1.2 Buonconvento, the home of the heretic Socini
We find ourselves travelling towards Rome on the ancient road known as Via Francigena, following the Sigerico route. This commune is a true child of the road, springing up over the course of the centuries due to the many comings and goings. Even its name bodes well, for Buonconvento derives from “Bonus Conventus”, meaning “happy place”, referring to the community of good people who lived here. They were drawn here by the fertility of the land and the benefits offered by its strategic location along Via Francigena, set within a plain that is bathed by both the river Arbia and the river Ombrone. The original settlement was built on the hill of Percenna, and was constructed around the castle that guarded the ford on the river Ombrone. Later on, the castle was conquered and demolished, and so the village developed on the plain itself. Towards the mid-1200s, the village established itself as a centre of transit and trade, assuming an increasingly important position in the administration and military defence of the Sienese countryside. Over the centuries, the village grew in size. In 1400 it became the seat of a large mayoral office that included 32 localities. Its prestige increased when it was granted Sienese citizenship in 1480. It belonged to the Republic of Siena until its fall in 1559, after which it became part of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, under the government of the powerful Medici family, remaining the cornerstone of the Val d’Arbia region.
Visitors shouldn’t miss out on a visit to the historic centre to stroll along Via Soccini, which commemorates and celebrates the ancient local family that produced the renowned heretics Lelio Socini and his grandson Fausto, who challenged the doctrines of the Church of Rome. It was in this precise location that “Socinianism”, the theological-moral doctrine developed and systematised in the 16th century, was born. Its central elements included religious rationalism, which held that the Sacred Scripture could contain nothing that violated reason; the rejection of traditional dogmas as irrational and lacking a basis in Scripture; and the principle of religious tolerance. These themes were based on a conception of the Christian religion as a purely ethical way to achieve salvation, revealed to us by the teachings of a divine – but human – man: Jesus Christ. Socinianism influenced cultural life in Europe and the United States until the 18th century, and contributed to the spread of religious freedom. Arriving from the North, we enter the historic centre through the ancient entrance of Porta Senese, on Via Soccini, where we can find Palazzo del Municipio (at number 32), Palazzo Podestarile (number 28), and Palazzo Ricci-Socini (via Soccini, 18), which is home to the Val d’Arbia Museum of Sacred Art.
In Piazzale Garibaldi, in addition to the Mezzadria Museum, visitors can admire the exceptionally well-preserved medieval walls. These sturdy fourteenth century structures, whose architectural form preserves their original Sienese character, once encompassed the whole village like a butterfly within a cocoon. There were no openings except for two access gates fortified with robust wooden doors with locks: Porta Senese on the northern side, facing towards Siena, and Porta Romana on the southern side, which was destroyed in 1944 by the retreating German army. The village, which remained intact for centuries, protected by its moat and the Guelph battlements of the chemin de ronde, underwent great transformations in the 19 th century, with the construction of a number of buildings sheltered by the walls, including Teatro dei Risorti.
Via del Sole e via Oscura
In the historic centre there are two other important streets: one on the eastern side, called Via del Sole, and another on the western side, called Via Oscura. These are linked by Via Soccini and likewise paved with stone slabs. The buildings on Via del Sole are more modest in nature, as they were home to families of carters, carriers, and those in charge of goods transportation until the 1930s. The initial stretch of Via Oscura is characterised by a series of overpasses with intermittent tunnel arches, creating a dark atmosphere of chiaroscuro. This spot is known as “chiasso buio”, meaning “noisy dark”, and is the most distinctive area, partly featuring medieval cobblestones.
