Parish Church of Sant'Appiano

The Pieve di Sant'Appiano in Barberino Val d'Elsa Chianti

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Pieve di Sant'Appiano

Museum of Sant' Appiano

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Pieve of Sant'Appiano at Barberino Val d'Elsa

The origins of the Parish Church of Sant'Appiano that we can see today can be traced back to the tiny pagan temple, later transformed into a place of Christian worship and eventually replaced by the original octagonal-shaped church. This later became the Baptistery, whose four ancient pilasters still stand on the lawn in front of the church facade. In other words, while the local community was still small, the same building was used for the Eucharistic services and the Holy Baptism.

The population in this area did not start to grow and develop again until the Lombard era, while a real re-population only began during the Carolingian period, partly thanks to a general exodus to the country from the cities after the barbaric invasions, and partly to the strong attraction of the nearby via Francigena. As the ancient early Christian church had by then become insufficient for the growing demand, it was only used as a baptistery, and the new parish church was built sometime between the late 9 C and early 10 C.

The group of buildings is composed of the church itself, with the cloisters and canons' house beside it, and the cruciform pilasters, with Christian symbols carved in the capitals that are the remains of the old Baptistery.

Antiquarium of Sant'Appiano Barberino Val d'Elsa

The church itself, built in early Romanesque times with a nave and two aisles with apses, a raised altar and crypt below, now looks like the result of a stratification of many architectural transformations. The original part of the church can still be picked out in the left aisle, cut through by five crossings, four of which have set-back arches that rest on solid square pilasters. It can also be seen in the small hanging arches of the external tribune, where the small square window in alabaster that once corresponded with the crypt, that has since disappeared, is still visible. The bell tower was struck by lightning in 1171 and, in falling, destroyed almost all the right aisle of the church. It was reconstructed immediately, but in brick, a different material from the rest of the church and in late Romanesque style. The more graceful vaults rest on cylindrical columns with stone capitals decorated with acanthus leaves that gradually get thicker and thicker as they get closer to the presbytery. The last one, completely crowning the group of half pilasters near the apse, is decorated with human faces with clearly marked features, which has made it possible to identify the carvings with the Romanesque sculpture of Piacenza. The architrave sculpted over the side door giving onto the cloisters is in a very similar style and also bears the date of the destruction of the bell tower underneath the carving of the Archangel St. Michael with the dragon.

The square-shaped chapel at the far end of the left aisle was opened in 1476 with the idea of harmoniously improving the internal proportions of the building, in other words, to symmetrically match the base of the bell tower on the right hand side. The next architectural alterations were carried out in the first half of the 19 C. The parish priest, Father Moggi, not only raised the bell tower and modified the top of it, but also had the interior of the church painted throughout,  probably together with the outer facade, which still shows traces of plaster and of windows having been opened and then re-blinded. The last unfortunate intervention dates back to the beginning of the 20 C when two circular windows were opened on the facade and the Romanesque windows on the western side of the central nave were enlarged. Unhappily the restoration work started under the Board of Monuments in the 1960's could find no remedy for this.

Some of the interesting works in the interior include a fresco of the Mother and Child, damaged by a later restoration so that its date and attribution are uncertain, the 16 C frescoes on the ceiling of the Chapel of the Assumption, at the base of the bell tower, and the murals of a Dominican Saint, The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, St. Anthony Abbot and St. Matthew the Evangelist by a Florentine painter in the style of Ghirlandaio, commissioned by Francesco di Dante Catellini in 1492 along the walls of the left aisle.

The Museum

A door in the right hand aisle leads into the 13 C cloisters built with square pilasters and Ionic type columns. Another door opened off from here into the Chapter house, topped with a two-coloured arch and a three light window with setback arches (now bricked up) beside it. The canons' house is built around the cloisters and hosts the small antiquarium museum in two rooms on the first floor.

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