Tuscany is the homeland of the Augustinian Friars. It was here in the environs of Sienna, Pisa and Lucca that numerous eremitical communities, some following the Rule of St. Augustine and others not, were brought together to form this mendicant order, much like the Franciscan and Dominican Orders which predated the Augustinians by some twenty or so years. It is here in Tuscany that the oldest tradition lies and the roots of the Augustinians are to be found.
There is some evidence of an eremitical settlement long before the union of 1244. However, the first written
record comes from the year 1223. At that time, the area was called 'Selva di
Lago' ('Woods of the Lake') because of the forest around it and its location near Lake
Verano. The hermitage was not Augustinian initially, but when the community took part
in the Little Union of 1244, they then assumed the Rule of St. Augustine and began a long history of Augustinian religious life. In time, the name changed too and became
'Lecceto' because of all the ilex trees (lecce), a type of oak, that surround the monastery.
Interior of the church of Lecceto
It is a fact that friars from different parts of Europe sought out Lecceto in order to live a contemplative life. We know of members of the community who had come from different parts of Italy as well as from France and England. The most famous was William
Flete, an Englishman from Cambridge University at the time of Julian of Norwich, Walter Hilton and the author of
The Cloud of Unknowing. In the year 1359, when he was about to attain his Master of theology degree at Cambridge University in England, Flete had a change of heart about how he was to live as an Augustinian. He chose to leave England and come to Lecceto to give himself
over to prayer. He stayed for the remainder of his life. He became a master of the spiritual life, a guide to many persons and a personal confidant of St. Catherine of Siena.
At about this time, the Bishop of Sienna, a Dominican friar, decided that he wanted to bring the Augustinian spirituality of Lecceto back to the local church of
Sienna. He began a project to restore it to its former grandeur and to invite the Augustinian contemplative nuns of the city of
Sienna to transfer their community there. They arrived in 1972 when the restoration work was only partially completed. Soon, Lecceto was visited by a few persons who sought quiet and solitude in the
midst of their busy lives.
Little by little, Lecceto began to be known throughout Italy and beyond.
The "well of St. Catherine of Sienna".
Notable parts of Lecceto to visit are: the two cloisters, the inner, "Nuns'" cloister dating from the 14 C with its 'well of St. Catherine of Siena' where it is said the saint used to rest after walking here from Siena, the defense tower that overlooks the whole complex, the frescoes of the life of Lecceto, the refectory, the church, originally gothic and later converted to baroque, the monastery garden with its chapel of Blessed Giovanni, the trees, and most of all, the silence.
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