The counts of Gherardesca and the establishment of the monastery
The church of Santa Maria (Saint Mary) was born in a context populated by other ecclesiastical structures placed under the control of the Bishop of Volterra, similarly to the parish churches of Castelgiustri, Riparbella and Casale Marittimo. Given its location and subsequent history, we can assume that the small chapel had been built in the 10th century by the Gherardeschi counts, who owned a vast nucleus of assets in the area connecting via Pisana, via Volterrana and the coast and were eager to strengthen their own presence therein. For the same reasons, as well as for family motives, in 1091 they founded in the same place a Benedictine monastery for women, where they installed their own daughter as abbess. At the same time, they also fortified Montescudaio and Guardistallo with battlements.
The development of monastic structures
Shortly after the establishment of the coenobium, the original church was enlarged by the construction of new apses and transept, for which a Romanesque building technique was used. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, new spaces were added to the old ‘rectory’ until they eventually formed a quadrangular cloister, in the centre of which a well opened up. Although the excavations were able to document only the remains of the structures built on the ground floor, we can surmise their function for the shared activities of the devout inmates; as usual, instead, the private cells were presumably located on the upper floor. Thanks to the documents, we know that in its first centuries of life around 12 nuns resided there.
The daily uses of nuns
Written sources help us understand the institutional affairs of the Abbey and be acquainted with the economic means for its sustentation, such as agricultural land and oil mills in the Scialicco locality. Nevertheless, those same sources are silent about the daily life and usual activities of the nuns. We can assume that part of the day was devoted to prayers, but archaeological excavations have unearthed other details as well. We know for instance the pottery used in the monastery for cooking and consumption of meals, as shown in the display case, similarly to other Tuscan sites of the period. Thanks to particular artefacts, we also know that the devotees spent their time spinning or entertaining themselves with board games, such as nine men’s Morris or chess.
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