A place that makes sense

On not living too large

Not far from Siena, in the Tuscan hill town of Montalcino, is the Abbey of Sant’Antimo. It was first built in—well, no one’s certain. It was there by the ninth century. What you see now is a modern reconstruction, modern meaning 12th century. In other words, it’s a part of the landscape.

And the landscape is a part of it. As I sat in the pews one afternoon earlier this summer, listening to the monks chant Nones in sonorous harmony, I kept looking past the altar to two windows behind. They framed prime views of the steeply raked farm fields in back of the sanctuary—one showed rows of dusty-leaved olive trees climbing a hill, the other rank upon rank of grapevines in their neat rows. With the crucifix in the middle they formed a kind of triptych, and it was easy to imagine not only the passion, but also one’s cup running over with Chianti, one’s head anointed with gleaming oil.


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