Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Abbey of Sant’ Antimo (Part 2)

On Saturday, we published the first set of photos from Nicola’s visit earlier this summer to the abbey of Sant’Antimo in Tuscany, showing the church's exterior, so today we continue with the interior. As I mentioned in the previous post, the exterior of the church is decorated with a number of sculptures of animals (zoomorphs), which represent the dangers of the world, while sculpted capitals of the interior are most decorated with vegetable motifs (phytomorphs), to represent the Church as a garden and a place of refuge. This is particularly notable within the central nave.

The church contains one storied capital, the second from the back on the right side, which represents the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel in the center, surrounded by lions, raises his hands in a gesture very similar to that of the priest at Mass during the Our Father; the angel, immediately to the right, is the deacon, and the prophet Habakkuk, holding his basket of food under a veil, is the subdeacon holding the paten. The anonymous Romanesque sculptor who did this capital in the second half of the 12th century is known as the Master of Cabestany, so called from a small town near Perpignan, France, where he did a particularly beautiful sculpted tympanum over the door of one of the churches. Well over 100 pieces have been attributed to him and his workshop, in a wide range of places throughout southern France and northern Spain. The presence of three of his pieces in Tuscany suggests that he may have traveled as a pilgrim to Rome, and financed the trip by doing sculptures at various stops along the way. In his time, Sant’Antimo was a very rich and important territorial abbey which governed a large tract of Tuscany, fully able to pay him a good price for his work, as well as a popular stop for pilgrims on the via Francigena.
Like many churches of the Romanesque period, the building was designed with pilgrims in mind, creating an itinerary for them to follow which went up the north aisle, through the ambulatory (behind the main sanctuary), to the crypt under the main altar, down the south aisle, and into the nave. Some zoomorphs are therefore also included in the interior, especially on the north side, which represents the dangerous world through which the pilgrim journeys to reach the garden of the church. Here we see bears...
and a centaur with some kind of other monster.
Rams, which in reference to the Biblical episode of the Sacrifice are taken as a symbol of the Eucharistic sacrifice, are placed close to the main altar. (These are also on the north side.)
An inscription cut into the stones of a pillar next to the altar.
The altar seen from behind; of course, when the church was originally built, it would certainly have been covered with a baldachin, and separated from the nave by a rood screen.
Almost nothing remains of the frescos which certainly would have covered most of the walls, apart from this pair of images of the martyr Sebastian and a sainted Pope, possibly Fabian, with whom he traditionally shares his feast day on January 20th. This is in the ambulatory, which also contains a pair of side chapels.
The view down the south aisle as one approaches the entrance to the crypt, which from this point of view is on the right, immediately after the pillar. (The crypt itself is tiny and not very interesting.)
Looking into the main sanctuary after coming out of the crypt.
This view would not of course, be what pilgrims originally saw, since the choir would have been separated from the nave by a rood screen.
A view of the upper gallery; the part of this gallery at the back of the church on the right (above the capital of the Master of Cabestany) was closed up and converted into apartments after the abbey was suppressed in the mid-15th century, and its property given to the diocese of Pienza. The bishops of Pienza used these apartments as a hunting lodge, and since the church was given over to secular use, it was never updated stylistically. 
Back to the ambulatory.
This capital is opposite the one seen above with rams on it; the eagle may be here taken as a symbol of St John the Evangelist.
A holy water font made of two capitals.
These two lions were probably orignally “stylophores”, i.e., set up on the outside of the church to either side of the door as supports for columns, which in turn would have supported a small porch.
A beautiful shot of the abbey seen from the nearby village of Castelnuovo dell’ Abbate.

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