AUGUSTUS J.C. HARE, FLORENCE
CHAPTER VI: EXCURSIONS ROUND FLORENCE
COMPARE (TOGGLE) WITH SEPIA III:
EXCURSIONS ROUND FLORENCE
I. FROM THE PORTA S. GALLO
The old city of Fiesole, about three miles distant, is one of the most conspicuous features in all views from Florence, cresting a hollow in the hill-tops to the north-east of the city.
Carriage for afternoon, 8 frs. An electric train leads to Fiesole, starting outside the Porta S. Gallo. Omnibus, three times a day, 50 c. Omnibus to the Porta S. Gallo (whence it is a walk of about 2 1/2 miles), 10 c. [No. 7 bus runs frequently from Santa Maria Novella Station to Fiesole's Cathedral Piazza. Buy four tickets in one at a newspaper kiosk, 'biglietto per quattro corsi', punching each part in turn in the machine on the bus for an hour's use.]The road to Fiesole is the second of those which turn to the right outside the Porta S. Gallo. The nearest way is that which follows the right bank of the Mugello as far as the Villa Palmieri (Dowager-Countess of Crawford and Balcarres), which belonged to Matteo Palmieri, author of the poem 'La Città dell Vita', which inspired the great picture of the Assumption by Botticelli [Botticini], intended for the Palmieri
The house was formerly called 'La Fonte di Treviso', from an old three-faced head of Janus which was placed over it, and only changed its name when it was bought by the learned Matteo Palmieri in 1450. It was inhabited by Queen Victoria of England in 1888.
From the villa, the road ascends between walls to S. Domenico di Fiesole, half-way up the hillside. The convent of this name (right) was united to S. Marco, and was the oldest Dominican institution at Florence, having been founded by the Beato Giovanni di Domenico Bacchini, with the object of restoring the strict observance of cloister life, at a time when it had grown very lax. It was here that Fra Giovanni (called Angelico) and his brother Fra Benedetto lived as monks, and from hence that he took his name. The only memorial of him is a picture from his hand [restored by Lorenzo di Credi, now in a side chapel] in the choir of the church.
The Virgin, enthroned between SS. John the Baptist and John the Evangelist (right), SS. Mary Magdalen and Mark (left), holds the infant Saviour standing on her knee. The four guardian angels stand in pairs behind, grasping their tribute of flowers. The pinnacles are adorned with a crucified Saviour, and the figures of the grieving Virgin and S. John, while in medallions, at the base of the central one, the angel and Virgin annunciate are depicted. In the pediment of this altar-piece, which comprises all the freshness of feeling and religious sentiment peculiar to the master, the scenes from S. Dominic's life are finely given, and preserve their original beauty. - Crowe and Cavalcaselle.[Napoleon's soldiers cruelly sacked San Domenico of which Fra Angelico had been Prior. But a second Fra Angelico has now been discovered, according to Vasari's information, which had been safely concealed beneath whitewash in a chapel off the cloister.
The choir also contains a
of Christ by Lorenzo di Credi. The famous Coronation of the
in the Louvre 
by Fra Angelico came from this church's looting.
Here, as a brother of his Order poetically relates, Fra Angelico gathered in abundance the flowers of art which he seemed to have plucked from Paradise, reserving for the pleasant hill of Fiesole the gayest and best-scented that ever issued from his hands. Thre, in a period of corruption, of pagan doctrine, of infamous policy, of schisms and heresies, he (for eighteen years) shut himself up within a world of his own, which he peopled with heroes and saints, with whom her conversed, prayed, and wept by turns. - Marchese.Below the road, on the left, marked by its old campanile, is La Badia di Fiesole, built by Cosimo Vecchio in 1462. Its terrace had a lovely view. It was in the early church on this site, founded by S. Romolo in A.D. 60, that the Irish missionary saint, Donatus, was enthroned as bishop. His head is preserved here in a silver bust. This continued to be the cathedral of Fiesole till the erection of the present building in 1028. The church of La Badia was restored by Andrew, who had accompanied Donatus from Ireland, and remained with him at Fiesole till his death.
The building of the present Badia is due to Cosimo de' Medici, 1462. A tablet tells that in 1873, 'per crescere l'eleganza della chiesa', the ancient octagonal chapel was removed, in which its founder had rested for 1800 years. The church contains a fresco by Giovanni da S. Giovanni, of the angels ministering to Christ in the wilderness.
Giovanni de' Medici, afterwards Leo X, was invested with his cardinal's robe in the monastery, which was long the residende of the Cavaliere Francesco Inghirami, the patriarch of Etruscan antiquities.
A little to the right of S. Domenico is the Villa Landore (once Gherardesca), where our great poet, Walter Savage Landor, passed many years of his unhappy married life. It is in the parish of Majano, of which a history has lately been written by Mr Temple Leader, who as a beautiful villa there, and which is the native place of many distinguished men, amongst the best known of whom are Benedetto and Giulio da Majano.
I stuck to my Boccaccio haunts, as to an old home . . . My almost daily walk was to Fiesole, through a path skirted with wild myrtle and cyclamen; and I stopped at the cloister of the Doccia, and sate on the pretty melancholy platform behind it, reading, or looking through the lines down to Florence. - Leigh Hunt.Landor wrote himself of his Florentine homes: -
On either side of Majano were laid the two scenes of the 'Decameron' of Boccaccio; the little streams that embrace it, the Affrico and the Mensola, were the metamorphosed lovers in his Nìimphale Fiesolano; within view was the Villa Gherardi, before the village the hills of Fiesole, and at its feet the Valley of the Ladies. Every spot around was an illustrious memory. To the left, the house of Macchiavelli, still farther in that direction, nestling amid the blue hills, the white village of Settignano, where Michelangelo was born; on the banks of the neighbouring Mugnone, the house of Dante; and in the background, Galileo's villa of Arcetri and the palaces and cathedral of Florence. In the centre of this noble landscape, forming part of the village of S. Domenico di Fiesole, is Landor's villa. The Valley of the Ladies was in his grounds; the Affrico and Mensola ran through them; above them was the ivy-clad convent of the Doccia overhung with cypress; and from his entrance-gate might be seen Valdarno and Vallombrosa. - Forster's Life of Landor.
A steep footway ascends, by the chapel of S. Ansano, to the gates of the Villa Mozzi,1 a beautiful old palace with balustraded terraces and gardens of ancient cypresses, built by Cosimo Vecchio, and the favourite residence of Lorenzo the Magnificent.From France to Italy my steps I bent,
And pitcht at Arno's side my household tent.
Six years the Medicean Palace held
My wandering Lares; then they went afield,
Where the hewn rocks of Fiesole impend
O'er Docci's dell, and fig and olive blend.
There the twin streams in Affrico unite,
One dimly seen, the other out of sight,
But ever playing in his smoothen'd bed
Of polisht stone, and willing to be led
Where clustering vines protect him from the sun,
Never too grave to smile, too tired to run.
Here, by the lake, Boccaccio's fair brigade
Beguiled the hours, and tale for tale repaid.
How happy! Oh, how happy had I been
With friends and children in this quiet scene!
Its quiet was not destined to be mine;
'Twas hard to keep, 'twas harder to resign.
In a villa overhanging the towers of Florence, on the steep slope of that lofty hill crowned by the mother city, the ancient Fiesole, in gardens which Tully might have envied, with Ficino, Landino, and Politian at his side, Lorenzo delighted his hours of leisure with the beautiful vision of Platonic philosophy, for which the summer stillness of an Italian sky apears the most congenial accompaniment.The place is well described by the verses of Politian: -
Never could the sympathies of the soul with outward nature be more finely touched; never could more striking suggestions be presented to the philosopher and the statesman. Florence lay beneath them; not with all the magnificence that the latter Medici have given her, but, tanks to the piety of former times, presenting almost as varied an outline to the sky. One man, the wonder of Cosimo's age, Brunelleschi, had crowned the beautiful city with the vast dome of its cathedral; a structure unthought of in Italy before, and rarely since surpassed. It seemed, amidst clustering towers of inferior churches, an emblem of the Catholic hierarchy under its supreme head; like Rome itself, imposing, unbroken, unchangeable, radiating in equal expansion to every part of the earth, and directing its convergent curves to heaven. Round this were numbered, at unequal heights, the Baptistery, with its gates, as Michelangelo styled them, worthy of Paradise; the tall and richly decorated belfy of Giotto; the church of the Carmine, with the frescoes of Masaccio; those of Santa Maria Novella (in the language of the same great man), beautiful as a bride; of Santa Croce, second only in magnificence to the cathedral; of S. Marco, and of S. Spirito, another great monument of the genius of Brunelleschi; the numerous convents that rose within the walls of Florence, oe were scattered immediately about them. From these the eye might turn to the trophies of a republican government that was rapidly giving way before the citizen-prince who now surveyed them; the Palazzo Vecchio, in which the signory of Florence held their councils, raised by the Guelf aristocracy, the exclusive, but not tyrannous faction that long swayed the city; or the new and unfinished palace which Brunelleschi had designed for one of the Pitti family, before they fell, as others had already done, in the fruitless struggle against the House of Medici, itself destined to become the abode of the victorious race, and to perpetuate, by retaining its name, the revolution that had raised them to power. - Hallam's Literature of Europe.
From the little platform outside the villa gates the view is exquistely beautiful - of Florence and the rich plain of the Arno, with the villa-dotted hills and the surrounding chain of amathystine mountains. Perhaps spring, when the purple cloud-shadows are falling over the delicate green of the young cornfields, and when the tulips and anenomes make every bank blaze with colour, is the most beautiful season.Hic resonat blando tibi pinus amata susurro;
Hic vaga coniferis insibilat aura cupressis;
Hic scatebris salit, et bullantibus incita venis
Pura colorata interstrepit unda lapillos . . .
Talia Faesuleo lentus meditabar in antro,
Rure suburbano Medicum, qua mons sacer urbem
Maconiam, longique volumina despicit Arni,
Qua bonus hospitum felix, placidamque quietem
Indulget Laurens, Laurens non ultima Phoebi
Gloria, jactetis Laurens fida anchora Musis. - Rusticus.
A few steps now bring us into the piazza of Fiesole, the ancient Faesulae, and it is strange, within sight of the city and its great cathedral, to find this ancient village-bishopric, with a cathedral and Palazzo Pretorio. Yet, in the words of Fazio degli Uberti:-
It was hither that Catiline fled from Rome after his conspiracy, and the fancy of its historian, Malespini, has made a romance for Fiesole founded on the story of 'Catellino' who wages war against Fiorino, King of Rome. The latter is killed in battle, and the new city, Fiorenza Magna, is founded in his memory. Afterwards the new city finds a friend in Attila, who destroys Florence and rebuilds Fiesole. Dante alludes to Fiesole as if it were the cradle of Florence: -Chi Fiesol hedificò connobbe el loco
Come gia per gli cieli ben composto.
The name of Faesulae constantly occurs in history. It is mentioned by Polybius, Sallust, and Procopius, but never as playing any important part. Always a city, it never became great.Ma quell'ingrato popolo maligno,
Che discese di Fiesole ab antico,
E tien ancor del monte e del macigno. Inf. xv.61.
Milton and Galileo give a story to Fiesole beyond even its starry antiquity; nor perhaps is there a name eminent in the best annals of Florence to which some connections cannot be traced with this favoured spot. When it was full of wood, it must have been eminently beautiful. It is at present indeed full of vines and olives, but this is not wood, woody. - Leigh Hunt.The Cathedral, with its slender crenellated tower, occupies one side of the piazza. It is dedicated to S. Romolo, first bishop and apostle of Fiesole, who is said to have been a convert of S. Peter, and to have received a special mission from him to preach at Faesulae. Under Nero he was imprisoned and martyred with a dagger. The church was built in 1028, but little remains of so early a date. It is a basilica, having narrow aisles with cross-arms, and a choir raised above a crypt. Beneath the high altar rests the Irish bishop S. Donatus, whose remains were brought here from the Badia.
In the chapel on the right of the high-altar is the tomb of Bishop Salutati, the learned friend of Pope Eugenius IV, executed in 1462 by Mino di Giovanni or da Fiesole.
The bust of Bishop Salutati is certainly one of the most living and strongly characterised 'counterfeit presentments' of nature ever produced in marble. Any one who has looked at those piercing eyes, strongly marked features, and that mouth, with its combined bitterness and sweetness of expression, knows that the bishop was a man of nervous temperament, a dry logical reasoner, who, though sometimes sharp in his words, was always kindly in his deed. From the top of his jewelled mitre to the rich robe upon his shoulders, this bust is finished like a gem. It stands below a sarcophagus, restong upon ornate consoles, upon an architrave supported by pilasters and adorned with arabesques. In design the tomb is perfectly novel, and as far as we know, has never been repeated, despite its beauty and fitness. [See Sepia.] Directly opposite is the lovely altar-piece which Mino sculpted by Salutati's order and at his expense. It is divided into three compartments, containing a central group of the kneeling Madonna with the Infant Christ and S. John, on either side of which are statuettes of San Lorenzo and San Remigius, under an entablature on which is placed a poor bust of Our Lord. The Infant Saviour, sitting upon the steps at the Madonna's feet, holds a globe upon his knee, and smilingly stretches out his left hand to the little S. John, who kneels before him in an artless simplicity. Upon these children, whose grace and unconsciousness remind us of those of Raffaelle, the kneeling Virgin looks down with a gentle smile, her hands crossed upon her breast.- Perkins' Tuscan Sculptors.One of the ancient ambones of the cathedral, taken away in 1544, was first preserved in S. Pietro Scheraggio, afterwards in S. Leonardo in Arcetri.
