Today we tour the great churches of Sienna and get a stained glass making demonstration. WE met up with AnnaLisa again in front of the Monte dei Paschi, which once housed the oldest continuing operating bank in the world—Monte dei Paschi di Siena. The bank was established in 1472 and is still operating today. It employs over 20,000 people in Sienna and 33,000 worldwide and is the largest employer in the city.
Along the way we saw several contrada markers, including several for the Dragon contrada. We also saw a statue of what looked like the symbol for Rome—two twins suckled by a wolf. AnnaLisa told us that Siena made up an origin story in the Middle Ages claimin that it was founded by Remus, the twin that was supposedly killed by Romulus who founded Rome, but he really wasn’t and he came to found Siena. I like AnnaLisa because she admits the Palio makes no sense and has no hesitation in questioning the validity of Siena’s origin story.
Our next destination was the Duomo. When the Sienese began the Duomo in 1215 they wanted it to be larger than the church in Florence. After they finished the original church they learned that Florence planned a larger church, so they made plans in 1330 to expand with a huge transept. They got part of the expansion built, then the Black Plague hit and then Florence conquered Siena. So the expansion was never finished.
In the nave are busts of the 172 popes that had reined by the time the church had started. But the highlight of the visit was the Piccolomini Library. It contains scores illuminated by the Benedictine monks and used by the choir in the days before individual hymnals. The frescos are from the 1400s and are extraordinarily well preserved.
There was also the Piccolomini altar that included a statue done by Michelangelo when he was a young man. The pulpit was done by Pisano and his son Giovanni.
After viewing the Duomo we went to a small stained glass making shop where we had a demonstration of stained glass making by one of the owners of the shop. The art is not much different than centuries ago but it does have the advantage of modern kilns and equipment. Most saddening was the owner’s comment that he only takes foreign apprentices who apparently work as independent contractors—he says that regulations are too difficult to meet if he hires Italians. He takes commissions from all over. He showed us some pieces that he was doing for Villanova University, among others.
After this it was lunchtime and we had the afternoon free. Of course while we were eating it started pouring down rain. Susan and I just put on our rain jackets and plodded through the streets. We did find Gelato and Susan found a nice souvenir in a shop that sold bracelets with charms from many of the places that we visited.
Next to our hotel was the Church of San Domenico. This is a solemn, plain Dominican church dedicated to St. Catherine. St. Catherine was devout Dominican nun who came from Sienna and was influential in convincing the Pope Gregory XI to return the papacy to Rome from Avignon, France. The thumb and head of Catherine are preserved here on display. No pictures are allowed inside, and they enforce it, so no photos of Catherine’s thumb or head (it is her actual head). Unlike the elaborate decoration in the Duomo, this church was very plain with few frescos, hardly any stained glass windows, and no elaborate pulpits or altars.
We returned to the hotel fromm there. Hen the sun came out just in time for a wine-tasting that we hed as part of our tour. In fact there was only one wine—Prosecco—but the tasting part was to try the local delicacy Pan Forte—something like a fruitcake but better. We killed all the bottles of wine there and celebrated Mike Halladay’s birthday with a present of a scarf from the Forest. We didn’t go out to dinner—I went and got pizza for us both from a pizza place nearby.