The abbey that stands the test of time

15 December 2023 | Tales, Things to see

The symbol of San Godenzo is the Abbey, the nerve centre around which the streets and alleys wind, the heart and soul of the town, around which the life of the citizens revolves.

The Abbey of San Gaudenzio was built in 1028 at the behest of the Bishop of Fiesole, Jacopo il Bavaro, in honour of Saint Gaudentius, the hermit saint who, around the 6th century, retired to the surrounding mountains to live a life of silence and prayer. Forty years later, Bishop Trasmondo consecrated and entrusted the church to the Benedictine monks.

A significant historical moment was the 8th of June 1302, when the Abbey choir hosted the Congress of the Ghibelline and White Guelph Exiles, which included Dante Alighieri. The congress brought together the noble white Guelph and Ghibelline families, who, having been expelled from Florence after internal struggles against the black Guelphs, wanted to reach an agreement with the Ubaldini, a powerful family from Mugello that would allow them to return to the city.

Over the centuries, the Abbey endured periods of decline, mainly due to the progressive reduction of the Benedictine presence, and was often subject to modifications and restorations. In 1482 it was incorporated into the SS.Annunziata of Florence, was later run by a community of Servites until 1808, when the French suppressed the order. It regained the title of Abbey in 1922 and is currently under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Fiesole.

From an architectural point of view, the abbey is one of the most important examples of Romanesque architecture in Tuscany. The rather austere stone façade hides a vast and solemn interior with three naves supported by square columns, a raised presbytery and a fifteenth-century pulpit. An important interior restoration was carried out in 1947, after the bombing during the Second World War, which destroyed San Godenzo but spared the Abbey, considering the Bavarian origin of the founding bishop, Jacopo.

Among the works of art preserved inside, the wooden sculpture of Saint Sebastian by Baccio da Montelupo stands out. In 2020 it was exhibited in some of the world’s most prestigious museums, including the Louvre in Paris and the Uffizi in Florence. Also worthy of note is Bernardo Daddi‘s polyptych of 1333, with the Madonna in the centre with the Child in her arms caressing her chin, and St. Benedict, St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas and St. John the Evangelist on the sides. Paintings from the 16th century, such as the Annunciation from the school of Andrea del Sarto, enrich the collection and various works by anonymous authors.

San Godenzo is on the “Terre degli Uffizi” and its ancient abbey is one of the sites of the “Uffizi Diffusi”, a five-year project to enhance the cultural heritage of the region, promoted by the CR Firenze Foundation and the Uffizi Gallery. The aim is to temporarily return a series of works from the Uffizi collection to their place of origin in an ongoing dialogue between art, territory and community.

What is certain is that the Abbey has transcended centuries of history to become the silent guardian of the memory of an entire community. Its imposing presence and its role in local history make it a place of worship and a symbol of continuity and resilience that has withstood the challenges of time.