S. Maria Primeraria, a little church in the piazza, contains a tabernacle by one of the Robbias.
The most important remains of the Etruscan fortifications are on the northen brow of the hill, where they rise to a hieght of from twenty to thirty feet. [See Sepia.] Behind the cathedral, in a garden, are some remains of the Roman (not Etruscan) Theatre. There is not much to see, but it is a charming spot half-buried in flowers. Some of the outer wall and of the seats are visible. Some vaults beneath, of opus incertum, are called by the Fiesolani 'Le Buche delle Fate' or Dens of the Fairies.
In the Borgo Unto is a curious fountain in a subterranean passage approached by a gothic archway. It is called Fonte Sottera, and its pure waters supply the whole neighbourhood. A stony path, opposite the west end of the cathedral, leads to what was the Arx of the ancient city. Here are a Franciscan Convent and the Church of S. Alessandro, with eighteen cipollino columns. The view is glorious.
In the hills beyond Fiesole is Mr Leader's beautiful castle-villa of Vincigliata, containing great collections of ancient furniture, armour, &c. It is a beautiful drive back to Florence from Fiesole by Ponte a Mensola and Vincigliata (one-horse carriage 10-12 frs).A veder pien di tante ville i colli,Few travellers can forget the peculiar landscape of this district of the Apennine, as they ascend the hill which rises from Florence. They pass continuously beneath the walls of villas bright in perfect luxury, and beside cypress-hedges, enclosing fair terraced gardens, where the masses of oleander and magnolia, motionless as leaves in a picture, inlay alternately upon the blue sky their branching lightness of pale rose-colour and deep green breadth of shade. studded with balles of budding silver, and showing at intervals through their framework of rich leaf and rubied flower the far-away bends of the Arno beneath its slopes of olive, and the purple peaks of the Carrara mountains, tossing themselves against the western distance, where the streaks of motionless cloud burn above the Pisan sea. The travellers passes the Fiesolan ridge, and all is changed. The country is on a sudden lonely. Here and there, indeed, are seen the scattered houses of a farm grouped gracefully upon the hill-sides - here and there a fragment of tower upon a distant rock; but neither gardens, nor flowers, nor glittering palace-walls, only a grey extent of mountain-ground tufted irregularly with the ilex and olive; a scene not sublime, for its forms are subdued and low; not desolate, for its valleys are full of sown fields and tended pastures; not rich nor lovely, but sunburnt and sorrowful; becoming wilder every instant as the road winds into its recesses, ascending still, until the higher woods, now partly oak and partly pine, drooping back from the central nest of the Apennine, leave a pastoral wilderness of scattered rock and arid grass, withered away here by frost, and there by lambent tongues of earth-fed fire. Giotto passed the first ten years of his life, a shepherd boy, among these hills; was found by Cimabue, near his native village, drawing one of his sheep upon a smooth stone; was yeilded up by his father, 'a simple person, a labourer of the earth', to the guardianship of the painter, who, by his own work, had already made the streets of Florence ring with joy, attended him to Florence, and became his disciple. - Ruskin.
Par che'l terren ve le germogli, come
Vermene germogliar suole e rampolli.
Se dentro un mur, sotto un medesmo nome
Fosser raccolti i tuoi palazzi sparsi,
Non ti sarian da pareggiar due Rome.
Ariosto, Rime, cap. xvi.
About 9 miles from the Porta S. Gallo, on the road to Bologna, is all that remains (not much) of the Palace of Pratolino, built by Francesco de' Medici for Bianca Cappello, of whom it was the favourite residence. She was devoted to magic and the composition of philters and potions, and for generations after her death a room was shown here where it was said that she used to 'distil a cosmetic from the bodies of newly-born infants'. As the home of Bianca, Pratolino is extolled by Tasso.
The Palace is now the property of Prince Demidoff. The park is a great resort for picnics from Florence, and contains the colossal statue of the Apennines, attributed to Giovanni da Bologna - more curious than beautiful.Dianzi all'ombra di fama occulta e bruna,
Quasi giacesti, Pratolino, ascoso;
Or la tua donna tanto onor t'aggiunge,
Che piega alla seconda alta fortuna
Gli antichi gioghi l'Apennin nevoso;
Ed Atlante, ed Olimpo, ancor si lunge,
Nè confin la tua gloria asconde e serra;
Ma del tuo picciol nome empi la terra.
Rime, 360, t. II.
A little farther upon this road is the ancient machicolated Palace of Cafaggiolo, built as his residence by the merchant prince Cosimo de' Medici, and nelarged by Cosimo I. It was the scene, July 11, 1576, of one of the most startling of the many crimes which mark the story of the Medici. The beautiful Eleanora of Toledo, a niece of the first wife of Cosimo de' Medici, had been married by the Grand-Duke to his brother Pietro, the most profligate young man in the city. Utterly neglected by her husband, and being only in her twenty-second year, Eleanora, in a letter to the youth Bernardo Antinori, expressed her grief for his banishment to Elba for having killed a man in a scuffle. The letter was intercepted and sent to the Grand-Duke, and the punishment was prompt and terrible, Antinori was recalled from Elba and beheaded; and Eleanora, paralysed with terror, was summoned to her husband's villa of Cafaggiolo. Here he knelt, besought forgiveness from Heaven for the crime he was about to commit, swore never to wed another, and then murdered her. The medical bulletin sent to all foreign courts ascribed the death to heart complaint, but the truth was avowed by Francesco in a private letter to Philip II of Spain.
If we eliminate the deaths of Don Garcia, Cardinal Giovanni, Duke Francesco, Bianca Cappello, and Lucrezia de' Medici as doubtful, there will still remain the murders of Cardinal Ippolito, Duke Alessandro, Lorenzino de' Medici, Pietro Bonaventura (Bianca's husband), Pellegrina Bentivoglio (Bianca's daughter), Eleanora di Toledo, Francesco Casi (Eleanora's lover), the Duchess of Bracciano, Troilo Orsini (lover of the Duchess), Felice Peretti (husband of Vittoria Accoramboni), and Vittoria Accoramboni - eleven murders, all occurring between 1535 and 1585, an exact half-century, in a single princely family, and its immediate connections. The majority of these crimes - that is to say, seven - had their origin in lawless passion. - Symonds' Renaissance in Italy.The old royal villa has been sold for next to nothing by the present Government, and the new proprietor has cut down all the fine trees which formerly gave it such a charm. There was a famous manufactory of pottery at Cafaggiolo. Good specimens are now very rare, and fetch enormous prices. Monte Senario, where there is a Servite monastery, may be ascended from hence, by a good road of 8 k. with beautiful views.
1This was one of the four country residences of Cosimo; the others were Carreggi, Cafaggiolo, and Trebbia.
FROM THE PORTA S. CROCE ( S. SALVI)
About 1 mile from the gate, on the road to Rovezzano, is the Convent of S. Salvi, containing, in its ancient Refectory, the famous Cenacolo of Andrea del Sarto.
The Cenacolo of Andrea del Sarto takes, I believe, the third rank after those of Leonardo and Raffaelle. He has chosen the self-same moment, 'One of you shall betray me'. The figures are, as usual, ranged on one side of a long table. Christ, in the centre, holds a piece of bread in his hand; on his left is S. John, and on his right S. James Major, both seen in profile. The face of S. John expresses interrogation; that of S. James interrogation and a start of amazement. Next to S. James are Peter, Thomas, Andrew; then Philip, who has a small cross upon his breast. After S. John come James Minor, Simon, Jude, Judas Iscariot, and Bartholomew. Judas, with his hands folded together, leans forward, and looks down, with a round mean face, in which there is not power of any kind, not even of malignity. In passing from the Cenacolo in the S. Onofrio to that in the Salvi, we feel strongly all the difference between the mental and moral superiority of Raffaelle at the age of twenty and the artistic greatness of Andrea in the maturity of his age and talent. This fresco deserves its high celebrity. It is impossible to look on it without admiration, considered as a work of art. The variety of attitudes, the disposition of the limbs beneath the table, the ample, tasteful draperies, deserve the highest praise; but the heads are deficient in character and elevation, and the whole composition wants that solemnity of feeling proper to the subject. - Jameson's Sacred Art.It is by the Porta S. Croce that the traveller must leave Florence for the monasteries of the Casentino, if he begins his excursion by driving to Pelago.
A trams starts every half-hour from the Porta S. Croce to La Mensola, at the foot of the hill of Settignano[today, the 10 bus from Santa Maria Novella Station]. It passes the Villa Fontebuomi, where Varchi wrote his 'Storia Fiorentina'. A hill on the left is crowned by the fine old castellated vill of Poggio Gherardo (Mr Ross [now the Bernard Berenson/Harvard University's Villa I Tatti]), which originally belonged to the extinct family of Tati, then to the Magaldi, who sold it to the Baroncelli in 1241. It was bought by the Gherardi in 1362, not long before the great plague of Florence. This was the Primo Palagio del Rifugio of the 'Decameron' and is described by Boccaccio. It looks down upon the magnificent plain waters by the Affrico and Mensola. Being one of the line of fortresses erected to defend Florence against the Casentino (Poggio, Vincigliata, Poggio Gherardo, Torre dei Gandi, &c.), the house was partically destroyed by Sir John Hawkwood.
Below it is the very ancient church of S. Martino a Mensola, which was restored by S. Andrew, the companion of S. Donatus, the Irish missionary bishop of Fiesole. He established a monastery near the church, where he died soon after his master, miraculously comforted on his deathbed by the presence of his sister Bridget, whom he had left in Ireland forty years before, and in a glorious radiance of light 'which drew all the people of Fiesole around, as if summoned by a heavenly trumpet'. After his death Bridget lived in a hermitage at Opacum, now Labaco, high in the mountains till her death in 870. The enbalmed body of S. Andrew rests beneath the high-altar. Formerly the holy water bason rested on a pedestal inscribed 'Help, Help, Ghod' - a relic of the Irish S. Andrew's rule. Some ancient arches and several curious pictures remain in the church, which was restored by the Gherardi in 1450. The church in the Via dei Magazzini at Florence was founded by S. Andrew in 786 in connection with S. Martino a Mensola.
Near Settignano is the Villa Buonarroti, now the property of Signora Teresa Buonarroti. At what time this came into the family is uncertain, but it is tolerably certain that Michelangelo was sent out here as a baby, after Italian custom, to be nursed in a family of scarpellini or stone-cutters.
FROM THE PORTA S. MINIATO (S. MINIATO IN MONTE)
This gate is situated close under the hill of Oltr'Arno, and an avenue of cypresses leads in a few minutes up the steep ascent to the church. On the right of the way a shrine with a picture commemorates a touching incident in the life of S. Giovanni Gualberto, founder of the Vallombrosans.
Giovanni Gualberto was born at Florence, or rich and noble lineage. When he was still a young man, his only brother, Hugo, whom he loved exceedingly, was murdered by a gentleman with whom he had a quarrel. Gualberto, whose grief and fury were stimulated by the rage of his father and the tears of his mother, set forth in pursuit of the assassin, vowing a prompt and terrible vengeance.The cypress avenue ends in the Church of S. Salvatore al Monte, built by Cronaca in 1504. Its position is beautiful, and so delighted Michelangelo that he used to call it 'La Bella Villanella'. A wide piazza with terraces, which has been opened beneath this church, is decorated in honour of Michelangelo with copies of several of his statues. Its view over the city and the gardens with which it is embroidered is one of the noblest in Italy.
It happened that, when returning from Florence to the countryhouse of his father on the evening of Good Friday, he took his way over the steep, narrow, winding road which leads from the city gate to the Church of San-Miniato-del-Monte. About half-way up the hill, where the road turns to the right, he suddenly came upon his enemy, alone and unarmed. At the sight of the assassin of his brother, thus, as it were, given into his hand, Gualberto drew his sword. The miserable wretch, seeing no means of escape, fell upon his knees and entreated mercy; extending his arms in the form of a cross, he adjured him by the remembrance of Christ, who had suffered on that day, to spare his life. Gualberto, struck by a sudden compunction, remembering that Christ when on the cross had prayed for his murderers, stayed his uplifted sword, trembling from head to foot; and only after a moment of terrible conflict in his own hert, and a prayer for Divine support, he held out his hand, raised the suppliant from the ground, and embraced him in token of forgiveness. Thus they parted; and Gualberto proceeding on his way in a sad and sorrowful mood, every pulse throbbing with the sudden revulsion of feeling, and thinking on the crime which he had been on the point of committing, arrived at the Church of San Miniato, and entering, knelt down before the crucifix over the altar. His rage had given way to tears, his heart melted within him; and as he wept before the image of the Saviour, and supllicated mercy because he had shown mercy, he fancied that, in gracious reply to his prayer, the figure bowed its head. This miracle, for such he deemed it, completed the revolution which had taken place in his whole character and state of being. From that moment the world and all its vanities became hateful to him, he felt like one who had been saved upon the edge of a precipice; he entered the Benedictine Order, and took up his residence in the monastery of San Miniato. Here he dwelt for some time a humble penitent; all earthy ambition quenched at once with the spirit of revenge. On the death of the abbot of San Miniato he was elected to succeed him, but no persuasions could induce him to accept of the office. He left the convent, and retired to the solitude of Vallombrosa. - Jameson's Sacred Art.
