Tuscan Romanesque at the Abbey of Sant'Antimo

The abbey of Sant'Antimo is one of my favourite examples of a Romanesque structure. Located within Tuscany, the foundation of the abbey is situated sometime within the time of Charlemagne in the eighth or ninth century, though the use of this site would appear to be ancient as various classical era artefacts have been discovered in recent excavations of the site. 

If the exterior of the abbey is beautiful  -- and it is with its warm coloured stone surrounded by the Tuscan hills -- it is not to be outdone by the interior. Wonderfully this abbey church has preserved a classical sanctuary ordering with the altar set upon the predella and directed ad orientem.  This is made all the more dramatic by a life sized medieval crucifix behind the altar which is further accented by the beautiful Tuscan sunlight that steams through the apsidal windows. 

Beneath the high altar is a small crypt beneath which is accessible by ladder near the sacristy. Here we could find a fresco depicting Christ in the seplchre with a small stone altar before it and a niche within in which the relics would have been kept.  The top step of the predella includes an iron screen which would allow one to peer into this crypt -- a somewhat curious feature in this particular instance.

Of course, one thing that would make this altar arrangement that much more unified would be a more proportionate set of altar candlesticks and candles that would better unite altar and cross, but this would be easily enough remedied. Regardless, the overarching beauty of the entire space, with its light, its beautiful stone, makes one easily enough put aside such things. But for the record, here was the arrangement as it stood prior the latter half the twentieth century.

Just for the record, I would have to say there are merits and de-merits to be found in both the "before" and the "after."  The current arrangement would benefit from larger candlesticks and candles to match the substantiality and verticality of the crucifix and building itself; the former arrangement's addition of a tall wooden gradine would likely have been better without it, or if a gradine was to be added, then something shorter and in stone would seem preferable in this instance.

The rest of the abbey church is very simple and 'weighty' in typical Romanesque fashion -- for while gothic spires and arches all give a sense of vertical thrust and airiness, Romanesque is much more characterized by it rootedness and substantiality. 

A view from behind the high altar looking down the nave toward the main door of the abbey church.

The nave itself is in traditional basilica form with the central columns lining two aisles on the sides and open timber roof trusses. 

Of course, one should not mistake this overarching simplicity for an historical absence of ornament. The remnants of various painted works can yet be found in the abbey church, as can the beautiful ornamental capitals found on the columns.

Capital depicting Daniel in the Lion's Den

A fifteenth century fresco depicting St. Sebastian and St. Gregory the Great

The remnants of two frescoes seen behind the altar 

To my mind, those who advocate for "simpler" (by which they typically mean more minimalist) church architecture would do well to learn from structures like Sant'Antimo for how to go about it in a way that is consonant with the Catholic architectural tradition and noble and beautiful at the same time. 

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