L’abbazia di Monte Oliveto Maggiore

When the first major lockdown in Italy began to move into a gradual phased reopening, we made a hesitant excursion out of Cortona, to the nearby Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore in the Crete Senesi.

In a normal year this would be high tourist season, but there were few other visitors, and it was extraordinarily peaceful. We were required to sanitize our hands before entering the church and cloister, and of course masks were required everywhere, but the Sodoma frescos and intarsia choir stalls were just as exquisite and inspiring as always. In the gift shop, plexiglas had been erected to protect the monk behind the register. The restaurant was open, and we ate outdoors next to an old well crowded with turtles climbing over each other to be nearer to the warmth of the early summer sun.

The stunning intarsia choir and lecturn were executed by fra Giovanni da Verona between 1503-05