Vallombrosian Escape

Badia a Passignano
Badia a Passignano apse

When I start to feel hemmed in by the city, I have a place that soothes all of my anxieties like a magical cure. I jump on my bike and, after about thirty kilometres, a bit uphill, I arrive at the abbey of Passignano, the perfect place for getting away from the pressures of modern life. Nestled in the gentle hills, when you first glimpse it among the dry-stone walls, olive groves, vineyards and agave fields it looks like a mirage.

Badia a Passignano

The monk Giovanni Gualberto, founder of the Vallombrosians, was laid to rest there in 1073. I have always liked him. He fought for recognition of the value of forgiveness – rare in the Middle Ages – but, most importantly, against the business of selling the sacred in exchange for money, a struggle that has become even more important in our own time.

Domenico and David Ghirlandaio, Cenacolo della Badia di Passignano, 1476

Today, at least on Sundays and holidays, the church, cloister, splendid 15th-century kitchen and famous Last Supper frescoed by Domenico and David Ghirlandaio in 1476 are open to visitors, who are guided by young monks who came to Tuscany from far and wide. The abbey preserves extraordinary works of art, including magnificent late 16th-century frescoes by Alessandro Allori and Domenico Passignano, both painters with the gift of alternating images of profound spirituality with others deeply rooted in the secular world. A marble sculpture by Caccini of St Giovanni Gualberto in an Etruscan pose dominates the space, illuminated by the perfection of its natural surroundings.

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FlorenceReligious architectureTuscany