The story of Monte Oliveto Maggiore Monastery begins in Siena around 1313. A bright 40-year-old from a noble family, known as Giovanni di Tolomei, together with Patrizio Patrizi, Ambrogio Piccolomini and a few other Sienese followers decided to break from "normal" life. As their place of retreat they chose one of the lost properties of the Tolomei family, 36 kilometres south of Siena, by the name of Accona. Here they lived for many years as semi-ascetic until 1319 when, not to be confused with the various other heretical monk sects that scattered the peninsula, they became known as the congregation of the ‘aggressive’ Bishop of Arezzo, Guido Tarlati Pietramala.
The new congregation decided to join the Benedictine Order, abiding by the rule commonly known as the "ora et labora". Still today a visit to the monastery is punctuated by the following of a typical monk’s life, with strict opening and closing hours, announced by the unequivocal ringing of a bell.
The structure of Monte Oliveto Maggiore follows the classic plan of a Benedictine monastery: a large church, a main cloister with other smaller ones, a chapter room and a refectory. In the case of Monte Oliveto Maggiore Monastery, there is also a library. The visit begins with the church, built around ‘400. Like many religious buildings in and around Siena from the same period, this one resembles an art gallery, or rather a museum of sacred art, where one can not only admire splendid paintings but many statues and grand inlay works, like the music stand (with cat) by Fra’ Raffaele da Brascia (1520). The Large Cloister can be accessed through the church, completely filled with frescoes by Luca Signorelli and Antonio Bazzi, known as Il Sodoma. From here one can proceed to the refectory, taking the stairs that lead to the chapter room and then to the large library. Make time for the sung mass, presided over by the Olivetan Monks in Gregorian chant. For wine lovers we suggest a visit to the monastery’s cellar in which the monks sell their homemade wines.
[For more information: www.monteolivetomaggiore.it]