SAN MICHELE A PASSIGNANO ABBEY Passignano, Tavarnelle in Val di Pesa (Florence) Mi garba
A Benedictine monastery was built in 890 at Passignano, once the site of a Lombard fortalice and later of a castle. In 1049 the monastery passed under the Vallombrosan order because of Giovanni Leto, a follower of St John Gualbert. The latter was born in the nearby castle of Petroio and spent the last years of his life in the Passignano monastery until his death in 1073. The monastery grew, soon occupying the whole of the upper part of the old castle. Since the primitive church of San Michele had been incorporated in the monastery complex, in 1080 the construction of a new church was begun, named after St Blaise. Renovation work between 1335 and 1340 gave the church its present appearance. It has a hall structure and contains two 15th-century fresco cycles. These were covered over in the 1600s and brought back to light in 1892. They are attributed to Filippo d´Antonio Filippelli. Over the centuries the abbey, which is named after St Michael the Archangel, became a religious centre of primary importance. In 1255 it was destroyed due to struggles between feudatories and the monastery, but it was soon rebuilt. The present structure with its powerful walls and battlemented towers was achieved in 1440-1455 and completed in 1472 with the construction of the cloister. The monastery was suppressed in 1866 and turned into a farmstead following restoration work in the neo-Gothic style. Since 1986 it has been back in the hands of the Vallombrosan monks. The church alone preserves its original function. It is distinguished by a Romanesque basilican floorplan dating from the 12th-13th centuries, with some reworkings carried out at the end of the 1500s. Although the upper part has been rebuilt, the bell tower maintains its original appearance, as does the Romanesque crypt with its apsidal form, covered by cross vaulting on columns. The façade bears the characteristics of the 13th-century reworking. The marble statue of St Michael Slaying the Dragon situated on the top of the roof is from the same era. A cast of the original in kept in the church. The latter is divided by a wooden partition dating from 1549, the work of the converted Michele Confetto who also carried out the wooden choir with Greek and Latin inscriptions. The altar pieces attributed to Michele di Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio also date from that period. They portray the Nativity and the Archangels Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. In 1210 the relics of St John Gualbert were moved from their original position in the crypt to the transept chapel of the upper church. Alessandro Allori was commissioned to decorate the St John Gualbert Chapel in 1580, and episodes from the life of the saint were also painted here by Giovanni Maria Butteri and Alessandro Pieroni (1580-1581). The statue of the saint is by Giovanni Caccini. In 1601 the main chapel was painted with Virtues, Prophets and Sibyls by Domenico Cresti, known as the Passignano. The altar paintings of Episodes from the Life of St Michael the Archangel and the Madonna and Child with Saints are also his. Further additions were made by Benedetto Velio who painted the transept frescoes (1609) and those in the chapel dedicated to St Atto. Reworkings were also carried out at the beginning of the 1700s when Giuseppe Nicola Nasini painted figures of Apostles in the nave, and the Martyrdom of St Christine and the Rosary Madonna (1709) for the altar pieces. He is also responsible for the stucco work portraying Saints of the Vallombrosan Order. The Renaissance sacristy designed by Francesco di Simone Ferrucci contains a stone tabernacle. The paintings inside it of Episodes from the Life of St John Gualbert (15th century) are the work of Filippo d´Antonio Filippelli. The tabernacle contains the famous reliquary of St John Gualbert, the glazed base of which dates from 1324-1332; the 15th-century head is completed by an aureole carried out by Paolo Sogliani in 1500. Displayed above Domenico Atticciati´s pews (1580) are nine small canvases attributed to Francesco Curradi, and busts of saints from the 17th-18th centuries. One of the most interesting rooms is the refectory which contains the Last Supper fresco by the brothers Domenico and Davide Ghirlandaio, carried out in 1476-1477. Above are two lunettes featuring the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the Killing of Abel by Bernardo di Stefano Rosselli (1472-1474). Further decorative elements in the chapterhouse (Annunciation) and the open gallery above the cloister (Episodes from the Life of St Benedict) are the work of Filippo d´Antonio Filippelli.
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