Tuesday, December 20, 2016


I love finding hidden gems in Florence and recently I added a new one to my list, the Del Giglio chapel at the Maria Maddelena dei Pazzi church in borgo Pinti.
The chapel was constructed in the early 1500s paid for by money donated from the Del Giglio family, inserted in the large portico in front of the church of then Cistercian monastery. Its purpose was to provide a prayer and medative space for women as they were allowed inside this church only twice a year. The Cistercian monks moved to the Oltrarno in the 1620s literally doing a swap with the Carmelitan nuns and their church Santa Maria degli Angeli in the area of San Frediano by order of Pope Urban VIII (Barberini). The nuns brought with them the uncrrupted body of their famous nun the Florentine nobilewoman turned nun Maria Maddelena. When Maria Maddelena dei Pazzi (of the important Florentine family, Pazzi) was canonised in the 1660s by Pope Clement IX the nuns renamed their church after her.
However, as mentioned above, the chapel was built before the arrival of the female Camelites and was built as a domaine for women who at the time of the Cistercian occupation had limited access to the church. This explains the chapel’s location in the portico in front of the church immediately on the right upon entering from the street.
The Del Giglio family were the patrons of the chapel’s construction as well as the altarpiece painting by Cosimo Rosselli of the coronation of the Virgin, a suitable subject for a place where women worship. This painting is now located inside the church in the second side chapel on the left.

In 1598 the chapel was passed to Nereo Neri who was the physician to the Grand duke Ferdinand I e Medici. He embarked on a large decorative program of the room which was reflected both a personal theme and that of the monastic order. The altar piece was replaced by one painted  by Domenica Passagnano depicting the martyrdom of Achilleo and Nereo (the patron’s name sake).
For the walls he commissioned Bernardo Poccietti  one of the artists most in demand in Florence at the time for the fresco decoration of both interiors and exteriors of large palatial homes in the city. Poccietti worked for the Medici grand dukes at Pitti Palace (in the palace as well as the decoration of the Grotta Grande in the Boboli gardens). His work can be seen still today in many places for example one of his great works was the façade of the Palazzo of Bianca Cappello on via Maggio commissioned by the Grand duke Francesco I for his mistress the blond Venetian, Bianca.
The chapel space is composed of two areas both square in shape, one larger than the other. The larger section was destined for the worshippers and the smaller square is the altar for the priest. In the smaller altar area the lateral walls depict the martyrdom and baptism of Achilleo and Nereo (matching the altarpiece painting).

The walls of the larger area are dedicated to Saint Filippo Neri (1515-1595) on the right side when facing the altar and Saint Bernard of Clairveux on the left. Saint Filippo Neri featured because once again, he shared the same name as the patron, this time though it was the same surname, Neri. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux featured because he was one of the key leaders of the first Cistercian monastery founded in the 1100s.
Saint Philip Neri was a Florentine priest who lived in the 1500s. He studied at the San Marco monastery in Florence (the reformed Dominican order) but afterwards most of his life was spent in Rome where he dedicated his time to helping the poor. Contemporaries often referred to him as the second apostle of Rome because of his work with pilgrim hospitality and the poor. He was the founder of the congregation of the Oratory of Saint Philip, more simply called the Oratorians. It was an order which didn’t require following a strict rule as most others, it was more a confraternity, and composed of a group of priests who lived together and shared the same mission of devotion to the underprivileged and particular interest in the youth. They held frequent meetings with the public and would combine religious discussion and lectures with music and singing which they called oratorios. The Oratorians wore black like priests often did. The frescos in the chapel show Filippo Neri dressed in black with a vision of the Virgin Mary and another receiving a vision of the nativity, donkey and all.

On the opposite wall is Saint Bernard of Clairvaux dressed in his characteristic white robes (they are one of the few monastic orders which dress in white instead of black). He was one of the founders of the monastic order in France founded in the eleventh century at Citeaux. The name they gave their order, Cistercian, refers to the Latin name for the town of Citeaux, Cistercium. The two scenes depicting Saint Bernard are opposite the two scenes of Saint Philip Neri. One depicts a miracle that happened to the saint and the other a vision.