The view from San Miniato is best seen towards sunset. From an eminence, studded by noble cypresses, the Arno meets the eye, reflecting in its tranquil bosom a succession of terraces and bridges, edged by imposing streets and palaces, above which are seen the stately carhedral, the church of Santa Croce, and the picturesque tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, while innumerable other towers, of lesser fame and altitude, crown the distant parts of the city and the banks of the river, which at length - its sinuous stream bathed in liquid gold - is lost sight of amidst the rich carpet of a vast and luxuriant plain, bounded by lofty Apennines. Directly opposite to the eye rises the classical height of Fiesole, its sides covered with intermingled rocks and woods, from amidst which sparkle innumerable villages and villas. - J.S. Harford.To the right are some of the fortifications which Michelangelo raised in 1529, and which in a certain sense may be regarded as his greatest work, for they enabled Florence to stand 'a spectacle to heaven and earth, the one spot of all Italian ground which defied the united powers of Pope and Caesar'.
Within these fortifications (the gate is opened by a custode - 10 c.) is the beautiful Church of S. Miniato, founded in honour of the Florentine martyr who suffered on that spot under Decius in the third century.
Who that remembers Florence does not remember well the San Miniato in Monte, towering on its lofty eminence above the city, and visible along the Lung'Arno from the Ponte alle Grazie to the Ponte alla Carraja? - and the enchanting views of the valley of the Arno as seen from the marble steps of the ancient church? - and the old dismantled fortress defended by Michelangelo against the Medici? - and the long avenue of cypresses and the declivities robed in vineyards and olive-grounds between the gate of San Miniato and the lofty heights above?[See Sepia.] The façade of the church is very like that of S. Maria Novella. [See Sepia.] The Interior, as well as its surrounding platforms, is now used as a kind of Campo-Santo for Florence. The side-walls are covered with ancient frescoes of saints. The roof is of wood. In the apse is a Greek mosaic, representing Our Saviour, with the Virgin and S. John on one side, and on the other S. Miniato, wearing a regal crown and mantle and holding the Greek cross. In front of the lofty raised choir is the picturesque chapel built in 1448 by Michelozzo for Pietro de' Medici. The pictures it contains are attributed to Spinello Aretino, and here the miraculous crucifix of S. Giovanni Gualberto was formerly preserved. [Now in Santa Trinità.] Above the steps of the choir are an exquisitely wrought marble screen and pulpit. The door on the right leads to the sacristy, built 1387, by Nerozzo degli Alberti, and decorated with frescoes of the story of S. Benedict by Spinello Aretino.
According to Flroentine legend, S. Minias or Miniato was an Armenian prince serving in the Roman army under Decius. Being denounced as a Christian, he was brought before the emperor, who was then encamped upon a hill outside the gates of Florence, and who ordered him to be thrown to the beasts in the Amphitheatre. A panther was let loose upon him, but when he called upon our Lord he was delivered; he then suffered the usual torments, being cast into a boiling cauldron, and afterwards suspended to a gallows, stoned, and shot with javelins; but in his last agony an angel descended to comfort him, and clothed him in a garment of light; finally he was beheaded. His martyrdom is placed in the year 254. - Jameson's Sacred Art.
La figure principale nétant pas distingué des autres par le costume, il a fallu faire ressortir autrement sa supériorité. Spinello était là dans son élément, et nul n'a jamais revêtu Saint Benoît de tant de majesté, soit dans l'action, soit dans le repos. Il a sut lui conserver cette majesé justque dans la mort, comme en peut le voir dans la fresque où il est représenté couché sur son lit funèbre . . . . Ce groupe de moines récitant l'office funèbre devant ce corps roidi n'est pas moins admirable sous le rapport de l'ordonnance que sous celui de l'expression à la fois intense et contenue . . . . Il y a un compartiment, le plus mal éclairé de tous, dans lequel Spinello semble avoir voulu rivaliser avec Giottino pour la suavité de l'expression: c'est celui où l'on voit Saint Maure et Saint Placide remis par leurs parents entre les mains de Saint Benoît. - Rio, L'Art Chrétien.At the end of the nave on the left is a chapel built by Antonello Rossellino for Cardinal Jacopo of Portgual, with his tomb, of 1427. [See Sepia.] That the character of this young man was as angelic as his face we learn from the biographer Vespasiano.1 [See Sepia.] [See Uffizi, S. James between SS. Eustace and Vincent.]
Among his other admirable virtues, Messer Jacopo di Portogallo determined to preserve his virginity, though he was beautiful above all others of his age. . . . In this mortal flesh he lived as though he had been free from it - the life, we may say, rather of an angel than a man. And if his biography were written from his childhood to his death, it would be not only an ensample but confusion to the world. Upon his monument the head was modelled from his own, and the face is very like him, for he was most lovely in his person, but still more in his soul.Near the church is the old Palace of the Mozzi family, built in 1294. All around are graves. The view is glorious, especially at sunset.
At the head and foot of the sarcophagus, upon which likes the marble figure of the young cardinal, are mourning genii, and upon either end of the highly ornamented entablature two kneeling angels, holding in their hands the crown of virginity and the palm of victory. Heavy looped curtains (the only faulty feature in this exquisite monument) fall from the top of the arch above it on either side of a roundel, in which is a most lovely Madonna and Child in alto-relief.
Cardinal James, of the royal house of Portugal, who lies here, having lived from his earliest years with peculiar sanctity, as befitted one who was intended to become a priest, was sent to Perugia at the age of nineteen to study canon law. Though only twenty-six at the time of his death, he had received a cardinal's hat from Pope Calixtus III, and had been appointed ambassador from the Florentine Republic to the Court of Spain. He was of a most amiable nature, a pattern of humility, and an abundant fountain of good, through God, to the poor; discreet in providing for his servants, modest in ordering his household, an enemy of pomp and superfluity, keeping that middle way in everything which is the way of the blessed. He lived in the flesh, as if he was free from it, rather the life of an angel than a man, and his death was holy as his life had been. - Perkins' Tuscan Sculptors.
Let us suppose that the Spirit of a Florentine citizen (whose eyes were closed in the time of Columbus) has been permitted to revisit the glimpses of the golden morning, and is standing once more on the famous hill of San Miniato . . . . It is not only the mountains and the westward-bening river that he recognises; not only the dark sides of Mount Morello opposite to him, and the long valley of the Arno that seems to stretch its grey low-tufted luxuriance to the far-off ridges of Carrara; and the steep height of Fiesole, with its crown of monastic walls and cypresses; and all the green and grey slopes sprinkled with villas which he can name as he looks at them. He sees other familiar objects much closer to his daily walks. For though he misses the seventy or more towers that once surrounded the walls and encircled the city as with a regal diadem, his eyes will not dwell on that blank; they are drawn irresistably to the unique tower, springing, like a tall flower-stem towards the sun, from the square turreted mass of the Old Palace in the very heart of the city - the tower that looks non the worse for the four centuries that have passed since he used to walk under it. The great dome, too, greatest in the world, which in his early boyhood, have been only a daring thought in the mind of a small, quick-eyed man - there it raises its large curves still, eclipsing the hills. And the well-known bell-towers - Giotto's with its distant hint of rich colour, and the graceful spired Badia, and the rest - he looked at them all from the shoulder of his nurse.S. Miniato may be approached from the Porta Romana by the enchanting drive of Le Colle, which winds with every varying views.
'Surely', he thinks, 'Florence can still ring her bells with the solemn hammer-sound that used to beat on the hearts of her citizens and trike out the fire there. And here, on the rights, stands the long dark mass of Santa Croce, where we buried our famous dead, laying the laurel on their cold brows, and fanning them with the breath of praise and of banners. But Santa Croce had no spire then: we Florentines were too full of building projects to carry them all out in stone and marble; we had our frescoes and our shrines to pay for, not to speak of rapacious condottieri, bribed royalty, and purchased territories, and our façades and our spires must needs wait. But what architect can the Frati Minori have employed to build that spire for them? It it had been built in my day, Filippo Brunelleschi or Michelozzi would have devised something of another fashion than that - something worthy to crown the church of Arnolfo' . . . It is easier and pleasanter to recognise the old than to account for the new. And there flows Arndo, with its bridges just where they used to be - the Ponte Vecchio, least like other bridges in the world, laden with the same quaint shops, were our Spirip remembers lingering a little, on his way perhaps to look at the progress of that great palace which Messer Luca Pitti had set a-building with huge stones got from the hill of Bogoli close behind. - George Eliot, Romola.
NotesMonti superbi, la cui fronte Alpina
Fa da se contro i venti argine e sponda!
Valli beate, per cui d'onda in onda
L'Armo con passo signoril cammina!
1 Vespasiano Bisticci, Vite di Uomini Illustri del Secolo xv.
COMPARE (TOGGLE) WITH SEPIA III
FROM THE PORTA ROMANA - POGGIO IMPERIALE, THE CERTOSA OF THE VAL D'EMA AND THE SANCTUARY OF THE MADONNA DEL IMPRUNETA; BELLOSGUARDO
A carriage to the Impruneta costs about 10 frs. An electric tram, starting outside the Porta Romana, passes through the Poggio Imperiale, and another goes to the Certosa. [Buses can be taken to these places, that to the Certosa being the 37, from Santa Maria Novella.]
Close to the gate is the entrance of the fine cypress avenue of the Poggio Imperiale, leading to a palace built for the Grand-Duchess Maddalena of Austria, wife of the Grand-Duke Cosimo II. It is now given up to the Conservatorio della SS. Annunziata, for the benefit of young women of the better classes.
Ce palais fut autrefois la villa Baroncelli. On rapporte qu'un membre de cette ancienne famille, Thomas Baroncelli, fort dévoué à Côme Ier, étant allé de sa villa à la rencontre de son maître lorsqu'il revenait de Rome, fut si ravi de le revoir avec le titre de grand-duc que lui avait accordé le pape Pie V, qu'il en mourait de joie: enthousiasme de l'esprit de servitude, qui doit sembler aujourd'hui bien étrange! - Valéry.Behind the palace rises the hill of Arcetri, celebrated for its sweet wine calle La Verdea: -
In the chapel of the delightful Villa Capponi (which is passed on the way to Arcetri) is a fine 'Adoration of the Shepherds' by the rare master Tommaso de' Stefani, a pupil of Lorenzo di Credi.Altri beva il Falerno, altri la Tolfa,
Altri il sangue che lacrima il Vesuvio;
Un gentil bevitor mai non s'ingolfa
In quel fuoso e fervido diluvio,
Oggi vogl'io che regni entro a' miei vetri
La Verdea soavissima d'Arcetri. - Redi.
Here, amid the vineyards, but not far from the road, is the Torre del Gallo, which is believed to have been the observatory of Galileo, where he studied the moon.
Close to the Porta Romana is the Pottery of the Fratelli Cantagalli, in which a manufactory of artistic maioliche - decorative and useful - has recently been established. The proprietors have aimed at reviving the decorative taste which inspired artists of the sixteenth century in the famous potteries of Cafaggiolo, Urbino, Pesaro, and Gubbio. All the artists employed have been taught by the stury not only of the ancient maioliche in the different Italian museums, but of the fifteenth and sixteenth century frescoes. It is thus sought to give the manufacture an exclusively Italian character.The moon, whose orbHe took me up to the Star Tower of Galileo amongst the winding paths of the hills, with the grey walls overtopped by white fruit blossoms, and ever and again, at some break in their ramparts of stone, the gleam of the yellow Arno water, or the glisten of the marbles of the city shining on us far beneath, through the silvery veil of the olive-leaves.
Through optic glass the Tuscan artist views
At evening from the top of Fiesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new lands,
Rivers, or mountains in her spotty globe. - Milton.
It was just in that loveliest moment when winter melts into spring. Everywhere under the vines the young corn was springing in that tender vivid greenness that is never seen twice in a year. The sods between the furrows were scarlet with the bright flame of wild tulips, with here and there a fleck of gold where a knot of daffodils nodded. The roots of the olives were blue with nestling pimpernels and hyacinths, and along the old grey walls the long, soft, thick leaf of the arums grew, shading their yet unborn lilies.
The air was full of a dreamy fragrance; the bullocks went on their slow way with flowers in their leathern frontlets; the contadini had flowers stuck behind their ears or in thier waistbands; women sat by the wayside, singing as they plaited their yellow curling lengths of straw; children frisked and tumbled like young rabbits under the budding maples; the plum-trees strewed the green landscape with flashes of white like newly fallen snow on Alpine grass slopes; again and again amongst the tender pallor of the olive woods there rose the beautiful fluch of a rosy almond-tree; at every step the passer-by trod ankle-deep in violets.
About the foot of the Tower of Galileo ivy and vervain, and the Madonna's herb, and the white hexagons of the stars of Bethlehem grew amongst the grasses; pigeons paced to and fro with pretty pride of plumage; a dog slept on the flags; the cool, moist, deep-veined creepers climbed about the stones; there were peach-trees in all the beauty of their blossoms, and everywhere about them were close.set olive-trees, with the ground between them scarlet with the tulips and the wild rose bushes.
From a window a girl leaned out and hung a cage amongst the ivy leaves, that her bird might sing his vespers to the sun.
Who will may see the scene today.
