Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Abbey of Sant’ Antimo (Part 1)

One of the jewels of Italian Romanesque architecture is the church of St Antimo, located about 29 miles to the south of Siena, near the town of Montalcino. Traditionally said to have been founded by Charlemagne, the abbey is in fact older, dating back to the early 8th century. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious made it a territorial abbey of the Holy Roman Empire, and the abbot a count palatine, governing a very large tract of Tuscany. At the beginning of the 12th century, under the influence of the Cluniac reform, the community completely rebuilt and enlarged its church. Over the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, it gradually lost its power and prestige, until it was finally suppressed by Pope Pius II in 1462, and all its property turned over to the newly-created diocese of Pienza and Montalcino. The first bishop of Pienza deconsecrated the church, and had part of its gallery closed up and converted into apartments which he and his successors used as a hunting lodge; this spared the building from any attempts to update it stylistically. From 1992 to 2015, the church was home to a community of Canons Regular, who sang the Mass in Latin and chant every day (OF), and sang the full Divine Office according to a modified form of the pre-Divino Afflatu Premonstratensian Breviary. In 2015, however, they were officially aggregated to the Premonstratensian Order, and transferred to the abbey of Frigolet near Avignon. Nicola de’ Grandi took a very large number of beautiful pictures of the church during a visit this summer, so we will present the exterior today, and cover the interior in a second post.

The false column attached to the façade to the left of the door is the only part of a projected porch which was never realized.
In the long period of its disuse, the church was mostly left alone, but the attached buildings were heavily despoiled. On this side of the church, the right, there was a large cloister, of which very little remains; the buildings seen here to the right in rougher stone work are remains of the Carolingian abbey, though heavily rebuilt, and were used as the residence of the aforementioned Canons Regular.
The door which originally led from the cloister into the church. 
A fragment of a Roman sculpture, probably part of a sarcophagus, added to the wall for decoration.
The left side of the church, which contains several other fragments of Roman sculpture.
The exterior of the church has a number of sculptures of animals (zoomorphs), which signify the dangers of the world; the sculptures of the interior are predominantly vegetable motifs (phytomorphs), conveying the sense of the Church as a garden and place of refuge. 
During the permanence of the Canons Regular, the bells of the abbey were rung for every Mass and canonical hour.
A very unlucky rabbit...
The rather rough-looking translucent stone of which this column is made can be found in abundance in several parts of Tuscany, and many of the blocks in the church’s walls are also made of it. Several years ago, I visited Sant’ Antimo, and the guide who showed me the church put a flash-light on one such block and turned it on; the whole block was immediately filled with light, a very impressive effect indeed.
The bare remains of one side of the cloister.
The transition from the dangers of the world, symbolized by the exterior zoopmorphs, to the refuge of the Church, symbolized by the interior phytomorphs, is marked by the upper lintel of the central door, which is decorated with a vegetable motif, but has two lions looking down as one enters. 

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