, with a lovely loggia and a splendid cistern (photo 7).
One of the elements that arouse more interest when you visit an abbey is to understand how is a monk’s typical day.
And that is the reason why it is really interesting to visit the refectory (photo 8), with long tables, set in a simple but effective, with crockery, dishes and bottles of water.
On the back wall, once occupied by a version of “The Last Supper” of the Ghirlandaio school, is today a Coena Domini by Lino Dinetto, a work of 1948. The ceiling and along the sides are frescoes from the 1600s with scenes from the Old Testament and allegorical figures.
The Ancient Library (photo 9) can only be visited for some years and it is very interesting; now it preserves volumes of the ‘400 and’ 500.
The official webisite of the Abbey is here (in italian, with translator tool)