The world has spoiled most of its places of pilgrimage, but the old Star Tower is not harmed as yet, where it stands amongst its quiet garden-ways and grass-grown slopes, up high amongst the hills, with sounds of dripping water on its court, and wild wood-flowers thrusting their bright heads through its stones. It is as peaceful, as simple, as homely, as closely girt with blossoming boughs and with tulip-crimsoned grasses now as then, when from its roof in the still midnight of far-off time, its master read the secrets of the stars. - Pascarel.Nearer we hailIt is difficult to conceive what Galileo must have felt, when, having constructed his telescope, he turned it to the heavens, and saw the mountains and valleys in the moon. Then the moon was another earth; the earth another planet; and all were subject to the same laws. What an evidence of the simplicity and the magnificence of nature!
Thy sunny slope, Arcetri, sung of old
For its green vine; dearer to me, to most,
As dwelt on by that great astronomer,
Seven yers a prisoner at the city-gate,
Let in but in his grave-clothes. Sacred be
His villa (justly it was called the Gem)!1
Sacred the lawen, where many a cypress threw
Its length of shadow, while he watched the stars!
Sacred the vineyard, where, while yet his sight
Glimmered, at blush of morn he dressed his vines,
Chanting aloud in gaiety of heart
Some verse of Ariosto! - There, unseen,2
Gazing with reverent awe - Milton his guest,
Just then come forth, all life and enterprise;
He in his old age and extremity
Blind, at noonday exploring with his staff;
His eyes upturned as to the golden sun,
His eyeballs idly rolling. Little then
Did Galileo think whom he received:
That in his hand he held the hand of one
Who could requite him - who would spread his name
O'er lands and seas - great as himself, nay, greater;
Milton as little than in him he saw,
As in a glass, what he himself should be,
Destined so soon to fall on evil days
And evil tongues - so soon, alas! to live
In darkness, and with dangers compassed round
And solitude. - Rogers' Italy.
But at length he turned it again, still directing it upward, and again he was lost: for he was now among the fixed stars; and if not magnified as he expected them to be, they were multiplied beyond measure.
What a moment of exultation for such a mind as his! But as yet it was only the dawn of day that was coming; nor was he destined to live till that day was in its splendour. The great law of gravitation was not yet to be made known; and how little did he think, as he held the instrument in his hand, that we should travel by it as far as we have done; that its revelations would ere long be so glorious! - Sir John Herschel.
A road which turns to the right at the Pian dei Giullari leads to S. Margherita a Montici, with fine views.
At 2 1/2 miles from the Porta Romana,3 by the direct road beyond the village of Galuzzo, on the hill of Montaguto, is the Certosa of the Val d'Ema. The position is beautiful, with lovely views, and the convent crowning a cypress-covered hill is very picturesque. The cloister, with its beautiful Luca della Robbia medallions, suffered terribly in the earthquake of 1895. The Certosa was founded in 1341 by Niccolò Acciajuolo, Grand Seneschal to Queen Joanna of Naples, and its fortifications were especially granted by the Republic. In 1896 there were fifteen monks here: the full number was eight-six. A white-robed brother shows visitors over the monastery. [See Sepia.][Today, Cistercians from Casamaris inhabit the Certosa, the last Carthusians having fled to Lucca's Charterhouse in WWII, where the SS killed monks. The monastery's books, also, were first taken to Lucca, then to the motherhouse at Grenoble.]
The principal Church is excessivly rich; decorated with frescoes, marbles and pietre-dure. The pictures relating to the life of S. Bruno are by Poccetti. To the right, through the chapel of S. John Baptist, which has a good picture by Benvenuti, we enter a beautiful gothic church of 1300, of which the architecture is attributed to Orcagna. It contains some good Florentine stained glass; a picture of S. Francis receiving the Stigmata by Cigoli; a Crucifixion by Giotto (?); and a picture by Fra Angelico.
In the Crypt, before the high-altar, are the noble tombs of the founder and his family.
Whether Andrea Orcagna built the Certosa near Florence is uncertain; but the monuments of its founder, Niccolò Acciajuolo, and his family, which exist in the subterranean church, belong to his time, and were perhaps executed by some of his scholars. The tomb of Niccolò (Grand Seneschal of the kingdom of Naples under Queen Joanna I, ob. 1366) consists of his recumbent statue, clad in armour placed high against the wall, beneath a gothic canopy. His son, Lorenzo, upon whose funeral obsequies he spent more that 50,000 gold florins, lies below under a marble slab, upon which is sculptured the effigy of this 'youth in arms, and eminent for his graceful manners and his gracious and noble aspect'. Next him lie his grandfather and his sister Lapa.' - Perkins' Tuscan Sculptors.In a side chapel of the crypt is the tomb of Angelo Acciajuolo, Bishop of Ostia, 1550, by Donatello, with a border of fruit and flowers by Giuliano di San Gallo. A small cloister has some lovely stained glass by Giovanni da Udine. The chapter-house contains a Crucifixion by Mariotto Albertinelli; a Madonna and Child with saints by Perugino; and in the middle of the pavement, in a perfect abandonment of repose, the noble figure of Lionardo Bonafede, Bishop of Cortona, and Superior of this convent (ob. 1545), by Francesco di San Gallo, son of Giuliano.
The general design of Niccolò's tomb is very peculiar, gothic certainly, but almost transitional to the cinquecento. Niccolò, the Grand Seneschal, founder of the convent, was a noble character. The family, originally from Brescia, and named after the trade they rose by, attained sovereignty in the person of Ranier, nephew of the Seneschal, styled Duke of Athens and Lord of Thebes and Argos and Sparta. He was succeeded by his bastard son Antony, and the latter by two nephews, whom he invited from Florence, Ranion and Antony Acciajuoli; the son of the latter, Francesco, finally yielded Athens to Mahomet II, in 1456, and was soon afterwards strangled by his orders at Thebes. - Lindsay's Christian Art.
It is very carefully modelled; the flesh parts are well treated, and the drapery is disposed in natural folds. It has almost the effect of a corpse laid out for burial before the altar, and produces a striking effect. - Perkins.The exquisite Della Robbia lunettes of the great cloister were removed to the Accademia in the time of Napoleon I. They had scarcely been restored to the monastery when one side of the beautiful cloister was ruined by the terrible earthquake of 1895.
The Refectory is
which the monks dine on Sundays, released on that day for two hours
their vow of silence, though a reader officiates during dinner from a
in the corner. The small cloister is by Brunelleschi. At the Drogheria,
Alkermes and other liqueurs manufactured in the monastery,
La Madonna dell'Impruneta
Two and a half miles farther, by a long but easy ascent, beautifully situated amid the olive-clad hills, is the famous shrine of La Madonna dell'Impruneta, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Tuscany. The church was built in 1593 by Francesco Buondelmote, and adorned in the seventeenth century by the Confraternità of the Stigmata of S. Francesco with its handsome doric atrium. Here is preserved the famous image attributed to S. Luke the Evangelist, but which the learned Dr Lami says was the work of one Luca in the eleventh century, who, on account of his piety, was called saint, whence the tradition. It is said to have been found by a workman, buried in the soil of Impruneta, and to have uttered a cry as the spade struck it. On all great occasions of danger, pestilence, or famine, this Madonna has been carried in state by a barefooted procession to Florence but even then has always been veiled - 'The Hidden Mother'. Thus it was carried to Florence during the great and terrible plague, on April 1, 1400. Over the high-altar is a crucifix by Giovanni da Bologna; and in the Sacristy a curious Madonna and Saints of the School of Giotto. In th nave are pictures by Jacopo da Empoli, Passignano, and Cigoli. The church is backed by the Poggio S. Maria, and occupies one side of an immense piazza, decorated with loggias of 1663-70. Here on S. Luke's Day, October 18, is held the Fair of the Impruneta, for horses, mules, &c., frequented by all the country round, and a most picturesque sight. The piazza is the subject of a picture by Callot in the Accademia at Venice.
We must turn to the right from the Porta Romana to ascend the hill of Bellosguardo, for the sake of the view.
At the foot of the hill is the Church of SS. Francesco di Paola, containing the noble tomb of Benozzo Federighi, Bishop of Fiesole, ob. 1455, by Luca della Robbia, which it is intended to remove to S. Trinità.From Tuscan Bellosguardo,
Where Galileo stood at nights to take
The vision of the stars, we have found it hard,
Gazing upon the earth and heavens, to make
A choice of beauty. - E. Barrett Browning.
The admirably truthful figure of the dead bishop, clad in his episcopal robes, is laid upon a sarcophagus within a square recess, whose architrave and side-posts are decorated with enamelled tiles, painted with flowers and fruits coloured after nature. At the back of the recess, filling up the space above the sarcophagus, are three half-figures, of Christ, the Madonna, and S. John; all the faces are expressive, and that of the Saviour is especially fine, and full of mournful dignity. Around the top of the sarcophagus runs a rich cornice, below which are sculptured two flying angels, bearing between them a garland, containing an inscription setting forth the name and titles of the deceased. - Perkins' Tuscan Sculptors.Most lovely is the view from the summit of the hill.
Above is a half-length figure of Christ rising from the tomb with the Virgin and S. John on either side, and the whole is framed by a frieze of enamelled tiles, on which bouquets of lilies and roses, mingled with clusters of pears and medlars and fir-cones, are painted on a flat surface. 'Cosa maravigliosa e rarissima!' exclaims Vasai, who says with truth that the hues of both fruit and flowers are as natural and brilliant as if they had been painted in oils. - Brit. Quart. Rev. Oct. 1885.
Ce monument est un des plus beaux chefs-d'oeuvre de la sculpture sépulcrale du XVe siècle, e l'on comprend qu'Averulino, l'écrivain didactique le plus accrédité de cette époque, ait placé son auteur sur la même ligne que Donatello. - Rio.
I found a house, at Florence, on the hillThe scenery of the hills behind Bellosguardo is that of Monte Beni, so beautifully described by Hawthorne.
Of Bellosguardo. 'Tis a tower that keeps
A post of double observation o'er
The valley of the Arno (holding as a hand
The outspread city) straight toward Fiesole
And Mount Morello and the setting sun, -
The Vallombrosan mountains to the right,
Which sunrise fills as full of crystal cups
Wine-filled, and red to the brim because it's red.
No sun could die, nor yet be born, unseen
By dwellers at my villa; morn and eve
Were magnified before us in the pure
Illimitable space and pause of sky,
Intense as angels' garments blached with God,
Less blue than radiant. From the outer wall
Of the garden, dropped the mystic floating grey
Of olive-trees (with interruptions green
From maize and vine) until 'twas caught and torn
On that abrupt black line of cypresses
Which signed the way to Florence. Beautiful
The city lay along the ample vale,
Cathedral, tower and palace, piazza and street;
The river trailing like a silver cord
Through all, and curling loosely, both before
And after, over the whole stretch of land
Sown whitely up and down its opposite slopes
With farms and villas.
- E. Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh.
The Umbrian valley opens before us, set in its grand framework of nearer and more distant hills. It seems as if all Italy lay under our eyes in this one picture. For there is the broad, sunny smile of God, which we fancy to be spread over this favoured land more abundantly than on other regions, and beneath it glows a most rich and varied fertility. The trim vineyards are there, and the fig-trees, and the mulberries, and the smoky-hued tracts of the olive-orchards; there, too, are fields of every kind of grain, among which waves the Indian-corn. White villas, grey convents, church spires, villages, towns, each with its battlemented walls, and towered gateway, are scattered upon this spacious map; a river gleams across it; and the lakes open their blue eyes in its face, reflecting heaven, lest mortals should forget that better land, when they behold the earth so beautiful.On the spur of the hill to the north of the wooded height of Bellosguardo is the Convent of Monte Oliveto, containing in its Refectory an Annunciation of Domenico Ghirlandajo. Hence one may descend to the iron bridge which leads to the Cascine.
What makes the valley look still wider is the two or three varieties of weather often visible on its surface, all at the same instant of time. Here lies the quiet sunshine; there fall the great patches of ominous shadow from the clouds; and behind them, like a giant of league-long strides, comes hurrying the thunderstorm, which has already swept midway across the pain. In the rear of the approaching tempest brightens forth again the sunny splendour, which its progress has darkened with so terrible a form.
All around this majectic landscape, the bald-peaked or forest-crowned mountains descend boldly upon the plain. On many of their spurs and midway declivities, and even on their summits, stand cities, some of them famous of old; for these have been the seats and nurseries of early Art, where the flower of Beauty has sprung out of a rocky soul, and in a hight, keen atmosphere, when the richest and most sheltered gardens failed to nourish it. - Transformation.
FROM THE PORTA S. FREDIANO (LA BADIA DI SETTIMO, SIGNA, MALMANTILE, ARTEMIO)
This side of Florence is less well known than the others, but by no means less interesting. The road runs through an exquisitely rich and fertile valley, and there is a tramway by which Lastra a Signa may be reached in one hour from the Piazza Castello at Florence (fare 1st cl. 70 c., 2nd cl. 50 c.). On the right of the valley is a beautiful chain of mountains, of which the principal is Monte Morello, which serves as a weather-gauge to the whole countryside, according to the old proverb:
Quando monte Morello ha il cappello,
Villan, prendi il mantello.
Four and a half miles from Florence, half a mile to the right of the road, near the village of S. Colombano, is the old Convent of La Badia di Settimo, now a villa. Founded by a Conte di Borgomuro, about 984, it has most noble machicolated walls and a fine old gateway, the front of which is decorated with a figure of Christ throned between two saints, one of the largest works of terra-cotta in Tuscany - built, not let into the wall. The beautiful campanile, after the model of S. Niccolò at Pisa, was built by Niccolò Pisano. In the church are a Robbia frieze and a rich altar of pietra-dura. Some pictures by pupils of Verocchio and Ghirlandajo were removed in 1884, and are now in the Museum at S. Apollonia. In Lent, 1067, 8000 persons collected here to witness the trial by fire, in which the Vallombrosan monk, Pietro Aldobrandini (afterwards canonised as S. Pietro Igneo), walked barefooted, unhurt, through a furnace, to prove an accusation of simony brought by S. Giovanni Gualberti against Pietro di Pavia, Bishop of Florence.
