The day started with a lengthy drive through the Crete region to the Abbey of Monte Oliveto Maggiore. The Abbey was in a beautiful setting where we met Brother Joseph, our guide for the day. He had been at the Abbey for 34 years and was one of the older monks. He first took us through the church to appreciate its ornate decor.

Then we walked along an outside cloister which has Frescoes covering three sides of a rectangular area. The majority of them were painted by Luca Signorelli, a relatively unknown artist at the time. Signorelli’s frescoes showed Benedict’s life within the context of the times. The artist definitely had a sense of humor and did not hesitate to include persons/items in his paintings showing he had been treated unfairly. For example, he painted those he didn’t like in unflattering ways. One got an arm painted significantly shorter than the other. The short arm was an expression used for those who had robbed, cheated others or were just plain cheap. Brother Joseph explained each fresco’s inconsistencies or ironic twists and we loved them.

Most of the tour group went up a narrow set of stairs to see the ancient abbey library. In addition to books and paintings, there was an old chemistry room filled with pharmacy equipment.

We were taken to the dining room. Each monk had his assigned seat. The younger monks serve the older ones and no one talks during the meal. Brother Jospeh was a most delightful guide and person. Jorge and Ellen did though wonder why someone so congenial, warm and friendly would opt for a life of silent study.

On the hill above the abbey we had lunch at a restaurant, very pleasant and relaxing.  When we began our bus ride, the countryside had changed again. The cypress trees and lush gardens had been replaced by a much dryer and browner countryside. We stopped in the small village of Buonoconvento and Francine treated all of us to a special coffee with some whipped cream and chocolate. Outside the village there were some were large tents. Locals informed Francine that they were preparing for a big tournament for some card game. We walked around the the charming streets.  Jorge and Ellen walked to the end of the town where we saw a group of horses and riders in English saddles.  

We arrived back in Siena at our Hotel NH.  After relaxing for a little while, we ran into Anne for a pleasant dinner at a neighborhood restaurant.