Val d’Arbia Museum of Sacred Art
The Val d’Arbia Museum of Sacred Art dates back to the 1800s. In 1907 the Ricci family decided to renovate the building in line with the floral style of modernism, entrusting the project to architect Gino Chierici. Chierici’s renovation was highly tasteful, creating an elegant façade that embraced both a classical and a Libertystyle look right in the historic centre, with luxurious interior decorations. The museum was originally founded in 1926 by the parish priest of Buonconvento, Don Crescenzio Massari, to house various works of art that had previously been stored in the parochial church of Sts Peter and Paul. The collection has grown significantly over time, thanks to the addition of works from various churches throughout Val d’Arbia. Currently, the museum displays a notable number of paintings from the Sienese School dating back to the Gothic period, the Renaissance and the Baroque period, as well as large altarpieces from the period following the Counter Reformation. Visitors can also marvel at masterpieces created by goldsmiths of the fourteenth century as well as textile vestments, wooden sculptures, tabernacles, and paintings that already belonged to the local lay confraternities. Among the artists represented are Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pietro Lorenzetti, Matteo di Giovanni, Sano di Pietro, Bartolomeo di David, Brescianino, Francesco Vanni, Ventura Salimbeni, Rutilio Manetti, Bernardino Mei, and Giovanni Antonio Mazzuoli.
The Church of Sts Peter and Paul
Buonconvento and its surroundings are home to a large number of churches, many of great importance. In the centre, remaining on Via Soccini, we find the Church of Sts Peter and Paul, featuring a beautiful brick façade. Its current classical design is the result of eighteenth century restoration works. A small marble stone inserted into the masonry on the left side of the façade, representing a cross, bears the date 1103, which may indicate the date of its original foundation. In 1313, Emperor Henry VII died in this church. The most important of its works are housed in the Val d’Arbia Museum of Sacred Art.
The Chapel of St Anthony
Outside the centre of the town, in the village of Segalari (near to the hamlet of Bibbiano), stands the Chapel of St Anthony. The oratory appears to have extremely old origins, as traces of fifteenth century frescos have been found inside. Located near to a small group of houses, the chapel is a small building with a rectangular shape. It features a plastered façade with a gabled profile, a central rectangular gate and two small rectangular windows positioned symmetrically at the sides. Inside, the finish is partly plastered and partly bare, allowing visitors to observe the signs of time. In fact, thanks to a recent renovation project, visitors to the chapel can see very faint traces of fifteenth century pictorial decorations. These fragments are characterised by the compositional variety of the plant fronds that stand out clearly against their background. At the centre of the chapel, in a recess, there is a small statue of St Anthony that dates back to the seventeenth century. The gabled roof is made of wood and brick.
The Church of St Lawrence the Martyr
Along the SP103, in the hamlet of Bibbiano, we find the Church of St Lawrence the Martyr. The origins of this church in Bibbiano are very old, but the building we see in front of us today was rebuilt more recently. In fact, the church was completely reconstructed during the first part of the nineteenth century, when the entire parish complex was redesigned by engineer Alessandro Doveri. The building has an imposing façade with a gabled profile featuring four pilasters and a triangular indented brick pediment. In the lower part there is a rectangular gate with a brick architrave; the same material was also used for the pilasters, which are surmounted by an elliptical oculus. The rest of the façade features plasterwork that simulates the look of stone. In some places, the absence of plasterwork reveals the structure of the brick itself. Internally, the church consists of a rectangular hall that is divided into three naves. The central nave concludes in a semicircular apse, which is bordered by trabeated Doric columns and pillars. From here, there is a large barrel vault that covers the entire nave. The presbytery, on the other hand, is covered by a ribbed vault, while the aisles have a flat roof. The hall is illuminated by semicircular windows located on the outer sides.
The Church of St Bartholomew
In the hamlet of Castelnuovo Tancredi, visitors can find the Church of San Bartolomeo, which dates back to the 13th century. This small church is part of the (private) complex of Castelnuovo Tancredi. Outside, there is a plastered gabled façade with a rectangular gate in the centre. A set of steps leads up to the gate, which is surmounted by a rectangular window. Inside, the church consists of a single nave featuring a gabled roof with an attic made of wood and brick. The presbytery is separated from the rest of the hall by a large, segmental arch. The Baroque appearance, which is due to the restorations that took place in the 1600s, is provided in particular by the three stucco altars. Inside the church, visitors can find a Madonna with Child, which was the central part of a triptych commissioned for the high altar after the restorations of 1336. It was rediscovered as a work by Pietro Lorenzetti beneath an eighteenth-century painting that had transformed it into a dull devotional work. The panel is now on display in the museum.