On the left of the road are the great villa of Castel Pucci, now a lunatic asylum, and the charming old Villa of Castagnolo, which was once the property of the Arte della Lana, but in 1210 was bought by a Della Stufa, who belonged to the Arte della Tela. Of this family were the Beato Girolamo of the Minori Osservanti di S. Francesco, and the Beato Lottaringo, one of the seven founders of the S. Annunziata. Many points on the hills behind Castagnolo are full of picturesque interest. Aristis will draw the wide-spreading portico and lovely view of S. Martino delle Palme.
Half a mile farther is the interesting old town of Lastra a Signa, preserving intact its machicolated mediaeval walls and its three gateways. It contains many picturesque architectual fragments, especially a vaulted and frescoed loggia, very rich in colour, above which is the modern theatre. Signa is well worth a visit by those stay long in Florence, and may be reached by railway. Its population is entirely employed in the plaiting of straw hats - cappelli di paglia.
The hills lie quiet and know no change; the winds wander amongst the white arbutus-bells and shake the odours from the clustering herbs; the stone-pines scent the storm; the plain outspreads its golden glory to the morning light; the sweet chimes ring; the days glide on; the splendours of the sunset burn across the sky, and make the mountains as the jewelled thrones of the gods. Signa, hoary and old, stands there unchanged - Signa is wise. She lets this world go by, and sleeps. - Signa.Two and a half miles from Signa, by a steep ascent (a carriage from the station to go and return costs 8 francs), is the curious fortified village of Malmantile. The road thither, beneath the old convent of S. Lucia, through a mountain gorge, is lovely, and the place itself, on the wild hill-top, is very curious, being so strongly fortified, yet so small. It long resisted a seige by the Florentines, which is the subject of the curious poems 'L'Assedio' and 'La Scacciata di Malmantile', written by Lippo Lippi early in the seventeenth century. The walls now enclose only a single street of cottages.
The lovely effects of the morning mist in this enchanting district are described by Ouida: -
There had been heavy rains at night, and there was, when the sun rose, everywhere that white fog of the Valdarno country which is like a silvery cloud hanging over all the earth. It spreads everywhere and blends together land and sky; but it has breaks of exquisite transparencies, through which the gold of the sunbeams shines, and the rose of the dawn blushes, and the summits of the hills gleam here and there with a white monastery, or a mountain belfry, or a cluster of cypresses seen through it, hung in the air as it were, and framed like pictures in the silvery mist.Three miles beyond Signa is the delightful Medici villa of Artemino, with lovely views towards Flroence. In this neighbourhood also, much nearer Signa, is the noble villa of Le Selve, which belonged to Filippo Strozzi, who married the famous Clarice, daughter of Pietro de' Medici. Afterwards the villa belonged to the Salviati. It was from one of its beautiful loggias that Galileo discovered the constellation of Jupiter. Close by is an old monastery, with the chapel where S. Andrea Corsini said his first mass. The lower hills are covered with vineyards, producing the wine of which Redi sings: -
It is no noxious steam rising from the rivers and the rains; no grey and oppressive obliteration of the face of the world like the fogs of the North; no weight on the lungs and blindness to the eyes; no burden of leaden damp lying heavy on the soil and on the spiritis; no wall built up between the sun and man; but a fog that is as beautiful as the full moonlight is - nay, more beautiful, for it has beams of warmth, glories of colour, glimpses of landscape such as the moon would coldly kill; and the bells ring, and the sheep bleat, and the birds sing underneath its shadow; and the sun-rays come through it, darted ike angels' spers: and it has in it all the promise of the morning, and all the sounds of the waking day. - Signa.
La rugiada di Rubino
Che in Valdarno i colli onora,
Che per lei suo pregio perde
Quando spunta dal suo verde.
FROM THE PORTA AL PRATO (POGGIO A CAJANO, PETRAJA, CAREGGI)
About 1 mile from this gate is the handsome Villa Demidoff, and a mile further is the village of Peretola, where Florentine burghers had their jousting field in the XIII c., and where pink lilies of the valley may be found in spring. Hence a dull road (with a tram from the Piazza S. Maria Novella, a branch from that to Prato) to the left leads (about 10 miles from Florence) to the Villa of Poggio a Cajano, which was built by Giuliano di San Gallo for Lorenzo the Magnificent, and became one of his favourite retreats. Hither Lorenzo came frequently for the sake of his favourite amusement of hawking, accompanied by Pulci, who cared little for the diversion. 'La Caccia con Falcone' describes himself as missing, and having hidden in a wood to make poetry.
The vault of the great saloon was considered by Vasari to be the largest of modern times. It was painted by order of Leo X with frescoes by the great masters of the period, intended as allegorical of the glories of the Medici, viz.: -
Cicero from Exile - typical of the return of Cosimo to Florence from
exile, October 1434.
Andrea del Sarto. The Presents sent from Egypt to Caesar - typical of the presents of the Sultan to Lorenzo.
'A variety and richness of episodes like those with which we become familiari in the works of Paul Veronese. - Crowe and Cavalcaselle.Pontormo. The Banquet given to Scipio by Syphax - typical of the banquet given to Lorenzo by the King of Naples.
The rooms (with little of the
furniture remaining) are to be seen in which the Grand-Duke Francesco I
died, October 19, 1587, and on the following day his wife, the
Bianca Cappello. The story of Bianca is a long romance. Daughter of a
Venetian noble, Bartolommeo Cappello, she eloped with Pietro
a young Florenctine, by whom she was already with child and she was
to him at his mother's house in the Piazza S. Marco in Florence. Here
attracted the favour of
Francesco de' Medici, eldest son of Duke Cosimo, and he made her his mistress. Bonaventuri was shortly after murdered by bravoes in the employment of the Ricci, with a daughter of whose house he had intrigued. After the accession of Francesco to the throne, and the death of his duchess, Giovanna of Austria, Bianca was married to the Grand-Duke in the Palazzo Vecchio, June 5, 1578, and enjoyed her dearly-bought honours for eight years, until she perished with her husband, under strong suspicion of poison, during a visit of the Grand-Duke's brother and successor, Ferdinando, who had always been the bitterest enemy of Bianca. Then Francesco was buried with all pomp in the family mausoleum at S. Lorenzo, but Bianca, wrapped in a sheet, was thrown into the common grave for the poor, under the nave of the same church.
There, at Cajano,The low-lying Park, with its ugly rows of poplars, and dam shrubberies and summer-houses on the rive Ombrone, is greatly admired by the Florentines, but will not be though worth a visit by foreigners, though there is an old proverb which says -
Where when the hawks are mewed and evening came,
Pulci would set the table in a roar
With his wild lay - thre, where the sun descends,
And hill and dale are lost, veiled with his beams,
The fair Venetian died, she and her lord -
Died of a posset drugged by him who sate
And saw them suffer, flinging back the charge
The murderer on the murdered. - Rogers' Italy.
The breed of buffaloes, afterwards so common in Italy, was first introduced at Poggio a Cajano by Lorenze de' Medici.Val più una lastra di Poggia a Cajano
Che tutte le belleze d'Artemino.
About 4 miles from the Porta al Prato (most easily reached by tram from S. Maria Novella, or by rail, the station of Castello being close by; an order should be obtained from a banker) is the charming Villa of Petraja. It was bought by Ferdinando I, and adorned by Buontalenti. One tower only remains of the castle of the Brunelleschi, its ancient owners, who defended it in 1364 against the Pisans under the Condottiere Sir John Hawkwood, who was then fighting against Florence. The gardens, on the southern slope of the Apennines, are most lovely. A beautiful fountain by Tribolo is surmounted by a Venus of Giovanni da Bologna: it is pronounced by Vasari to be 'the most beautiful of all fountains'. The loggie are adorned with frescoes by Il Volterrano. Here Scipione Ammirato, under the eyes of Cosimo and his son Ferdinando, wrote the history of Florence which procured him the name of the New Livy. The gardens have been greatly infured since the palace was occupied by Madame Mirafiore, first the mistress and then the wife of King Victor Emmanuel II.
In the valley below Petraja is the villa of Castello, which was the residence of the Medici before their elevation to the sovereignty. It was afterwards enlarged by Tribolofor Cosimo I, who died here of malignant fever, Apil 1, 1574. Its beautiful fountain has a group of Hercules and Antaeus by Ammanato. Another Medicean filla near this - Villa Quarto - is now the property of Countess Strogonoff.
About 2 1/2 miles, either from the Porta al Prato or the Porta S. Gallo, near the Church of S. Stefano in Pane, is Careggi (Count Boutourlin), the most bewitching of all the Medicean villas, built in the most lovely situation for Cosimo Pater Patriae by Michelozzi. Its gardens are exquisitely beautiful, and its ancient rooms are full of interesting souvenirs of Lorenzo de' Medici. Here every 7th of November the banquet was held which celebrated the birthday of Plato, and here Lorenzo lived happy in the cherished society of his especial friends, Pico della Mirandola and Politian. Here he watched over the education of Marsilio Ficino (who died here in the villa), the son of his physician, who was brought up in his house, and loved by him as a son, and hence he wrote to him when absent . 'Come to see me, dear Marsilio, as quickly as you can, and do not forget to bring with you the book of the divine Plato upon the sovereign good. There is no effort which I do not make to discover the path of true happiness. Come, I beg you, and do not forget to bring with you also the lyre of Orpheus'. Here also it was that Lorenzo had his famous botanical garden. Here Pope Leo X passed his childhood. Here (where on August 1, 1464, Cosimo Pater Patriae had died) what he called 'the last evening of his winter' came to Lorenzo the Magnificent. When forewarded by the symptoms of his illness that his end was approaching, he felt more strongly than ever his doubts and disquietude as to a future state. At the same time he was filled with axieties as to the future political career of his son Pietro. On April 8, 1492, feeling that the supreme moment was at hand, he sought courage from his friend Politian, from whom he could not bear to be separated, and them having taken the hand of Politian, and having demanded Pico della Mirandola, he discussed philosophy until the coming of Savonarola.
Lorenzo on that day was more conscious than he had yet been that his death was near at hand. He had called his son Pietro to him, had given him his parting advice, and had bid him a last farewell. When his friends, who were not allowed to be present at that interview, returned to the chamber, and had made his son retire, as his presence agitated Lorenzo too much, he expressed a wish to see Pico della Mirandola again, who immediately hastened to him. It appeared as if the sweet expression of that benevolent and gentle young man had soothed him a little, for he said to him, 'I should have died unhappy if I had not first been cheered by a sight of thy face'. Pico had no sooner retired than Savonarola entered, and approached repectfully the bed of the dying Lorenzo, who said that there were three sins he wished to confess to him, and for which he asked absolution: the sacking of Volterra; the money taken from the Monte delle Fanciulle, which had caused so many deaths; and the bloodshed after the conspiracy of the Pazzi. While saying this he again became agitated, and Savonarola tried to calm him by frequently repeating, 'God is good, God is merciful!' Lorenzo had scarcely left off speaking, when Savonarola added, 'Three things are required of you'. 'And what are they, father?' replied Lorenzo. Savonarola's countenance became grave, and, raising the fingers of his right hand, he thus began: 'First, it is necessary that you should have a full and lively faith in the mercy of God'. 'That I have most fully'. 'Secondly, it is necessary to restore that which you unjustly took away, or enjoin your sons to restore it for you'. This requirement appeared to cause him suprise and grief; however, with an effort, he gave his consent by a nod of his head. Savonraola then rose up, and while the dying prince shrank with terror upon his bed, the confessor seemed to rise above himself when saying, 'Lastly, you must restore liberty to the people of Florence'. His countenance was solemn, his voice almost terrible; his eyes, as if to read the answer, remained fixed intently on those of Lorenzo, who collecting all the strength that nature had left him, turned his back on him scornfully, without uttering a word. And thus Savonarola left him without giving him absolution; and the Magnificent, lacerated by remorse, soon after breathed his last'. - Pasquale Villari. Translation, Leonard Horner.Notes
2 Milton went to Italy in 1638, and visited Galileo, who, by his own account, had already become blind. In December 1637 he was forced to reside at Arcetru by an order of the Inquisition.
3 A tram runs from the Porta Romana to the Certosa, 40 c, or 25 c.[37 bus from Santa Maria Novella.]
AUGUSTUS J.C. HARE, FLORENCE
CHAPTER VII: VALLOMBROSA AND THE CASENTINO
Travellers who visit Vallombrosa alone will do well to drive direct from Florence. It can also be reached by carriage (1 horse 8 frs; 2 horses 15 frs.) from the station of Pontassieve, or by funicolare from the station of S. Ellero to Saltino (1 hour: Hotel Vallombrosa, good), whence a road of 1 1/2 mile through a wood leads to Vallombrosa. Vallombrosa may easily be visited in a long summer day. [SITA bus from Santa Maria Novella.]
Those who visit La Vernia and Camaldoli may take the first train to the station of Pontassieve, and there, from Giuseppe Fabbrini, Locanda del Vapore (not from the vetturini at the station, whose horses are wretched), may engage a legnetto at 12 frs., or a carriage for four people at 20 frs. a day, for the excursion. Those who wish to find their carriage ready at the station must write beforehand.
