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The Abbey of San Salvatore

A modern aspect hides a very ancient history

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Abbadia San Salvatore
Via del Monastero, 42

Nearest to the summit, it is one of the most renowned tourist centres. “Nature formed there a valley of approximately eight stages, bordered by harsh cliffs. The ancients built a village there, well-defended by a trench full of running water”. This, in Pio II’s Commentaries, is one of the oldest descriptions of the site.

If you arrive from the Cassia, the first impact with Abbadia is that of a modern town, with wide, tree-lined lanes. This changes when you reach the actual abbey, one of the most important places in the complex history of Medieval Tuscany.

South of this is the Castle, crossed by three roads that run more or less parallel. Here is the church of Santa Corce (1221, rebuilt in the 19th century) and of St. Angelo (1313, today a private home). Also to be seen is the palazzo del Podestà (or of Justice), the palazzo del Popolo and other medieval buildings.
Outside the first town walls the village also has an ancient aspect, with the church of St. Leonard from the XIII century. Outside the oldest part of Abbadia is the 17th century church of the Madonna dei Remedi, with a cycle of frescoes by Nasini, and the 16th century on of the Madonna del Castagno, on the road towards Amiata.

A dirt track leads to the rustic little church dell’Ermeta, suurounded by woodland. Further down is Dante’s Cliff (so-called because the profile recalls that of the poet) and the Bowman’s Grotto.
At the gate of the town is the mine, worked from 1897 until the 1970s. Now it is a Mining Museum, dedicated to geology, the history of mine-working, tunnel working and the metallurgic installation and to the daily life of the miners.

The power of the Abbey
In its first centuries of life the Abbey of S. Salvatore only controlled the eastern slopes of the mountian including the Via Francigena (or Romea) used by the many pilgrims that came from England and France towards Rome. It was founded by the Longobard nobleman Erfo (according to tradition it was King Rachis, as told in a fresco).

The nave is still the one that was consecrated by abbot Winizo in 1035. There is a large crucifix from the XII century and a fresco (the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew) painted in 1694 by Francesco Nasini.
The crypt is extraordinary and moving, in Greek cross and built before the church. Its 36 columns are amazing for their elegance, decoration and the variety of the capitals.

The remains of the cloister are modest, from which we climb to the small but interesting Abbey museum that contains precious rarities such as the reliquary-bust of St. Mark, patron saint of Abbadia San Salvatore, created in gilded bronze in 1381. Also of interest is the anastatic copy of the Amiata Bible (the original is kept in Florence), written in the English monastery of Jarrow at the end of the VI and the beginning of the VII centuries.
After the domination of the Carlovingian kings and the Saxon emperors, and under the abbot Winizo who managed it in the first decades of the XI century, the Abbey became the most important in Tuscany, and was affirmed also as a prestigious spiritual centre.

This period saw the start of the contests between the Amiata religious and the Aldobrandeschi family, and finally, in 1299, after the abbey had passed from the Benedictine to the Cistercians in 1228, it lost its temporal power. In 1782 it was suppressed by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, only returned to the monks in 1939 and today is again occupied by the Cistercians.

The frescoes

The 17th century remodelling of the San Salvatore abbey church on Monte Amiatarequired decoration as well as architectural modifications. From 1650 to 1694, the Nasini family (specifically Francesco, but also his brother Antonio Annibale) frescoed a pictorial cycle for the church. 

Francesco was a most pleasing and sharp local narrator, beginning with the educational frescos in the church of the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Pietro in Piancastagnaio where there is a repertory of varied doctrinal elements. The pictorial cycle in the San Salvatore church documents the artist’s maturation as he moves from a more refrained 16th c. Sienese style to a more mannerist style preferred in the Cortona area. 

The Nasini’s work are isolated and fragmented testimonials of the 17th century, a period that saw the most creative energy in the history of the monastery complex. 

Certain portions of the church such as the transversal arches and the transept chapel are eclectic and vivacious representations of the lives of saints and Christian allegories. 

Francesco Nasini and Antonio Annibale Nasini Arconi: Arches with the Evangelists, Apostles and saints of the Cistercian order.

The decoration of the transversal arches reveal a complex design which includes doctrinal and educational aspects that bring the figure of Saint Benedict, founder of the Trappist order, together with the western church doctors. The cycle was commissioned by the Abbot Orazio Adami, who ran the abbey from 1648 to 1659. 

Francesco Nasini: Saints Marco Papa and Antonio Abate; Saints Abdon and Sennen; Apparition of the Savior to King Ratchis. The hunt of Ratchis with Virtue; the Risen Christ; Christ in Pietà; the Chapel of the Crucifix. 

The decoration of the Chapel of the Crucifix, the first of the right transept, represents the synthesis between the traditional narrative of the abbey’s foundation and the celebration of the most celebrated local saints. The figure of the risen Christ faces the ‘false’ lantern in the arch. 

As the scenes open up from right to left, Nasini’s style visibly changes as evidenced in the greater emphasis on the major figures. Opposite of the windows, Saints Abdon and Sennen are depicted, accompanied by the panther and the lion—the animals which killed the saints as they were martyred. On the right wall the Hunt of Ratchis is depicted, flanked by Chastity and Obedience animated by armed figures on horses (King Ratchis is on the far right, in the saddle of a curiously tense steed). 

In the section of the upper arch, the composition features representations of Faith, Charity and Hope. In the friezes are scenes from Jesus Praying in the Garden and the Flagellation of Christ. 

In the wainscot there are two allegorical figures from Mount Amiata (crowned by chestnut fronds and with the undeniably shape of the mountain in his hand) and the Paglia River (leaning on the pitcher from which the water springs). 

Under the base wall, Francesco Nasini designed two funerary monuments: one for Abbot Ottavio Rocca (d. 1636) and another for Paolo Marzocchi. 

The altarpiece strongly communicates with the crucifix in the chapel. On it is the depiction of the Pietà, brought to life with an unusual lighting technique used in the candle in the middle of the composition. The votive chapel painted by Nasini confirms his iconography tied to the story of the Benedictine order and its principles which served as motives for his religious devotion.

Abbadia San Salvatore
From the age-old abbey to the mining museum, discover one of the loveliest towns in the Monte Amiata area
The lovely Abbadia San Salvatore is in the town closest to the top of Monte Amiata as the crow flies, as well as one of the best-known tourist destinations in the area. The famous Abbazia di San Salvatore was believed to have been built in 762 by the Longobard duke Ratchis and the age-old town developed around the famous abbey, whose importance has never been lost down the centuries. ...