Hills and Forests of Eastern Tuscany, 2017

Tuesday 25 April

1) The second day of pilgrimage headed into into the hills surrounding Florence. Under grey skies full of mystery and hidden depths, we travelled first to the Santuario di Monte Senario, the first monastery of the Serviette tradition founded in 1245 and still active as a place of spiritual retreat and renewal today. Sitting atop the mountain of the same name, the buildings themselves evoke a prayerful reverence and silent awe of the surrounding sublime countryside. We performed in one of the smaller chapels with a warm yet clear acoustic to a full, respectful and appreciative audience. The priest who hosted our visit exclaimed the singing to be “molto religioso!”  Following the performance the whole choir was treated to morning tea followed by a gathering on the rooftop courtyard overlooking the sublime surrounds.

2) Driving further into the hills we came to an open field commanded by the imposing edifice of Pieve di San Pietro a Romena, Pratovecchio. This stark stone place of worship from the 12th century was a marked contrast to the lavish and ornate churches of Florence. Our choir felt simplicity, humility and purity in the place which perhaps brought forward our own piety. Devotional singing came easily and naturally here and we would have happily stayed longer had not lunchtime beckoned.

3) By mid-afternoon, after driving deep into the hills forested thick with beech and firs, we arrived at the legendary Abbazia di Vallambrosa, a Benedictine Monastery founded in 1038, sanctuary over the centuries to many visionaries, poets and philosophers. This massive establishment is now apparently home to 4 permanent resident monks! Entering via the beautiful fish ponds and gardens, we came into the elaborate church, the ceiling fully and gloriously frescoed in the 18th century by G. A. Fabbrini. After our performance we followed the nearby pilgrim’s walk up the hill to contemplate the impressive view overlooking the monastery and surrounds.

4) As evening set in we had reached the Pieve di San Pietro in Cascia, Regello. Our performance was timed to follow immediately the evening Mass, so despite the ancient building in which we found ourselves, we felt very much part of a modern, living congregation of worship. After the performance, the priest kindly offered a guided tour of the adjoining Masaccio Museum, featuring several works of the great Master Massacio including his “Madonna on the Throne with the Child, Adorable and Holy Angels”. Despite today being a Public Holiday, the choir enjoyed a delicious traditional Tuscan meal in a restaurant nearby the church, while a few members even located an excellent open gelato establishment in the next village.

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