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Founded by Charlemagne, Sant'Antimo Abbey is a must see for Tuscany tourists

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 26th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The gorgeous Sant'Antimo Abbey is a must-see for anyone visiting Tuscany in Italy. Located not far from Siena, the abbey church is an elegant Romanesque edifice of the early 12th century. Gregorian chants, that have resonated within the stone structure for centuries can be heard from inside daily.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A villa stood on this in the valley of the River Starcia in Roman times. Pieces recycled from the villa were reused in the church and are still visible in the tower. An inscription at the site indicates there was a sacred spring here as well.

The abbey was reportedly founded by Charlemagne in 781 after he fell ill nearby and prayed for deliverance. While there is no physical evidence for this legend, Charlemagne did stop by that year in full health. Charlemagne set his seal on the foundation which had already been under construction since 770.

The construction of the abbey was ordered by the Lombards, who ruled the region at that time. Built over an ancient martyrium to St. Antimo, the monastery would serve as a rest stop for pilgrims, merchants, soldiers and government officials traveling the busy Via Francigena that connected Rome to France.

On December 29, 814, the son of Charlemagne Loius the Pious issued a charter providing Sant'Antimo abbey with gifts and privileges.

The church was rebuilt in the early 12th century in a Romanesque style inspired by Lombard and French forms. However, the Abbey of Sant'Antimo was suppressed by Pope Pius II in 1462 and the church was given to the bishop of Montalcino.

The Abbey of Sant'Antimo is surely one of the most beautiful in Italy. Surviving from the original 8th-century monastery church is the Carolingian chapel, with its small apse next to the main 12th-century apses. The chapel is currently used as a sacristy and is not open to the public. Not normally accessible is the Carolingian crypt beneath the present church, which has an apse at each end. A third survivor of the 8th century can be seen in the pretty ruined cloister: three round-headed bays of the chapter house.

The south portal, framed with reliefs of foliage, geometrical designs and mythological animals, dates from the 10th century. The church is entered through the west portal, with decorations and lion statues of the 12th century.

The layout inside is that of a typical pilgrimage church, with nave, side aisles, raised presbytery, ambulatory and small crypt. Sculptures adorn many of the capitals. In the ambulatory are some frescoes, attributed to Spinello Aretino of the 15th century) or an artist associated with Taddeo di Bartolo, depict a saintly pope believed to be Gregory the Great and a martyr saint - thought to be  Sebastian.

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