At the bottom of the northern part of Lignano mountain, just outside of Arezzo, there is a place where nature, art and faith develop a peculiar synergy: the ex-monastery of Sargiano.
To reach this place it is necessary to turn towards Olmo and go up for 1 km, thus reaching a wooden cross at the beginning of the street that leads to the entrance of the building.
At the end of the 12th century, a hermitage that was under the rule of the abbey of st. Flora and Lucilla in Torrita di Olmo. In 1405, the Guasconi gave to the Franciscan Observance some land to make a convent that was finished during the first half of that century.
In 1597, the place was given to the reformed monks and in 1638 became the house of a place of theological and philosophical studies. During the second half of the 18th century the building had some major restoration and, between 1763 and 1779, the church of st. Giovanni the Baptist was rebuilt. Unfortunately, some paintings were lost, among these, as Giorgio Vasari wrote, there probably was a fresco made in the second half of the 15th century by Piero della Francesca that depicted “Jesus in prayer in the Garden”.
The Napoleonic suppression of the religious orders led to the abandonment of the monastery by the monks in 1810, but they returned in 1816. In 1861, the complex was confiscated by the Kingdom of Italy but was sold at auction and re-purchased by the same monks, enlarged and restored in 1873. In 1897, the theological and philosophical centre of Sargiano become the sole centre in the province of st. Francis and the point where the bulletin “La Verna” and the magazine “Studi Francescani” were written and distributed worldwide.
During the summer of 1944 Lignano was bombed and the building was heavily damaged but rebuilt after the war by Raffaello Franci, a monk and architect.
With the decrease in religious callings during the second half of the 1900s, the centre of studies had fewer and fewer scholars and closed in the 1960s. During the first part of the 1990s the monastery was closed as well and was assigned between 1996 and 1998 to the missionaries Identes. In 1999 in was given to the association “Centro dell’Uomo” that has it today and organises meetings, seminaries, conferences and other events.
The big church has one aisle; its main altar has a crucifix made in the 17th century but before that it had the “San Francesco” by Margarito d’Arezzo, painted between 1260 and 1275, that now is part of the collection of the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Arezzo, together with two glazed terracotta made by the artist of the Della Robbia studio. Of these two, both from Sargiano, one depicts “Madonna enthroned with child and saints Giuliano and Sebastiano” and the other one “St. Francis that receives the stigmata” both made between the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th. The altarpiece “St. Francis that receives the stigmata between st. Giovanni the Baptist and st. Maria Egiziaca”, from the first half of the 15th century attributed at first to Michele da Firenze, is now in the chapel of st. Pietro of Alcantara in the Sanctuary of La Verna.
Since 1998, the wonderful forest enclosed inside the walls of the convent, that measures more than 10 ha, was nominated “Natural area of local interest”. Following the care of the monks and the work of both the Municipality and the Province of Arezzo, it is now an habitat of a certain importance where flora and fauna live in harmony. The presence of many durmasts makes the place unique in Tuscany.
At the beginning of the road that leads to the monastery it is possible to see “Gnicche’s holly oak” in front of which the most famous bandit of the 1800s in Arezzo, Federigo Bobini called Gnicche, killed the farmer Cesare Fracassi on the 8th of January 1871.
Going up for a kilometre towards the Lignano mount, there is a oak nicknamed “Tree of buttocks” that was hit by the splinter of a grenade but, instead of dying, it survived with two bumps that are similar to the slim buttocks of a woman, thus symbolising that, even during the war, nature can still survive.