It is said that St. Francis of Assisi himself did designate and choose the place where the first Franciscan Convent, the Convento Castrum Plani Castagnarii, was then built.
The first location where the Convent was built, named the “Old Place”, did however turn to be extremely inconvenient, not only for the inhabitants of Piancastagnaio, but also for the friars themselves, who, due to the distance from the village, did risk to die of starvation in the winter. It was therefore decided to move the Convent in a place closer to the Castle: it was then that the Convento San Bartolomeo and its adjacent Church were built in Piancastagnaio.
The old place where the Convent was originally located was granted by Count Ildebrandino degli Aldebrandeschi, son of Count Guglielmo of Sovana and Pitigliano. On September 5, 1276, Mgr. David Dandini, Bishop of Sovana, wrote a pastoral letter to the community of Piancastagnaio, urging them to contribute to the construction of the Church of the new Convent, only a few hundred meters away from the majestic Rocca Aldobrandesca.
It was Monsignor Dandini himself who laid the foundation stone and, on that very same occasion, the “Castagnone” was also planted. Even today everyone can admire the big chestnut tree at the entrance of the Convent. The new Church was consecrated in 1278.
In the beginning only about 10 friars lived at the Convent, whose structure was by them managed to be preserved thanks to the donations given by the pilgrims and the help given by the farmers.
During the Renaissance period, the Convent was enlarged, the Cloister with its elegant Corinthian columns was built, and the Chapter room was frescoed with an evocative series of monochrome paintings dedicated to the story of the Virgin Mary.
In 1504 the Bishop did entrust the Convent to the order of the Minor Conventuals of Terra di Piano, provided that the friars would pay him an “annuatium” of one pound of wax every year. The friars’ life at the Convent was peaceful until some troublemakers began to disturb such peace. The people of Terra di Piano protested so much against such incursions that Pope Alexander VI did authorize the Bishop of Sovana to inflict severe punishments upon those who would damage the Convent goods.
Many other popes, including Julius II, Clement VIII, Paul III, Pius V, Sixtus V, intervened over the centuries in defense of the Franciscan friars of Piancastagnaio inflicting canon sanctions and even convicting with excommunication those that were found guilty. Other popes, such as Gregory XIII, Innocent XI, Alexander VIII, granted Plenary Indulgence to the faithful members of the confraternity of St. Elizabeth conception, which had its seat in the cloister inside the Convent, and to all those paying a visit to the Church.
The conditions of the peasants and of the many tenants of the Convent were the best that could have ever been desired, but the millennial history of the Convent was early and abruptly arrested. Once Napoleon Bonaparte ordered the confiscation of the Church properties in 1808, the Convent was closed and the friars dispersed.
All the assets belonging to the friars were acquired to the state property, put up for auction and for the most part purchased by the ancient livellars and tenants, as well as by the members of the then landowning class.
The Convent was first suppressed following the Napoleonic edict and then confiscated by the Grand Duke Leopold of Tuscany. It was then purchased by the Sienese noble Malvolti and later on leased to the Barbini family in 1808.
A family story
In 1816 Vincenzo Barbini bought the Convent and gave it to his first son, the notary Mariano Barbini.
The latter had 9 daughters and 2 sons; his son Carlo inherited the Convent and, dying unmarried, in 1923 left all his properties, including the Convent, and his surname Barbini, to his nephew, Carlo Ricci.
It was Prof. Vittorino Ricci Barbini, Carlo’s son, who decided to restore the entire building complex to its ancient majesty after it was damaged by an earthquake in 1896, in order to make it his family dwelling, as well as to make this wonderful historical residence available to all those who love history and beauty.