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Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey
Monte Oliveto Maggiore Abbey (Abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore) is a stunning abbey perched on the top of a cliff in the Crete Senese area. The Abbey was built in the 15th century. Monks live on the premises and the church is used for religious purposes. The Great Cloister, beside the church, has a famous fresco series about the life of St. Benedict by the painter Sodoma.
The abbey closes midday, so be sure you get there well before noon or in the later afternoon. There is a gift shop, run by the church, just beside the main building.
The trip from Siena to the Abbey at Monte Oliveto is worth it just for the drive; seeing the abbey and the frescoes is an added benefit. As you go south from Siena, you drive through the Crete Senese area of Tuscany.
From Siena, take road 438 to Asciano. Continue on road 451 to Monte Oliveto. You can also get to Monte Oliveto from the SS2 at Buonconvento.
Parking is in various fields near the Abbey or along the road. Be careful when parking; one year we drove down a steep dirt road to a parking area and somehow managed to go off the road and had to push the car out. If I remember correctly, it was a combination of a very sharp turn and a steep, dirt road with a sharp drop off on the side.
Walking from the parking area, you first come to the famous gate with a Della Robbian Madonna and Child ceramic, then you will see the restaurant and caffe (I have had good reviews of this restaurant, but we have not eaten here). From there you walk downhill through the woods to the Abbey. A very interesting store run by the monks is to your left before the Abbey.
The opening times and the schedule for chanting are posted in Italian beside the main door. We have translated these signs below giving the Italian version in parentheses. The standard European 24 hour clock times are used.
Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore (Abbazia di Monte Oliveto)
Visiting Hours (Orario Visite)
Holy Masses (Sante Messe)
Monastic Liturgy of the Hours (Liturgia Monastica delle Ore)
If you want to hear the Gregorian chanting, go on Sunday at 11:00am (visit the frescoes first, because they close at noon) or weekdays at 6:15pm (after the visiting hours for the frescoes are over).
The Life of Saint Benedict Fresco Series
The Great Cloister is beside the church and has the St. Benedict fresco series painted by Giovanni Antonio Bazzi (called "Sodoma") in the late 1400s. These frescoes tell the story of the life of Saint Benedict. The frescoes are large and very beautiful and well detailed. They are on the four walls of the cloister, which has an inner courtyard that brings natural light onto the frescoes. You walk in a long hallway around the four sides of the cloister to view the frescoes.
The Great Cloister at Monte Oliveto, Janet Zinn
Why is the painter called Sodoma?
According to Giorgio Vasari, who in the 1500s wrote the book "The Lives of the Artists", Giovanni Antonio Bazzi was called Sodoma "because he always surrounded himself with boys and beardless youths whom he loved beyond measure." He also had several wives, many children and many pets. His favorite pets frequently appear in his frescoes. In one of the St. Benedict frescoes he has painted himself and his pet badgers (see photo below).
Each fresco is titled in Italian (titles are painted below each fresco). Below is the English translation for the title of each fresco. These translations taken from a book I bought at Monte Oliveto; "Monte Oliveto Maggiore: The abbey born in a dream". It is for sale in the store at Monte Oliveto. You can also buy herbal tinctures and home made liqueurs as wells as religious articles at the store.
How Benedict mends the cribble that was broken.
The ones marked with an * are the ones we have photos of on the website.
Slow Travel Photos: Slow Travel photo gallery of frescoes
www.comune.siena.it: Comune di Siena (in Italian)
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