Have you been to Jerusalem in Tuscany? – by David Dryer

Situated at 450m above sea level in the Montaione region, between Florence and Siena, can be found the Holy Mount of San Vivaldo.

In 1260 Vivaldo Stricchi, was born in San Gimignano to a well-off family. He lived his early life in luxury in Siena until he started to associate with a priest, Bartolo of Picchiena, and changed his lifestyle to that of a Christian. In later life he chose the area of Montaione to undertake a life of fast and penance “for the love of Jesus Christ”. Today the chestnut wood where he lived is recognised as a national monument.

In 1325 a chapel was built and dedicated to Vivaldo at the spot where he was found dead under a chestnut tree in 1320. The Church of San Vivaldo was added together with the Franciscan monastery as the site grew. After 1500 the Franciscan friars started to build a complex of chapels and churches reproducing the topography of the holy places in Jerusalem – hence the name, the Jerusalem of Tuscany. The main purpose in building the complex was to offer local people the opportunity to go on a pilgrimage without actually going to Jerusalem, which was at that time under Turkish control, and without an excessive cost.

The 25 chapels of the Holy Mount still preserve their terracotta statuary groups which represent different episodes of the life and passion of Jesus Christ. The statues were created by unknown local artisanal followers of the Della Robbia family.

Over the years the chapels fell into a state of neglect and were damaged by landslides, but today they are under the supervision of the “Monuments and Fine Arts Office of Florence” who have overseen their restoration and care.

If you are in the area of San Gimignano a visit to Jerusalem in Tuscany is highly recommended.

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