The Vallombrosan Order was founded at the initiative of Saint Giovanni Gualberto, born to an illustrious Florentine family, who withdrew to a place then called Acquabella with a few disciples in 1036. After a first oratory built of wood, the Vallombrosan Order erected a church built of stone in 1058, replaced by a larger building between 1224 and 1230, while the monastery began to develop as well.
After extensive construction in the 15th century - during which the great cloister, the sacristy, the tower, the refectory and the kitchen were built - and a long series of fires followed by rebuilding, the church finally assumed its present-day sumptuous aspect in the 17th century. In 1713, at the request of the Vallombrosan Order, the monastery became an abbey. The extraordinary artistic heritage accumulated over the centuries was severely impoverished by Napoleon’s suppression of the monasteries and by the State’s acquisition of the property during the reign of the House of Savoy. It was only in 1949, in fact, that the Vallombrosan Order regained possession of its monastery.
On the outside, this massive building still retains an austere appearance of restrained elegance, with its 12th-century bell tower and 15th-century tower, as well as the large square in front of it arranged as a garden and surrounded by high walls with a beautiful gate dating from 1773.
The church, with its Latin cross floor plan, is richly decorated inside with frescoes on the ceilings and a series of altars embellished with 17th- and 18th-century paintings. The main altar is adorned by a painting of The Assumption by Volterrano, with a votive lamp burning in front of it. The oil for the lamp is donated to the abbey each year by the Italian Forest Rangers from the different regions (whose patron saint is Giovanni Gualberto) during an evocative ceremony held on July 12th, the day of Giovanni Gualberto’s death.
Behind the main altar is an exquisite wooden choir made by Francesco da Poggibonsi in the mid-15th century.