The Church of St Michael the Archangel
On the route to Montepertuso, in the countryside of Buonconvento, we find the Church of St Michael the Archangel in Montepertuso. The church is marked on the map of the ecclesiastical organisation of the Sienese territory, which was based on the Decimarii of the mid thirteenth century. This church forms the heart of a complex of buildings that originally constituted the Ministry of Monte Pertuso; in fact, the settlement was originally a “castrensian” settlement, featuring a walled perimeter and fortified structures. Externally, the church has a gabled profile, covered with a wall face built using rows of dark grey local limestone.
The Parish Church of St Innocence
Remaining in the countryside, not far from the town centre, we can find the Parish Church of St Innocence in Piana, located in the hamlet of Pieve di Piana. It is first mentioned in a document dating back to 1081, but little is known for sure about its origin. It appears to have been ruled by the canons of the Metropolitana di Siena since its foundation, leading a community based life. Located on a ridge in the commune of Buonconvento, along the route of the ancient Via Francigena, the parish of Piana consists of several buildings arranged around an inner courtyard, bounded on the right by the main body of the church, and on the other three sides by the rectory. Its general appearance is that of a grange or fortified farmhouse, similar to the nearby grange of Cuna or the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala di Siena. The church, which forms the main element of the entire architectural complex, clearly belongs to two different periods. Its oldest parts date back to the 10th 11th century, but it has maintained its austere Romanesque elements in its gabled roof, its gate surmounted by a round arch, its central window, and its façade displaying bands of light coloured stone divided by rows of darker stone. The façade is orientated towards the south west and the apse to the north east, parallel to the north eastern side of the courtyard. The belltower, whose base was constructed using large blocks of stone, is located on the same northeastern side, as are the other rooms directly connected to the church. The inside, which features a floor plan in the shape of a Latin cross and a trussed roof, was originally completely decorated with wall paintings, of which only a few traces remain on the right hand wall. The most intact fragment of these paintings depicts a saint and a smaller kneeling angel (perhaps the patron), framed within a quatrefoil. With the restoration works carried out in 1933, the Baroque altars were destroyed but the single high altar made of stone, located beneath a large arch decorated with a half length figure of St Peter between two angels, was restored. The benches and confessionals were also renovated in a perfect synthesis of neo- Romanesque style.
The Parish Church of St. Lawrence
In the hamlet of Percenna, we find the Parish Church of St Lawrence. No records of this church before the thirteenth century have been found. The church is the oldest site of Christian devotion in Buonconvento, and was built – in line with tradition – on the site of a former pagan temple. The church is located at the end of a parvise consisting of a brick walkway, and the façade is largely obscured by two large trees: its structure, featuring a gabled profile, can still be seen, however, and is characterised by the presence of a rectangular gate and – just above – a circular window. On the right hand side of the façade there is a bell gable, while the wall face is made of brick. In the external wall face, observers can see evidence of reused materials, such as the mighty architrave of the entry gate and numerous travertine ashlars, salvaged from the demolition of the ancient and ruined church of St Christina in Caio. Internally, the church features a rectangular hall, ends in a rectangular apse, and has two small chapels at the height of the presbytery. The masonry is plastered, and features geometric decorations on the lower parts. The roof is a wooden truss, while terracotta has been used for the flooring.
Brochure edited by Toscanalibri.it
Texts edited by Lorenzo Benocci Editorial coordination:
Elisa Boniello and Laura Modafferi Photos: Primamedia, Sabrina Lauriston e Leonardo Castelli
Graphic design: Michela Bracciali