After Suzy had parked up and we had seen Cortona we headed off for the farm where we intended to stop for the night. It was still a coolish day and the rain threatened on and off all morning. We set the sat nav for our next port of call Buon Convento. A little visited place which I had dismissed last year as being nothing more than a typical industrial Italian town grey and miserable at first sight.
We headed up into the mountains and down narrow roads. The views around each corner were better than the one before. Tuscany is such a beautiful place it is easy to see why we British love it. Green in Spring and summer, tree lined roads, cypresses and in Autumn yellow with the ripening corn. It is hard not to wax lyrical when you see such beauty. Even in the rain it has an English charm about it in a strange way. But the rain does spoil the photographs.
We climbed higher and eventually noticed a car park on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. Cars and buses parked and people walking to somewhere. Then another pull in
and more cars. As we rounded the corner we saw the reason why. We had stumbled upon Monte Oliveto Maggiore one the largest Benedictine monasteries in the heart of Tuscany. In 2004 500 monks lived here and are visited by thousands who wish to hear the Gregorian Chant they practice.
The abbey is large and sprawling and set in magnificent woodland. The peaks of the brick building appear just over the tops of the trees. It was built originally by Tolomei on of the outstanding Tuscan families in the year 1313 and this abbey was completed by 1526 although unfortunately the buildings had been revovated heavily in the 19th century.
It is a long walk downhill to the monastery first of all you pass through a drawbridged gatehouse with statues of the virgin and saints on either side. Chapels line the path and there is an old cistern from 1533 which was rather mucky when we visited. The church itself was dark and gloomy and very Baroque. We missed that and moved on to see the frescoes which the monastery is also famous for. The line the light and airy cloisters. They did look clumsily drawn in parts
but it seems that they are very famous and particularly old. They show the Life of St Benedict. They were rather spoiled by the request for silence and peace which was largely being ignored by a tour guide who was shouting loudly to her party in English about each and every fresco. She could have done it a little more quietly and with reverence for the sacred space.
There is also a large library and pharmacy but as it was heading for 12.30 and the place due to close we had to miss them. Had we been able to stay awhile at evensong the monks sang the Gregorian chants which are so haunting and beautiful however as it was just lunchtime we couldnt hang about and had to leave listening to them for another day.
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