This hermitage in included in the Early Monasteries section of Augnet, although it was part of the Augustinian Order for a very brief time in 1256, and then again for almost 200 years in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Prior to being literally swept up into the Augustinian Grand Union of 9 April 1256, this site at Malevalle (in English translation, “the evil valley”) was the main house of the Order of St William – the Williamites.
As explained more fully in another section of this Augnet web site, the Williamites had been drawn into the Augustinian Grand Union unwillingly, and by vociferous protests were within sixteen weeks able to convince the Pope that, because they were long practised in the Benedictine tradition, they should be allowed to withdraw from the new Order of St Augustine. With regards to their houses in Italy, the pope consented to their request on 22nd August 1256, meaning that the Williamites in Italy were Augustinians for only sixteen weeks – from 9th April to 22nd August 1256. After that, the hermitage at Malavalle revered to the re-commenced Order of St William (and to the Rule of St Benedict) once more.
Malavalle is located near the town of Castiglione della Pescaia, in the woods northwest of the capital city in the area between the center of Castiglione della Pescaia and the nearby village of Tirli, 9.60 kilometres to its northwest. It is in the civil province of Grosseto, and the Diocese of Grosetto. The area had become the site of hermitage for William (sometimes called Guglielmo d' Aquisgrana), a hermit who gained a reputation for holiness long before his death in the year 1157. A tomb was built for him there, and it became a place of pilgrimage such that in 1174 Pope Alexander III granted William the cult of saint.
The hermits who gathered there then began calling themselves the Order of St William, and in 1221 their Order received papal approval, meaning that ir received official approval long before the Order of St Augustine was approved in 1256. The hermitage was built up between 1230 and 1249, with assistance from Pope Gregory IX (in office 1227 – 1241), and became one of the main spiritual centres of the area. In the thirteenth century, during the warfare on Siena by the armies of Florence, l' eremo it was destroyed, and its members scattered to other Williamite houses elsewhere in Italy and in other countries, yet the Order eventually returned to Malavalle.
During the fifteenth century the Williamites abandoned Malevalle permanently. In the sixteenth century it was assigned by Pope Pius IV to local people, and in 1564 to Bartolomeo Concini (b. 1507, d. 1578), the principal secretary of Cosimo de Medici of Florence, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In 1597 the Venerable Giovanni Nicolucci O.S.A. (b. 1552, d. 1621), the Prior of the Augustinian monastery of Monte Cassiano, withdrew to the property at Malevalle to live an eremtical life, and some restoration of the site began. In 1604 the site was accepted as an Augustinian foundation, probably with the encouragement and assistance of Cosimo de Medici, and the Order staffed Malavalle with a small community until 1782, i.e., for 178 years.
The small chapel, designed in Roman style, dates back to the thirteenth century. Its entire width is covered by an arched barrel-vault, with an external apse in projection, was built by Pope Gregory IX (in office 1227 – 1241). Inside can still be seen its baroque altar in stucco and bricks, done by the Augustinians who lived in the monastery during the seventeenth century. At that time also the monastic lodgings were rebuilt by the erection of a new section, immediately adjacent to the church wall, with a second level accessed by a stairway that has now collapsed. This new section was linked to the “old monastery” that dated back to the Middle Ages.
The Prior Raffaello da Venezia O.S.A. described the monastic lodgings this: “The new building has two halls, two little loggias or corridors, four rooms and a covered dormitory. In the old convent there are five rooms which are used as a refectory, kitchen, pantry, cellar and store. There are four rooms and a loggia, and a spacious hall where stay the foreigners, with the stall, and another room on the ground floor.” During Prior Raffaelo’s time, the Malevalle convent housed only three Augustinians (i.e., the prior, the bachelor brother, and a lay brother) and a young man who was either a candidate or a servant. In the Middle Ages, however, when the monastery was the general seat of the Williamite Order, the number of occupants would have been considerably more.
Its present condition
The hermitage was closed for restoration in 2005. Although a sign still present gave the date of its re-opening as 2006, visitors in February 2011 reported that areas are still fenced off. Although there is evidence that the work has ceased, much remains incomplete (but how much could be accomplished with an allocated budget of only 86,000 euros?!).
In the chapel, for example, which can be viewed only through the dusty glass in a window, it can be seen that parts of the chapel floor have been left being excavated, and there was a pile of bones in the corner nearby – probably from burials that had been done under the chapel floor. The only restoration completed in 2005 seems to have been the provision of a new roof over the ancient chapel.
To reach Malavalle requires a walk of 3.2 kilometres that includes hiking 225 metres uphill, beginning at a car park on the edge of the village of Castigione della Pesciaia. The ruin is closed for restoration, but very little progress has been made.
Photos of the site. Worth a look. http://www.flickr.com/photos/matteo6359/4907607853/in/photostream and http://www.flickr.com/photos/matteo6359/4906486939
San Guglielmo e ... l'Abbazia di Malavalle (GR). Written in Italian, with good photos. http://www.abbazie.com/sanguglielmo/mappa_it.html
Eremo di San Guglielmo a Malavalle. Written in Italian, with good photos. http://www.castellitoscani.com/italian/malavalle.htm
A hike to a hidden hermitage: San Guglielmo a Malavalle. Hiking to Malavalle. http://www.arttrav.com/tuscany/hike-hermitage-san-guglielmo-malavalle