May 13 , 2014By Tony Cassano
It is said that Italy is home to over 500 monasteries with 45 of the Benedictine Order alone. Many can be seen on Italian hill tops and we suggest that you add a monastery visit to your Italian holiday plans. Most are open to the public during certain hours and some even have lodging facilities that can be booked in advance.
Foremost among many is the Archabbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in eastern Tuscany.
Founded in 1313 as the home to the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Mary of Monte Oliveto, the Abbey seems to appear suddenly out of the forest as you wind your way up the mountain. Let someone else do the driving as you’ll be enthralled with commanding views of the valley below. Crossing the 14th century drawbridge you quickly sense that you have left contemporary life behind.
We recommend that you give yourself at least two hours to tour the facilities and take time for Holy Mass. Holy Mass with moving vespers and Gregorian chant is celebrated daily at 6:15 PM and 11:00 AM on Sundays. The Abbey is open to the public from 9:15 AM-Noon and 3:15-5:00 PM.
Along with the Church, don’t miss its Cloister and Library, all open to the public during certain hours. The monks are winemakers so it’s not surprising that there is a wine cellar accessed behind the main building.
The church was renovated in Baroque style in 1772 and its 14th century wooden inlaid choir is renown.
The Great Cloister, the heart of the abbey, was constructed between 1426 and 1443 and is world famous for its frescoes of the Life of St. Benedict painted by Signorelli and il Sodoma and considered among the most important Renaissance artworks in Italy.
The stairs behind the Great Closter rise to the Library which houses some 40,000 volumes, including priceless rare hand crafted and early 13th century printed works.