|Art and Faith, an itinerary across Mugello|
An itinerary across Mugello between Vaglia and San Piero a Sieve
Take via di Bivigliano on your right and after about 500m you can see on your left the 15th-century Parish church of San Cresci a Macioli with a Romanesque bell tower. The façade has a fine coping-stone cornice and a stone door with rich Doric decorations. The 15th-century restoration works were carried out by Pievano Arlotto, who was famous for his mockeries.
In Bivigliano, in a very scenic position, there is the ancient Romanesque Church of San Romolo which already existed before the year 1000. The apse contains a glazed-clay altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia and inside a niche near the baptismal font there is a 15th-century wooden statue of San Giovanni Battista.
In the immediate vicinity of Bivigliano, overlooking the entire Mugello valley, there is the Padri Serviti Convent of Montesenario, which you can reach either by following a wide tarmac road flanked by very high fir trees, or by walking along the picturesque old road along which the Via Crucis [Way of the Cross] tabernacles were built. The hermitage of Montesenario is one of the most important Florentine religious expressions: here on 8th September, 1233 on the day of Holy Mary’s Nativity, seven Florentine monks gave up a comfortable life and retreated to a hermitic life, thus founding the order of the Servi di Maria [Servants of Mary]. The original church was built in 1241 where the first dwellings of the Seven Founding Fathers were. The church-convent complex, later enlarged and enhanced by Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1539, was restored in Baroque style in 1717 and again in 1888. The Clock Tower was built in 1834.
Inside the church, which is decorated with Baroque stuccoes (18th Century), there are several exquisite 18th century paintings, including an Adoration of the Magi by Cigoli. Worthwhile a mention is the wooden choir carved in elegant Baroque forms in 1707. Inside the Chapel of the Apparition there is a polychrome-clay Pietà by Lottini. The 18th-century frater contains a Last Supper by Matteo Rosselli.
If you ask the monks, you can have access to the small 15th-century cloister of the ancient convent and to the vast scenic terrace built in the 17th century above the great cistern below, which can hold 9,000 hl of water. At the bottom of the north side of Mount Senario, you can visit two caves which were the first dwellings of the Seven Founding Saints. The cave of San Filippo Benizi is formed by large boulders and in front of it there is a small stone temple, built in 1629, from which pilgrims drew water to obtain the Saint’s protection. The nearby cave of Sant’Alessio Falconieri, who died in 1310 at 110, is a small bare cavern with a tombstone commemorating the Saint. From there a narrow stairway carved out of stone leads down into an ancient hermitage built in 1601, where a few hermits used to live. The convent’s chemist’s shop produces and sells the famous Gemma d’Abete liquor.
Hospitality for pilgrims is ALWAYS AVAILABLE: phone 055406441 - 055 406442
From Bivigliano you descend towards the village of Vaglia, once a feud of the Florentine Bishops who, in the 8th century, built the Parish church of San Pietro about 1 km outside the village. The building, entirely modified and enlarged in the 18th century, contains 18th-century paintings of extremely great value, a wooden Crucifix, which popular tradition attributes to Giambologna, and some works by della Robbia.
If you carry on along via Bolognese you go past the hamlets of Tagliaferro and Campomigliaio, and just before San Piero a Sieve, at the junction of Novoli, you turn left towards Barberino di Mugello. As you drive along you go past a little dirt road on your left leading to the Castle of Trebbio, which was commissioned to Michelozzo in 1461 by Cosimo de’ Medici, and a little further on you come across the wonderful Medicean Villa of Cafaggiolo.
A little before Barberino, on the road to Montecuccoli, a short side road on the left leads to Parish church of Sant'Andrea a Camoggiano, featuring an extremely elegant loggia façade dated 1470, with a vestibule and a colonnade with a triangular pediment: an obvious stylistic reference to the façade of the Cappella dei Pazzi. Inside the vicarage there is a splendid cloister with an arcade supported by slender columns with Ionic capitals. The single-nave church contains a noteworthy white and gold glazed-clay baptismal font.
After going past the main square in Barberino di Mugello you follow the road that runs along the public gardens; after the bridge on the Stura torrent, and in a slightly elevated position compared to the town, there is the Abbey of S. Maria a Vigesimo. This Vallombrosan abbey, largely renovated in the 17th-18th century, represents an important instance of Baroque art. The façade consists of an arcade marked by pilaster strips and enriched by two statues, wavy cornices and lateral spirals with pediments. The inside, decorated with stuccoes, contains 17th-18th-century paintings. It is worth mentioning the lateral altars, the two walnut confessional boxes with "rocaille" engravings and the choir with its wonderful organ, and an engraved and decorated front.
From Barberino you carry on north along the provincial road towards S. Gavino (where there is the Parish church of S. Gavino Adimari built in 1037 by the Counts Alberti di Mangona) and a little further on you get back onto via Bolognese to climb up as far as the Pass of the Futa. Here you can see the biggest German military cemetery in Italy (30,683 fallen were buried there), with a great monument which can be seen from far away.
From the Pass you carry on through pastures and beautiful fir-woods as far as Covigliaio (where Nicola 1st, Tsar of all Russian lands, the poet Byron and Pope Pio IX stopped) and then go on towards Firenzuola. Just before getting there, there is a lane on the right which leads to Cornacchiaia and to the Parish church of San Giovanni Battista Decollato. Built along the important medieval road "of Sant'Agata", the parish church presents significant building analogies with the Parish church of Sant'Agata situated on the other side of the Apennine divide.
