The Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore is a splendid monastic complex, not to mention a treasure chest of artworks, located in Asciano, in the heart of the Sienese Crete.
The history of the Abbey begins in 1313, when the Sienese aristocrat Giovanni de’ Tolomei, together with Patrizio Patrizi and Ambrogio Piccolomini, decided to take up a life of monasticism in an isolated property belonging to the Tolomei family, 36 km south of Siena, known as Accona. Years of semi-ascetic life unfolded here until 1319, when they were recognized as a congregation by the bishop of Arezzo, Guido Tarlati Pietramala, partially so as to not be confused with the various heretical sects of fraticelli monks that were abandoning the peninsula.
The new congregation decided to adhere to the Order of Saint Benedict, following the rule commonly known as “ora et labora” (“Pray and Work”). Still today, a visit to the Abbey is marked by the schedule of this typical monastic lifestyle, with rigid opening and closing hours, announced by the unmistakable sound of a bell.
The structure of Monte Oliveto Maggiore follows the classic set-up of Benedictine abbeys: a church, a main cloister and additional smaller ones, a chapter house and a refectory. In the case of the Abbey of Mote Oliveto Maggiore, there is also a large library.
The visit begins in the church, built in the early 1400s. Like many religious buildings in the Sienese territory from the same time period, this one is also akin to a painting gallery, or rather, a sacred art museum, where visitors can admire splendid paintings, statues and majestic inlaid works, like the choir lectern (with a cat) by Brother Raffaele da Brascia (1520). The church leads to the Large Cloister, completely frescoed by Luca Signorelli and Antonio Bazzi, also known as Il Sodoma. From here, the visit continues to the refectory and, climbing the stairs, the chapter house and the large library.
It is recommended that visitors find time to attend the sung mass, celebrated by the Olivetan monks who perform Gregorian chants. For wine lovers, we remind you that the Abbey is home to a wine cellar, where the monks sell wine of their own making.