Abbey

Sant'Antimo is an ancient abbey that has been inhabited by Benedictine monks for centuries. The present church was built in the early 12th century but the abbey's origins actually stretch back much further in time. It is said to have been founded in the 9th century at the time of the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne, who is credited with founding the chapel – known as the Carolingian Chapel – now used as the sacristy or vestry. In any event, the abbey certainly existed by 814 when Charlemagne's successor, the Emperor Louis the Pious, issued a diploma endowing it with both property and privileges. We know that work began on the present church in the 12th century thanks to the Charta Lapidaria, an inscription on the steps of the high altar commemorating a donation made to the abbey by the Ardengheschi family in 1118. That year marked the start of the abbey's heyday and it was soon to become one of the wealthiest and most important religious institutions in the region, holding sway over numerous parishes, castles and manors.

 

Listen carefully, my child, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart; receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father's advice.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

(Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 1)

 

During what is known as the "communal era" marking the birth of the Italian city state, however, it was to lose a number of its possessions including the castle of Montalcino, whose strategic emplacement inevitably made it a target of Siena's expansionist ambitions in southern Tuscany. By the end of the 13th century such severe inroads had been made into the abbey's property that it was only a shadow of its former self. To remedy the situation, Pope Nicholas IV gave the abbey to the Hermits of St. William, a reformed branch of the Benedictine Order, but despite the pope's intervention Sant'Antimo had irremediably lost its ancient grandeur, and so in 1461 Pope Pius II suppressed the abbey and incorporated it into the newly-created Diocese of Montalcino and Pienza. By this time the abbey was beginning to look extremely dilapidated. Several of the buildings around the cloister had collapsed and their stones were used to build the neighbouring village of Castelnuovo dell'Abate. It wasn't until 1870 that a lengthy restoration campaign got under way and the architect Giuseppe Partini restored the church to the condition in which we can admire it today.