From Firenzuola, a "walled-in land" built around 1332 by the Florentine Republic, the itinerary continues along via Imolese towards the Pass of the Giogo. Once you reach the few houses of Rifredo, you turn left onto the road leading to the nearby Badia [Abbey] of San Pietro in Vincoli di Moscheta. Founded in 1034 by the Blessed Rodolfo dei Galigai, of the Vallombrosan order of S. Giovanni Gualberto, what survives of the original construction is only a thick wall with a broken arch. Indeed, popular tradition recounts that Galigai built a convent which was too vast, and was destroyed by the nearby river surged after the prayers of S. Giovanni Gualberto, a promoter of greater humbleness. Inside the more recent 14th-century Badia, the colonnade courtyard is noteworthy. In one of the internal rooms there is the spring of Moscheta. In the rooms to the left of the entrance a shelter for trekkers has been arranged, since these people have been coming here for years now, since it is immersed in a very green protected area rich in floral and faunal specimen.
After crossing the Passo del Giogo you descend among vast pinewoods first, then chestnut and oak woods, as far as Scarperia, "terra nuova" ["new land"] like Firenzuola founded by the Florentine Republic in 1306 as a defence of the new road of the Giogo. The old part of the town inside high walls, of which long sections are still visible, has maintained its original regular plan designed along the axis of the old via Imolese with secondary streets along parallel or orthogonal axes. On the main central square, where the grand Palazzo dei Vicari
(1306) stands, representing an unquestionable symbol of the close bond between Scarperia and Florence in the past, there is also the Oratorio of the Madonna di Piazza where, according to tradition, the solemn ceremony was held in which the Vicars took possession of their office and received the obedience oath from the Podestà of the Vicariate. It is an elegant 15th-century building with a façade featuring a portal and fine double lancet sandstone windows. The inside features cross vaults decorated with frescoes attributed to Jacopo del Casentino, the author of the precious painting on wood showing the Madonna on the throne with the Bambino and the angels, situated under a slender late-Gothic small temple. The Madonna lies inside a most exquisite marble tabernacle-shaped frame, with a plinth and lunette, created by Mino da Fiesole.
On the same square there is the Propositura dei Santi Jacopo e Filippo, formerly the church of an Augustinian convent, of which is only part of the 15th-century cloister has remained. Inside there are 15th-century frescoes, a wooden Crucifix by Sansovino, a marble tondo by Benedetto da Maiano (15th century), a tabernacle for sacred oils by Mino da Fiesole.
From Scarperia we recommend a short detour towards the nearby Parish church of Sant'Agata situated along one of the most important Medieval lines of communication: "via di Sant'Agata" which linked Florence and Bologna through the Passo dell’Osteria Bruciata. The village developed around the Pieve, the most important sacred edifice in Mugello. Built before the year 1000, it has undergone several restoration works, though overall maintaining its original structure. Built in Alberese stone bosses, with elements in sandstone and green serpentine, the inside has three naves each divided into four spans by high Alberese stone columns, on which the wooden beams of the span-roofing rest directly, thanks to an original architectural solution. On the left side of the Pieve there is an ancient chequered corner-square with alternating white Alberese stone and green serpentine bosses. Inside there is a painting on wood by Giovanni del Biondo showing the Madonna delle Grazie, whom pregnant women used to address (this image was often carried in processions on the occasion of earthquakes and other serious events), a painting of the Madonna with Bambino handing the ring to S. Caterina d’Alessandria with an altar-step painted by Bicci di Lorenzo, a 16th-century baptismal font made of an octagonal sandstone block surrounded by a balustrade made up of seven marble slabs at the ambon.
Once you have driven back to Scarperia you then carry on along via Imolese towards S. Piero a Sieve; about 3 km before the village, on a low hillock on your left there is the Parish church of Santa Maria a Fagna, dating back to the 10th century, though it looks late-Gothic because of radical reconstruction works in 1770. Of the Romanesque period it has maintained a white marble and green serpentine polygonal pulpit with six mirrors and engravings, supported by three small columns with capitals and an octagonal baptismal font with eight tiles.
Just before getting to San Piero a Sieve, following a secondary road on your left you reach one of the most ancient Tuscan convents: the Convent of Bosco ai Frati, in the middle of a wide thick wood of turkey oaks. The convent, founded before the year 1000, was donated in 1206 to S. Francesco, who let his Brothers settle there in 1212. Also S. Bonaventura lived there and the convent church was dedicated to him. In 1420 it was acquired by Cosimo de’ Medici and almost entirely reconstructed on a plan by Michelozzo who enlarged the church adding the bell tower and the sacristy, and built the dormitory above the sacristy. Also the frater, the church façade and the wonderful colonnade supported by mighty cylindrical pillars and equipped with a cistern are attributed to Michelozzo. The Medici left several precious gifts to the convent, among which the valuable wooden Crucifix attributed to Donatello stands out, which is today preserved in the small Museum of Sacred Art annexed to the convent.
Once you get back to San Piero a Sieve, an important crossroad where the most ancient properties of the Medici stand, the Parish church of San Pietro is worth a visit, as this is where, between 1482 and 1529, Leonardo di Bernardo de’ Medici, Bishop of Forlì was parish priest (the family coat of arms appears above the main entrance). The spectacular polychrome glazed-clay baptismal font is due to the very Medicean patronage and was created in the workshop of the della Robbia family in 1518. On the high altar there is a wooden Crucifix attributed to Raffaello da Montelupo.