With the carriage it will be best to proceed first to the Croce di Savoia at Vallombrosa, going next day to La Vernia, and sleeping at Bibbiena. Thence one must return as far as Poppi to take the new road to Camaldoli.
La Vernia is the most remarkable of the monasteries; then, from its situation, Vallombrosa. Camaldoli is chiefly worth while to those who are interested in the story of S. Romualdo. The accommodation at Vallombrosa and Camaldoli is good.
The picturesque village of Pelago is about 5 miles from Pontassieve. Hence a new carriage-road ascends through pine woods, which recall Norway or Switzerland, to the beautiful meadows, fresh with running streams and most brilliant with spring flowers, at the end of which, at a height of 3140 feet, stands Vallombrosa (Inns: Croce di Savoia, Castello di Acqua Bella). It would seem as if the recollection of this ascent had suggested the lines of Milton -
Originally Vallombrosa bore the name of Acqua Bella. The convent owes its origin to the penitence of S. Giovanni Gualberto (see S. Miniato), who first lived here in a little hut. Other hermits collected around him, and as the numbers increased, he found it necessary to form the community into an order and gave them the rule of S. Benedict, adding some additional obligations, especially that of silence. Yet the rule was less severe than that of the Camaldolese. Only twenty years had passed from the time of his death when Giovanni Gualberti was canonised, and within the first century of its existence his order possessed fifty abbeys. The abbots of Vallombrosa sate in the Florentine Senate, with the title of Counts of Monte Verde and Gualdo, and they could arrest, try, and imprison their vassals without reference to any other court. The habit of the Vallombrosans was light grey, but the late monks wore a black cloak and a large hat when abroad. The greatest severity was used towards them during the suppression of the religious orders, and scurrilous libels upon the past history of Vallombrosa were purposely circulated. Yet the records of the Archivio show that in old times as many as 229,761 loaves of bread were distributed here to the poor in three years (1750.53), not inclusive of the hospitalities of the Foresteria, and in the same short space of time as many as 40,300 beech-trees were planted on the neighbouring mountains by the monks.So on he fares, and to the border comes
Of Eden, where delicious Paradise,
Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure greem,
As with a rural mound, the champaign head
Of a steep wilderness, whose hairy sides
With thicket overgrown, grotesque and wild,
Access denied; and overhead up grew
Insuperable height of loftiest shade,
Cedar and pine, and fir, and branching palm,
A sylvan scene, and as the ranks ascend
Shade above shade, a woody theatre
Of stateliest view. - Paradise Lost, iv.131.
The mountains live in holy families,
And the slow pine woods ever climb and climb
Half up their breasts, just stagger as they seize
Some grey crag, drop back with it many a time,
And struggle blindly down the precipice.
. . . O waterfalls
And forests! mountains bare
That leap up peak by peak and catch the palls
Of purple and silver mist to rend and share
With one another, at electric calls
Of life in the sunbeams, - till we cannot dare
Fix your shapes, count your number! we must think
Your beauty and your glory helped to fill
The cup of Milton's soul so to the brink,
He never more was thirsty when God's will
Had shattered to his sense the last chain-link
But which he had drawn from Nature's visible
The fresh well.water. Satisfied by this,
He sang of Adam's Paradise and smiled,
Remembering Vallombrosa. Threfore is
The place divine to English man and child,
And pilgrims leave their soul here in a kiss.
Eliz. Barrett Browning.
The buildings of Vallombrosa are inferior in interest to those of other sanctuaries, and it owes its celebrity chiefly to its beautiful name and to the allusion of Milton. The church is handsome. The vast convent was shiefly built, as it now stands, by the Abbot Averardo Nicolini in 1637. While the monks remained, strangers were always hospitably received here.
Since the suppression under the Sardinian Government, the place has lost many of its characteristic features, the monastic buildings are used as a school for the training of foresters, and the Foresteria is now a pension annexed to the hotel Croce di Savoia.Vallombrosa;
Così fu nominata una badia
Ricca e bella, nè men religiosa
E cortese a chiunque vi venia -
Orlando Furioso, xxii.36.
All around the former convent are woods, the woods which came back to Milton's memory when he wrote -
and which in the present century have been celebrated in a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine. But nowhere has the mad destruction of old trees in Italy been carried to such an excess as at Vallombrosa. An Englishman vainly offered to pay the fullest timber-prices for some of the finest trees which adorned the ascent from Pelago if they might be left standing in their places; his offer was refused, and every tree of any age or beauty was destroyed. The noble wood on the ridge of the hill, which sheltered all the young plantations, has been ruthlessly annihilated in the same way. Away with it, cut it down, root it up, is always the cry of an Italian official against a fine tree - and all remonstrance is in vain.Thick as autumnal leaves that strew the brooks
In Vallombrosa, where the Etrurian shades
High overarch'd imbower -
Paradise Lost, i.303
It is worth while to ascend to the Hermitage and Chapel of Il Paradisino, some way farther up the mountain, for the sake of the view. The scagliola decorations in the chapel were executed by Henry Hugford, an Englishman, who sought a retreat here.
The ascent of the Secchietta (4744 feet) from Vallombrosa occupies two hours. There is a splendid view from the chapel called Il Tabernaculo di Don Piero.
A very long ascent from Pontassieve, of ten dreary miles, leads to the entrance of the Casentino. Near the summit is the miserable village of Consuma, which derives its strange name from the death of one Adam, who was burnt alive here for having forged false florins of the Republic at the instigation of the Counts of Romena. A short distance beyond and we look down upon the rich valley of the Upper Arno, called Il Casentino. Hence we catch sight, in the distance to the left, of the arid brown steep of Alvernia, 'the Holy Mountain' of S. Francis. The road passes through the village of Borgo alla Collina, with a castle which was bestowed by the Florentine Republic upon Cristofano Landino, as a reward for his commentary on Dante; he is preserved like a mummy in the parish church. Descending into the valley, we cross the plain of Campaldino, where the Ghibelline troops of Arezzo were completely routed by the Florentine Guelfs, and where their famous warrior-bishop, Guglielmo Ubertini, was killed, June 11, 1289. Dante was present.
C'est dans la plaine de Campaldino, aujourd'hui riante et couverte de vignes, qu'eut lieu un rude combat entre les guelfes de Florence et les fuorisciti gibelins, secondés par les Arétins. Dante combattir au premier rang de la cavalerie florentine, car il fallait que cet homme, dont la vie fue si complète, avant d'etre théologien, diplomate, poète, eut été soldat. Il avait alors vingt-quatre ans. Lui même racontait cette bataille dans une lettre dont il ne reste que quelques lignes. 'A la battaile de Campaldino, le parti gibelin fut presque entièrement mort et défait. Je m'y trouvai novice dans les armes; j'y eus grande crainte, et, sur la fin, grande allégresse, à cause des diverses chances de la bataille'. Il ne faut pas voir dans cette phrase l'aveu d'un manque de courage, qui ne pouvait se trouver dans une âme trempée comme celle d'Alighieri. Le seule peur qu'il eut, c'est que la bataille ne fût perdue. En effet, les Florentins parurent d'abord battus; la cavalerie arétine fit plier leur infanterie; mais ce premier avantage de l'ennemi le perdit en divisant ses forces.Crowning a hill about a mile to the right of the road is the town of Poppi, the old capital of the Casentino, with a station on the line from Arezzo to Stia. Its castle, something like the Palazzo Vecchio at Flroence on a small scale, was built by Arnolfo del Cambio, in 1274, for Count Simone, grandson of Count Guido Guerra.It stands gradly at the end of the town, girdled by low towers. In its courtyard is a most picturesque staircase, quite different (as will be seen by the annxed woodcut) from that of the Bargello at Florence, which is wrongly said to have been copied from it. In the chapel are frescoes attributed to Spinello Aretino. A chamber is shown as that of 'la buona Gualdrada', mentioned by Dante (Inf. xvi.37), the beautiful daughter of Bellincione Berti, who declared to Otho IV, when he demanded her name, that she was the daughter of a man who would compel her to embrace him; upon which the maiden herself arose and said, 'No man living shall ever embrace me, unless he is my husband'. Dante stayed here as the guest of the Contessa Battifolli.
A cette courte campagne nous devons peut-être un des morceaux les plus admirables et les plus célèbres de la Divine Comédie. Ce fut alors que Dante fit amitié avec Bernardino della Polenta, frère de cette Françoise de Ravenne que le lieu de sa mort a fait appeler à tort Françoise de Rimini. On peut croiure que l'amitié dy Poète pour le frère l'a rendu encore plus sensible aux infortunes de la soeur. - Ampère.
In the Castle of Poppi.
About 4 miles beyond Poppi is the pleasant little town of Bibbiena (Inn: Locanda di Fr, Amorosi), which also has a station between Arezzo and Stia, and which contains a fine work of one of the Robbias in the Church of S. Lorenzo. Here Bernardo Dovizi, 1470-1520, was born, the secretary and friend of Giovanni de' Medici, who, when raised to the pontificate as Leo X, made him Cardinal Bibbiena. Raffaaele painted the fine portrait of this Cardinal now in the Pitti Palace, and might, had he been willing, have married his niece.
Forsyth recalls how Bibbiena has been
Long renowned for its chestnuts, which the peasants dry in a kiln, grind into a sweet flour, and then turn into bread, cakes, and polenta. Old Burchiello sports on the chestnuts of Bibbiena in these curious verses, which are more intelligibel than the barber's usual strains: -Carriages from Bibbiena for the ascent to La Vernia, or Alvernia, cost 10-12 frs. The convent occupies the summit of a mountain which was bestowed upon S. Francis, in 1224, by the knight Orlando da Chiusi, who was moved thereto by the preaching of the Saint in the castle of Montefeltro. 'I have a mountain', said Orlando, 'in Tuscany, a devout and solitary place, called Mount Alvernia, far from the haunts of men, well fitted for him who would do penance for his sins, or desires to lead a solitary life; this, if it please thee, I will freely give to thee and thy companions for the welfare of my soul'. S. Francis gladly accepted, but the monks who first took possession of the rocky plateau, and built cells there with the branches of trees, had to have a guard of fifty armed men to protect them from the wild beasts.Ogni castagna in camicia e'n pelliccia
Scoppia, e salta pel caldo, e fa trictacche,
Nasce in mezzo del mondo in cioppa riccia;
Secca, lessa, e arsiccia
Si da per frutte a desinar e a cena;
Questi sono i confetti da Bibbiena.
Our path crosses the torrent Corselone, and then begins at once to ascend. The whole of the way is alive with the recollections of S. Francis, as given in the Fioretti. It was in the woods which we pass through that he vanquished demons in conflict during his first ascent, while his companions, overwhelmed with fatigue, had fallen asleep in the shade. Then, -
Beating his breast, he sought after Jesus, the beloved of his soul, and having found Him at last, in the secret of his heart, now he spoke reverently to Him as his Lord, now he made answer to Him as his judge, now he besought Him as his father, now he conversed with Him as his friend. On that night and in that wood, his companions, awaking and listening to him, heard him with many tears and cries implore the Divine mercy on behalf of sinners.Leaving the wood, we enter upon the steeper and hotter part of the ascent, where -
The next morning his companions, knowing that he was too weak to walk, went to a poor labourer of the country, and prayed him, for the love of God, to lend his ass to Brother Francis, their father, for he was not able to travel on foot. Then that good man made ready the ass, and with great reverence caused S. Francis to mount thereon. And when they had gone forward a little, the peasant said to S. Francis, 'Tell, art thou Brother Francis of Assisi?' And S. Francis answered, 'Yes'. 'Take need, then', said the peasant, 'that thou be in truth as good as all men account thee; for many have great faith in thee, and therefore I admonish thee to be no other than what the people take thee for'. And when S. Francis heard these words, he was not angry at being thus admonished by a peasant, but instantly dismounting from the ass, he knelt down upon the ground before that poor man, and, kissing his feet, humbly thanked him for that his charitable admonition.We skirt the stream, which the legend says issued forth from the hard rock by virtue of the prayers of S. Francis, and lastly, as we reach the green meadows below the convent, we see, upon the right, a group of old trees, shading some rocks and untouched by the axe, for -
As they drew near to Alvernia, it pleased S, Francis to rest a while under an oak, which may still be seen there, and from thence he began to consider the position of the place and the country. And while he was thus considering, behold there came a great multitude of birds of divers regions, which, by singing and clapping their wings, testified great joy and gladness, and surrounded S. Francis in such wise that some perched on his shoulders, some on his arms, some on his bosom, and others at his feet, which when his companions and the peasant saw, they marvelled greatly; but S. Francis, being joyful of heart, said to him, 'I believe, dearest brethren, that our Lord Jesus Chrsit is pleased that we should dwell on this solitary mount, inasmuch as our brothers and sisters, the birds, show such joy at our coming'.1From hence we see the conventual buildings most picturesquely grouped on the perpendicular rocks, which rise abruptly from the grass, and backed by woods of pine and beech. Here it was that Brother Leo often imagined that -
He beheld S. Francis rapt in God and suspended above the earth, sometimes at the height of three feet above the ground, sometimes four, sometimes raised as high as the beech-trees, and sometimes so exalted in the air, and surrounded by so dazzling a glory, that he could scarce endure to look upon him.A rock-hewn path takes us to the arched gateway of the sanctuary, which has been greatly enlarged at many different periods since its foundation by S. Francis in 1213, but which in Roman Catholics will ever be one of the most sacred spots in the world, from its connection with the Saint, who always passed two months here in retreat, and who is here believed to have received the stigmata, but which he was especially likened to the great Master whose example he was always following.
