According to legend the monastery was built at
Charlemagnes request in around the year 780, although Benedictine
monks were probably already present at SantAntimo at that time.
The abbey grew up as an imperial votive offering and became rich through
privileges conceded by emperors and popes: in fact the abbot of SantAntimo
was granted the title of Count Palatine. Towards the year 1000 the abbey
had become a territorial power, its estate extending between Lucca and
Orbetello. In 1118, thanks to a large donation made by Count Bernardo
degli Ardengheschi, the monks were able to build a new church of grander
and more elegant forms. The vast complex extended on the south-facing
side, with its cloister, chapterhouse and other rooms for monastic life.
An abbey of such dimensions could not escape the ambitious intentions
of the commune of Siena, at that time in full expansion.
When Sienese troops attacked Montalcino in 1200,
they inevitably sparked the abbeys decline, although Saint Catherine
tried to bring back a wave of spiritual renewal in 1377. It was the
Sienese Pius II who decided to suppress the abbey in 1462, despite attempts
at reform by the Guglielmiti monks. The church consists of a nave and
side aisles with Romanesque style round arches (12th century). It was
inspired by French models, with a soaring, light-filled nave. The wide
ambulatory can be followed around the apse, just as it was by medieval
pilgrims; it is embellished by three small radial chapels. However,
the Italian and French masters expressed the best of their art in the
church and ambulatory capitals. The capital of the second column on
the right is noteworthy, attributed to the famous Master of Cabestany.
It portrays Daniel in the Lions Den. Behind the main altar is
a wooden carved and painted Crucifix from around 1250, of local origin.
The wooden statue of the Madonna and Child Sedes Sapientiae
is instead from the Umbrian school (ca. 1260). The feast day of the
Madonna of SantAntimo takes place on 11 May every year. It is
preceded on the evening of the 10th by a solemn and striking procession
that starts from Castelnuovo. The crypt contains an altar whose table
was recuperated from a tomb stone of Roman origin (350 AD). The ambulatory
features two 15th-century frescoes showing Saint Sebastian and a Holy
Pope. Since 1992 the church has been given new life thanks to a comunity
of canons who follow the rule of St Augustine. They ensure a church
service seven times a day and have restored Gregorian chants to the
church as they were seven hundred years ago.