Legend has it that Saint Bernard received some milk sprinkled on his lips by the Virgin. This was interpreted into art with the Madonna taking a pause whilst nursing the Christ baby and literally squirting the milk to Saint Bernard, often shown at quite a distance.
The ceiling was beautifully frescoes with the coronation of the Virgin which returns to the theme of the chapel being the place for women. Directly underneath the virgin being crowned both by God and Christ are three depicted larger than life female saints: Saint Cecilia (shown with an organ), Saint Catherine of Alexandria (shown with a broken wheel) and Saint Barbara (shown with a sword and chalice held by a cherub at her feet).

Today the chapel is used daily for prayer by the Augustinian friars who have been in the church and monastery since 1926 when the Carmelite nuns moved to just outside the historical centre to Careggi. When not being used by them the chapel remains closed. However, if you ring their door during the times that the church is open they may just open it up for you……


Tuesday, March 15, 2016


I just spent a great weekend in southern Tuscany, so good that I wanted to share it for those who don’t know this neck of the woods.

Accommodation: I stayed in the abbazia di Spineto www.abbaziadispineto.com for two nights, just outside of Sarteano. It was simply wonderful. The abbey is celebrating their 1000th year anniversary this year, pretty incredible. It was bought in ruins in the 1980s by a couple who have restored it with grace and care without missing any nook and cranny, nor with a penny spared. The church of the abbey is still consecrated and so it is a popular place for weddings as the property is a one stop shop being able to supply the church service and the reception. There are many restored properties surrounding the main complex (villas, smaller houses, etc.), however, we stayed in the abbey proper in a wonderfully comfortable double room. The excellent breakfast was in a small dining room with one of those old fireplaces with seating benches inside the stone frame of the fireplace. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

Towns: we visited Sarteano, Cetona (part of the ‘100 borghi più belli dell’Italia’ category) and Chiusi.


Sarteano: Saturday mornings it is possible to visit a spectacular painted Etruscan tomb, the tomb of the Infernal Chariot (IV century B.C.). Bookings are essential through the local city museum of Sarteano www.museosarteano.it and tickets need to be paid here in advance. The tomb is located a few kilometres outside the town. Up close and personal without any barrier to the Etruscan frescoes in the tomb is an exhilarating experience. In spectacular condition they show a banqueting scene, a chariot scene with one of gods of the underworld, Charon, at the reins of a chariot being pulled by griffons and lions.

Chiusi: The archeological museum in Chiusi houses a great collection of Etruscan artefacts. The collection is outstanding and the museum is modern, well organised, well lit and well labelled, which makes for a very enjoyable visit.

Cetona: A walk around this small town along all the very narrow streets is lovely. The inhabitants seem all very house proud with many flower pots and scrubbed clean stone flagstones.


I had three magnificent meals.

Sarteano: Da Gagliano, no website Phone: 0578 268022

This was the second time for me here. The first time was for lunch and we liked it so much that this weekend was largely fuelled by the thought that we would eat here again, this time for dinner. The place was small and run by a couple, hubby on the floor and wife in the kitchen. It is Tuscan fare and all locally sourced ingredients and wine list. Four courses here because I knew that I would feel food envy if I had left one out…..they are listed in the Slow food guide and have been awarded a snail by the guide, which is a symbol of recognition for quality and slowness….. deserved.

Dessert at da Gangliano Sarteano
Cetona: Il Tiglio di piazza da Nilo

This was recommended by the owner of the abbey (accommodation). It was excellent. Lovely service, great menu, great wine list. The restaurant was full of locals for an evening of great food in good company. The restaurant is next to a bar / caffe where we had stopped in earlier in the afternoon for a coffee and a sneaky chocolate. There is nothing like the old school Italian coffee bars where the barman is dressed in his uniform and he makes a good coffee and is ready for a chat. Always a pleasure. We stopped in here for an after dinner digestive because we didn’t want the evening to end.

Chiusi: Il Grillo è buoncantore www.ilgrillobuoncantore.it

This was again one from the Slow food guide and also highlighted with a snail…. Again deserved. Three courses later, my only regret was that I hadn’t also ordered a primo to try their fresh pasta. I asked for seconds of the bread basket because their homemade bread was simply perfect. It didn’t come out immediately because she actually was making it for me on the spot (it was a sort of piadina). Again, a husband and wife partnership with the husband on the floor and wife in the kitchen. Every.single.ingredient. was sourced from a local producer. It was really astounding.

The antipasto was all home grown
Enjoying the Guinea fowl

This area is known for thermal baths. I didn’t visit any this trip….. I had to leave something for me to come back to. I will not be looking for new restaurants nor different accommodation because I want to go back to the same and start the experience all over again.