Nel crudo sasso, intra Tevere ed Arno,It was here that S, Francis learned the tonges of the beasts and birds, and preached them sermons. Stretched for hours motionless on the bare rocks, coloured like them, and rough like in his brown peasant's serge, he prayed and meditated, saw the vision of Christ crucified, and planned his order to regenerate a vicious age. So still he lay, so long, so like stone, so gentle were his eyes, so kind and low his voice, that the mice nibbled bread-crumbs from his wallet, lizards ran over him, and larks sang to him in the air. Here, too, in those long solitary vigils, the Spirit of God came upon him, and the spirit of Nature was even as God's Spirit, and he sang, 'Laudate sia Dio mio Signore, con tutte le creature, specialmente messer lo frate sole; per suor luna, e per le stelle; per frate vento, e per l'aria e nuvolo, e sereno, e ogni tempo'. Half the virtue of this hymn would be lost were we to forget how it was written, in what solitudes and mountains far from men, ot to ticket it with some cold word like Pantheism. Pantheism it is not, but an acknowledgment of that brotherhood, beneath the love of God, by which the sun and moon and stars, and wind and air and cloud, and clearness and all weather, and all creatures, are bound together with the soul of man.
Da Cristo prese l'ultimo sigillo
Che le sue membra du' anni portarno.
Dante, Par. xi.106.
Here is a sentence of the Imitatio which throws some light upon the hymn of S. Francis, by explaining the value of natural beauty for monks who spent their lives in studying death. 0If thy heart were right, then would every creature be to thee a mirror of life and a book of holy doctrine. Thre is no creature so small and vile that does not show forth the goodness of God'. With this sentence bound about their foreheads, walked Fra Angelico and S. Francis. To men like them the mountains, valleys, and the skies, and all that they contained, were full of deep significance. Though they reasoned, 'de contitione humanae miseriae' and 'de contemptu mundi', yet the whole world was a pageant of God's glory, a poem to His goodness. Their chastened senses, pure hearts, and simple wills were as wings by which they soared above the things of earth, and sent the music of their souls aloft with every other creature in the symphony of praise. To them, as to Blake, the sun was not mere blazing disc or vball, but an innumerable company of the heavenly host, singing, 'Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almight'. To them the winds were brothrs, and the streams sisters - brethren in common dependence upon God their Father, brethren in common consecration to His service, brethren by blood, brethren by vows of holiness. Perfect faith rendered this world no puzzle; they overlooked the things of sence because the spiritual things were ever present and as clear as day. Yet they did not forget that spiritual things are symbolized by thigns of sense; and so the smallest herb of grass was vital to their tranquil contemplations. We, who have lost sight of the invisible world, who set our affections more on things of earth, fancy that because these monks despised the world, and did not write about its landscapes, therefore they were dead to its beauty. This is mere vanity: the mountains, stars, seas, fields, and living things were only swallowed up in one thought of God, and made subordinate to the awfulness of human destines. We to whom hills are hills, and seas are seas, and stars are ponderable quantities, speak, write, and reason of them as of objects intersting in themselves. The monks were less concerned about such things, because they only found in them the vestibules and symbols of a hidden mystery. - Cornhill Magazine, vol. xiv.
La Vernia is one of the few great religious shrines which have not been confiscated by the avarice of the Sardinian Government. Fortunately it originally belonged to the Arte de Lana, who conceded it to the Grand-Dukes; they in their turn made it over to the Municipality of Florence, who have defended their property. Annually the representatives of the Municipality come in medieval fashion, plant their standard on the convent platform, and inspect the buildings and woods. A hundred and seven brown Franciscan monks still reside in the vast buildings. They all change their names when they 'enter into religion', and take that of some saint to whom they especially devote themselves. On payment of 100 francs any peasant may become a Franciscan monk, with the prospect of eventually entering the priesthood. At La Vernia about 125 francs are required at the end of the novitiate for the titolo di vestiario, or the expense of the habit. Strangers are most hospitably received by the monks, and share with them the fare which they have, though it is of a most wretched description. They have no property whatever except the garden where their salad is raised, and the neighbouring bosco. In the summer, when the air is always fresh on these mountain heights, and the woods resound with nightingales, their residence is pleasant enough, but it is terribly severe during the nine months of winter, and the cold is intolerable in their fireless cells. Eight hours of the twenty-four are passed in the church, one hour and a half being soon after midnight. Twice in the wee the monks kneel in the midnight around the marble slab where the stigmata were inflicted, and as the five lamps in memory of the five wounds of S. Francis are extinguished, they scourge themselves in the total darkness, and the clashing of the iron chains of their self-inflicted punishment mingles with the melancholy howl of the winds around the stone corridor. Twice in the twenty-four hours they join in a chanting procession down the long covered galley on the mountain edge in honour of the stigmata. During the remaining hours those monks who have to preach study for their sermons (the famous preacher Ferrara is a Franciscan), the doctors of the poor employ themselves in the spezieria; others perform the manual labour of the vast establishment. They take little notice of the events of the outer world, and, as far as is apparent, seem contented with their monotonous lot. We asked some of them if they never felt tired of it - 'Ah, no; life is so short, but eternity is long'. Seeing the exquisite beauty of the bosco in spring, with its crpet of violets, primroses, daffodils, cyclamen, squills, saxifrage, and a thousand other flowers, we asked a monk if their loveliness was not a pleasure to him . 'Ma perchè? non mi sono mai confuso con la botanica', was the answer.
Subsisting entirely on the alms of the surrounding farmers and contadini, the monks, after a fashion, pay back what they have received on the great festas when the pilgrimages to La Vernia take place. Then al the pilgrims, often to the number of 300, are received, and, if they require it, are fed; not in the guest-rooms, of which there are only twenty-four, these being generally required for 'personaggi', but encampments are made for them in the bosco or on the broad flagged terraces, upon which the brown figures of the monks - as they pace up and down and are relieved against the pale blue distance of the mountains - look as if the statues of S. Francis and S. Antonio had stepped from their niches and come back into life.
Je me sentais avec Dante en ce leiu tout plein de la mémoire des miracles de Saint François, sur cet âpre rocher de l'Apennin, doù s'est répandu sur le monde l'ordre fameux qui a régéneré le catholicisme du moyen age, et dont le poète du catholicism et du moyen âge a si magnifiquement exalté le fondateur. La foi du XIIIe siècle était encore là. Le frère Jean-Baptiste me conduisit aux divers lieux témoins des merveilles opérées par Saint François. En me racontant ces merveilles, il semblait les voir. 'C'est ici', disait-il, 'que le miracle s'accomplit; le saint était là où je suis'. Et en prononçant ces paroles, la physionomie, la voix, les gestes du frère Jean-Baptiste exprimaient une invincible certitude. Il m'a montré des rochers fendus et brisés par quelque accident géologique, et m'a dit: 'Voyez comme le sein de la terre a été déchiré dans la nuit où le Christ est descendu aux enfers pour y chercher les âmes des justes morts avant sa venue! Comment expliquer autrement ce désordre? Ceci, ce n'est pas moi qui vous le raconte: vous le voyez de vos yeux, vous le voyer!'
J'écoutais avec d'autant plus d'intérêt, que Dante fait allusion à la même croyance. Pour passer dans le cercle des violents, il lui faut franchir un éboulement de rochers auquel Virgile, son guide, attribue une semblable origine. Il le rapporte de même au tremblement qui agita l'abîme le jour où le Christ descendit. Virgile dit exactement à Dante ce que me disait le frère Jean-Baptiste.2 - Ampère.The principal Church contains several fine works of the della Robbia family, that of the Ascension being most magnificent. The church opens upon the terraced platform where Orlando finally over the mountain to the saint, and where on their first arrival -
S. Francis caused his companions to sit down, and taught them the manner of life they were to keep, that they might live religiously in this solitude; and, among other things, most earnestly did he enjoin on them the strict observance of holy poverty, saying, 'Let not Orlando's charitable offer cause you in any way to offend against our lady and mistress, holy Poverty'. God has called us into this holy religion for the salvation of the world, and has made this compact between the world and us, that we should give it good example, and that it should provide for our necessities. Let us, then, persevere in holy poverty; for it is the way of perfection and the pledge of eternal riches.Close by is the site of the great beech-tree which over-shadowed the first cell - turguriolo - of S. Francis, atto e divoto alla orazione - in which he lived while the convent was building, and where he sought the guidance of God by making the sign of the cross over his Bible, and then opening it at a venture. Each time the book opened at the story of the Passion of our Saviour, and hence he deduced that the remaining years of his life (for he was already in failing health) were to be as one long martyrdom, and that, in the words of his biography Celano, 'through much anguish and many struggles he should enter the kingdom of God'. The stone altar is shown whither Christ descended to hold visible converse with His servant. Beneath this is a chaotic valley of rocks, rising in huge and fantastic pinnacles against one another, and, according to the legend, riven and reft into these strange forms at the time of the Crucifixion. Over these rocks, fifty-three metres high, it is said that the Devil hurled S. Francis, and the hole is shown upon which he lodged, when 'the stone became as liquid wax to receive him'. In the inmost recesses of the deepest cleft is the secret caverned space, where, perpetually chanting the Penitential Psalm, S. Francis passed the 'Lent of S. Michael'. One monk alone, Brother Leo, was permitted to approach him, once in the day, with a little bread and water, and once at night, and, when he reached the narrow causeway at the entrance, was bidden to say, 'Domine labie mea aperies'; when, if an answer came, he might enter the cell and repeat matins with his master; but if there was silence, he must forthwith depart. In a second cave, covered with iron to prevent its being carried away piecemeal by the faithful, is a great flat stone - 'il letto di San Francesco'.
Outside is the point of rock where -
Giovanni Bellini, St Francis in Ecstasy, Mont'Averna, New York, Frick Gallery and Art Reference Library
Through all that Lent, a falcon, whose nest was hard by his cell, awakened S. Francis every night a little before the hour of matins by her cry and the flapping of her wings, and would not leave him till he had risen to say matins; and if at any time S. Francis was more sick that ordinary, or weak, or weary, that falcon, like a discreet and charitable Christian, would call him somewhat later than was her wont. And S. Francis took great delight in this clock of his, because the great carefulness of the falcon drove away all slothfulness, and summoned him to prayers; and, moreover, during the daytime she would often abide familiarly with him.In another chapel is shown the grave of all the monks of La Vernia who have died in 'the odour of sanctity', that is, who have been distinguished by blue lights - corpse candles - hovering over their dead bodies. In another is the cell of S. Bonaventura, in another that of S. Antony of Padua, who came here into retreat, but was driven away by ill-health. The Chapel of the Stigmata contains one of the largest and gradest works of Andrea della Robbia - a Crucifixion, with the Virgin and S. John, S. Jerome and S. Francis, standing at the foot of the cross, surrounded by the most beautiful weeping and adoring angels.
The great church contains one of Andrea della Robbia's sweetest Nativities, together with an Annunciation very like the lunette of the Spedale degli Innocenti; in the Chiesina we have a large relief of the Madonna giving the measure of the chapel to S. Bonaventura, dated 1486; while the Chapel of the Stigmata - the Holy of Holies - has a grand Crucifixion, the finest rendering of the subject in Della Robbia art. The heads of the saints, S. John, S. Benedict, and others, at the foot of the cross, are unequalled in beauty of expression; that of Francis himself, in its intensity of yearning, reminds us of S. Giovanni Gualberto in Perugino's Vallombrosa altar-piece, and every shade of grief and wonder is displayed in the gestures and faces of the angels hiding their eyes and clasping their hands wildly together, as they hover round the dying Lord. Nowhere does Andrea better reveal the depths of feeling that lived in his gentle breast; never before had terra-cotta been used to express passion so profound, or emotions of so varied and subtle a nature. - Brit. Quart. Review, Oct. 1885.This chapel occupies that point in the desert where the story tells that -
S. Francis, being inflamed by the devout contemplation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, beheld a seraph descending from heaven with six fiery and resplendent winfs, bearing the image of One crucified.And while S. Francis marvelled much at such a stupendous vision, it was revealed to him that by Divine providence this vison had been shown to him that he might understand that not by the martyrdom of his body, but by the consuming fire of the soul, he was to be transformed into the express image of Christ. 'Then did all the Mont'Alvernia appear wrapped in intense fire, which illuminated all the mountains and valleys around, as it were the sun shining in his strength upon the earth, whence the shepherds who were watching their flocks in that country wre filled with fear, as they themselves afterwards told the brethren, affirming that this light had been visible on Mont'Alvernia for upwards of an hour; and because of the brightness of that light, which shone through the windows of the inn where they were resting, muleteers who were travelling in the Romagna arose in haste, supposing that the sun had risen, and saddled and loaded their beasts; but as they journeyed on, they saw that light disappear and the visible sun arise.
