Montalcino, Tuscany The Sant'Antimo monastery

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The monastery was founded in 781. In that year Charlemagne’s troops were returning from Rome and suffering from a plague. The king (not Emperor until 800) swore that he would build a monastery if God would free them from the curse.

This happened and Carl had to keep his promise. For a long time the monastery was the region’s power centre and the Benedictine abbots ruled over areas including Montalcino. At the beginning of the 12th century the monastery’s power reached its peak and it was decided to extend the buildings. In 1118 the new church was finished in pure Romanesque-French style. Some parts of the original church were kept including the external semicircular apse.

In 1202 there was a war between the abbey and the district of Siena. This dispute was typical of the time and ended with the surrender of the monastery and the start of its gradual demise, both materially and spiritually. In 1462 Pius II incorporated the monastery into the new parish of Montalcino and the monastery was inhabited by the local bishop. But this did not last long and soon after the bishop decided to move to Montalcino. This almost ruined the monastery. The monks died off and no new recruits came forward. As seen elsewhere, the derelict buildings were used as a quarry by the locals, so that today only the refectory (now accommodation), part of the chapter house and outlines of the cloister remain. Since 1979 the monastery has housed a religious community again, this time French Cistercian monks who hold mass several times a day with Gregorian chanting.

The church has three aisles, of which the right hand aisle is strangely enough larger than the left hand one. In the church there is a stone sculpture of le maitre de Cabestany (see chapter 2 “Daniel in the lion’s den”),a beautiful crucifix from the 13th century and frescoes from the 15th century all against the backdrop of the church’s beautiful, simple architecture. On the right side of the church there is a small richly decorated portal from the 12th century.

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