In this seraphic apparition, Christ spoke certain high and secret things to S. Francis, saying, 'Knowest thou what I have done to thee? I have given thee the stigmata which are the ensigns of my Passion, that thou mayest be my standard-bearer'. And when the marvellous vision disappeared, upon the hands and feet of S. Francis the print of the nails began immediately to appear, as he had seen them in the body of Christ crucified. In like manner, on the right side appeared the image of an unhealed wound, as if made by a lance, still red and bleeding, from which drops of blood often flowed and stained the tunic of S. Francis. Although these sacred wounds impressed upon him by Christ afterwards gave great joy to his heart, yet they caused unspeakable pain to his body; so that, being constrained by necessity, he made choice of Brother Leo, for his great purity and simplicity, and suffered him to touch and dress his wounds on all days except during the time from Thursday evening to Saturday moning, for then he would not by any human remedy mitigate the pain of Christ's Passion, which he bore in his body, because at that time our Saviour Jesus Christ was taken and crucified and died for us.3Another chapel contains an Assumption by one of the Robbias. The Madonna is portrayed as giving the measure of this very chapel to S. Bonaventura, by whom it was built. The measure thus consecrated has never been altered, though an ante-chapel has been added, containing a Robbia Nativity and a Pietà.
The poor friars of La Vernia are more loved and respected by the people who feed them than any of the chartered orders. Obliged and obliging, they mix intimately with the peasants, as counsellors and comforters and friends. In hospitals, in prisons, and on the scaffold, in short, wherever there is misery you find Franciscans allaying it. Having nothing yet possessing all things, they live in the apostolical state. - Forsyth (1811).Most beautiful are the forest walks behind the convent, fragrant with the memories of holy Franciscan monks. 'In these woods', say Sir J. Stephen, 'S. Francis wandered in the society of Poverty, his wedded wife; relying for support on Him alone by whom the ravens are fed, and awakening the echoes of the mountains by his devout songs and fervent ejaculations'. Here, in the beech avenues, Brother James of Massa behild in a vision all the Friars Minor in the form of a tree, from whose branches the evil monks were shaken by storms into perdition, while the good monks were carried by the angels into life eternal. Here the venerable Brother John of Fermo wandered, weeping and sighing in the restless search after divine love, till, when his patience was sufficiently tried, Christ the Blessed appeared to him in the forest path, and, with many precious words, restored to him the gift of divine grace. And 'for a long time after, whenever Brother John followed the path in the forest where the blessed feet of Christ had passed, he saw the same wonderful light and breathed the same sweet odour' which had come to him with the vision of his Saviour. From the highest part of the rock, called La Penna (4165 ft), is the most glorious view. In the depths of the gorges beneath, on one side rises the Arno, and on the other, in the mountain of La Falterona (5410 ft), is the source of the Tiber.
A little south of the monastery is the ruined Castle of Chiusi, on the site of Clusium Noum, where the father of Michelangelo, Ludovico Buonarroti, held the office of Podestà. In this district also, in the valley of the Singorna, is the village of Caprese, where the great master was botn, March 6, 1475, though his parents removed to Settignano in the following year.
Most travellers will follow the carriage-road from Bibbiena to Camaldoli.4 The direct path is a wild and most exhausting ride of five hours. Descending between the beautiful moss-grown trees and steep rocks of Alvernia, the way (impossible without a guide) winds through woods to Soci, a flourishing village with manufactures of cloth. After this it is a stony road, ascending into arid and hideous earth mountians. Crossing the highest ridge, it descends raplidly into a deep valley backed by pine-woods, and fresh with streams and flowers, an oasis in a most dreary wilderness. Here, in the depth of the gorge, close to the torrent Giogana, is the immense mass of the Convent of Camaldoli (2717 ft), originally called Fonte Buona, which ws founded by S. Romualdo, about A.D. 1000, and became the cradle of the order.
The ancient buildings were strongly fortified, and successfully withstood a siege by the Duke of Urbino and the Venetians in 1498, when forty of the assailants were killed and the Duke himself wounded. It was again successfully defended against the forces of Piero de' Medici, when he was attempting to regain his lost power in Flroence, by the Abbot Basilio Nardi, who is introduced by Vasari in one of his battle-pieces in the Palazzo Vecchio. On this occasion, according to monkish legend, S. Romualdo visibly fought in defence of his foundation. The present edifice has little interest, having been rebuilt under Vasari in 1523. The Foresteria is now an excellent Hotel (Grande Albergo; pension, with wine, 12 francs), belonging to the proprietors of the Hotels del Arno and Gran Bretagna at Florence, and forms a delightful summer retreat. From the Sala dell'Accademia, 'where Christophorus Landinus, Lorenzo de' Medici, and Marsilius Ficinus held examinations', there is a beautiful view down the forest-clad gorge.
The fine library has been
and the only literary treasure remaining is a commentary on the earlier
part of the Psalms, written by S. Romualdo in the eleventh century. The
church contains some pictures by Vasari. The grave of a Bishop of
which died here a refugee from persecution, has the touching
'Hic jacet Cornelius Fran. de Nelli, Episc. Antverp., peccator et
the Capella del Infermeria is a Christ in the Desert - a good work of Raffaelino del Garbo. The famous painter on glass, Guglielmo da Marcilla (1475-1537), bequeathed his property with his body to the monks of Camaldoli. The dependent buildings of the convent included a well-managed farm, a forge, carpenter's shop, a mill, and the sega or sawmill, which is worked by the torrent. The charities of the monks of Camaldoli were proverbial; 1000 families of the Casentino depended on the convent for work or help. In addition to other alms, 600 loaves of bread were weekly prepared in the bakehouse for the destitute poor.
The monks of Camaldoli follow the rules approved in 1671 by Clement X. Their principal observances consist in psalm-singing, meditation, and the labour of their hands. They never meet at a common table except on the great feasts of the Church, and when the General Chapter is sitting. They never eat meat, and that which they call fasting is abstinence from eggs and anything cooked with butter, and on days which are not fast-days their portion is confined to three eggs, or sic ounce of fresh or four of salt fish. Their dress is a white robe and scapulary, with a woollen girdle. The famous Cardinal Placido Zurla and Mauro Cappellari - afterwards Pope Gregoy XVI - were Camaldolese monks. The painters Lorenzo Monaco and Giovanni degli Angeli also belong to this order.
About an hour's walk through the forest higher up the valley, on a grassy plateau, is a second convent, or rather little street of twenty-four hermitages, called Il Sacro Eremo, which is interesting from its connection with the story of S. Romualdo, a member of the noble family of the Onesti of Ravenna, who was led to embrace the monastic life from the horror he experienced when present at a duel in which his fther slew a near relation of his house. He first entered the monastery of S. Apollinare in Classe, where his austerities soon made him odious to the more lukewarm monks, and caused him to retire into the deserts of Catalonia, where he was joined by many disciples. In 1009 he received from the Counts of Maldoli a gift of the lands upon which this, his greatest monastery, was founded, and which has ever borne the name of Campo-Maldoli, Camaldoli, which united a cenobite and eremite life. At the Sacro Eremo he saw in a vision his monks mounting in white robes by a ladder to heaven, and so changed the habit from black to white.5 The first inhabitants of the hermitages were the five chosen companions of S. Romualdo - Dagnino, Benedetto, Gisso, Teuzzone, and Pietro.
The whole hermitage is enclosed within a wall; none are allowed to go out of it; but the hermits may walk in the woods and alleys within the enclosure at discretion.The Sacro Eremo or Sant'Ermo6 is mentioned by Dante, apropos of the death of Buonconte di Montefeltro, slain on the banks of Archiano, a torrent which flows into the Arno, and has its source near Camaldoli: -
Everything is sent them from the monastery in the valley; the food is every day brought to each cell; and all are supplied with wood and necessaries, that they may have no dissipation or hindrance in their contemplation. Many hours of the day are allotted to particular exercises, and no rain or snow prevents any one from meeting in the church to assist at the divine office. They are obliged to strict silence in all public common places; and everywhere during their Lents, also on Sundays, Holy days, Fridays, and other days of abstinence, and always from complin till sunrise the next day.
For a severer solitude, S. Romualdo added a third kind of life, that of a recluse. After a holy life in the hermitage, the superior grants leave to any that ask it, and seem called by God, to live for ever shut up in their cells, never speaking to any one but to the superior when he visits them, and to the brother who brings them necessaries. Their prayers and austerities are doubled and their fasts more severe and more frequent. S. Romualdo condemned himself to this kid of life for several years; and fervent imitations have never since failed in this solitude. - Alban Butler.
One of the highest points of the ridge of the Prato a Soglio is that called Poggio a Scali, which, as Ariosto says -Che sovra l'Ermo nasce in Apennino. Purg. v.96.
The view is certainly one of the finest in this part of Italy. Schellfels declares that the houses of Forli, Cesena, and Ravenna are visible from hence.Scopre il mar Schiavo e'l Tosco
Dal giogo, onde a Camaldoli si viene.7
Dante a certainement gravi le sommet de la Falterona; c'est sur ce csommet, d'où l'on embrasse toute la valèe de l'Arno, qu'il fait lire la singulière imprécation que le poète a prononcèe contre cette vallèe tout entière. Il suit le cours du fleuve, et, en avançant, il marque tous les lieux qu'il rencontre d'une invective ardente. Plus il marche, plus sa haine redouble de violence et d'âpreté. C'est un morceau de topographie satirique dont je ne connais aucun autre exemple. - Ampère.Hence we may
It is a most savage ride (or rather walk, for the path in places is most precipitous) of four hours from Camaldoli to Pratovecchio. The road to Pontassieve ascends by the fine old castle of Romena, where the poet visited his friend the Ghibelline chieftain, Count Alessandro da Romena. It is mentioned by Dante in the words of Maestro Adam the coiner: -Pursue
The Arno from his birthplace in the clouds,
So near the yellow Tiber's - springing up
From his four fountains on the Apennine,
That mountain-ridge a sea-mark to the ships
Sailing on either sea. Downward he runs,
Scattering fresh verdure through the desolate wild,
Down by the City of the Hermits, and the woods
That only echo to the choral hymn;
Then through these gardens to the Tuscan sea,
Reflecting castles, convents, villages,
And those great rivals in an elder day,
Florence and Pisa. - Rogers' Italy.
Near this is the church where Landino, the first commentator of Dante, is shown as a mummified saint. Lovers of Dante will certainly seek for the Fonte Branda, a thread of water falling into a stone basin in a brick wall, which naturally, and not the fountain of Siena, is that alluded to by Maestro Adamo when, amid the torments of hell, he says that he would rather see his tempters brought to the same suffering than be refreshed by the clear waters of his home.Ivi è Romena, là dov'io falsai
La lega suggellata del Batista,
Perch'io il corpo suso arso lasciai. - Inf. xxx.73.
[See also Thomas Adolphus Trollope, What I Remember, II.272, making the same observation while accompanying George Eliot and G.H. Lewis in these parts, 1860.]Per Fonte Branda non darei la vista.
Another castle in this neighbourhood, Porciano, was visited by Dante, who thence addressed a letter upbraiding the Florentines for resisting the Emperor - 'Scritta in Toscana sotto la fonte d'Arno, 11 Avrile, 1311'.Li ruscelletti, che de'verdi colli
Del Casentin discendon giuso in Arno,
Facendo i lor canali e freddi e molli. - Inf. xxx.64.
A pleasant day's excursion from Florence may be made by taking the train to Pontassieve, and a carriage thence down the valley of the Arno to Sicci, where the torrent of that name enters the Arno. Hence you follow the Sicci to its source, keeping the valley for five miles farther to the fortress of Castel Lobaco, beneath which is the church of S. Martino in Baco, on a cypress-fringed rock with a glorious view. A path ascends from the fortress of Lobaco to the sanctuary of La Madonna del Sasso, whence a path below the east wall of the church, leads to the hermitage cave where the Irish S. Bridget lived after the death of her brother Andrew at S. Martino a Mensola, and where she died.
The drive from Potassieve to Florence has much beauty, and skirts the windings of the Arno, lying in the low bed which Dante calls -
It must have been from this road that Michelangelo, as he rode away to Rome for the building of S. Peter's, turned round, and beholding the dome of the cathedral in the grey of the morning, exclaimed, 'Come te non voglio, meglio di te non posso'.La maladetta e sventurata fossa.
George Sand declared herself to have the same extraordinary attractive
power over all animals which characterised S. Francis.
3 Celano, the earliest biographer of S. Francis, wrote three years after his death and must have been in possession of everything then known and believed on the subject of the Stigmata. The 'Three Companions' did not compose their narrative until twenty yers after his death; but they were his constant companions during his life, and two out of the three are reported to have been with him on Mounty Alvernio. Bonaventura is the latest of all. His work was written in 1263, thirty-seven years after the death of the saint; but he had lived all his life among those who had known and loved Francis, and had the fullest information at his command.
Contemporary witnesses of perfect trustworthiness and high charcter believed in the fact of the Stigmata, and vouch for it. It is not an afterthought, a pious invention for the use of a canonising Pope, but the evident belief of the time, arising out of something in the life of Francis which attracted the wonder and curiosity and eager guesses of his companions. With a few exceptions the wonder was received with perfect faith by his generation. It was affirmed and proclaimed authoritatively by two Popes, who were his personal friends, and must have had means of knowing whether the tale were false or true. One of them, indeed, Pope Alexander VI, Bonaventura tells us, publicly asserted that he had himself seen the mysterious wounds. The evidence altogether is of a king which it is almost equally difficult to accept or to reject. There is sufficient weight of testimony, when fully considered, to stagger the stoutest unbeliever; and there is too much vagueness and generality to make the most believing mind quite comfortable in its faith. - Mrs Oliphant.4 Camaldoli may also be reached from the station of Stia on a branch line from Arezzo. Carriages, via Poppi, from the Albergo della Stazione Alpina at Stia, cost 10-12 francs.
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