In the sacristy of the Church, there is a painting of the famous 'Blessed of Lecceto' designed much like a family tree, depicting friars who achieved fame for their holiness even though they were never formally beatified.
The Lecceto region of Tuscany was revered as the homeland of Augustinian eremitical (hermit) life. After his baptism in Milan at the hands of St Ambrose and before his return to Africa, Augustine had come, so the legend had it, to the forest fastness of these hills, in imitation of St Paul, the first hermit, and St Antony of Egypt, the desert father.
There Augustine gathered men of similar persuasion into communities, for whom he had, while on Monte Pisano, so the legend persisted, written his Rule, generally known today by the Latin title, Regulae Sancti Augustini. Into these woody solitudes over the years had come, in addition to Augustine, St Monica, St Ambrose, St Jerome, St William, St Galganus, and even St Francis of Assisi, whom the legend would have a hermit at Lecceto (and/or elsewhere in an Augustinian milieu in Tuscany) before he founded his own Franciscan Order.
In the inner cloister, there are frescoes on the walls depicting some of the legends, including the life of those special friars who spent long periods of prayer in the caves a little beyond the boundaries or the monastery. A few of the caves are still there.
It is a fact that friars from different parts of Europe sought out Lecceto in order to live a contemplative life. Members of the community are known to have come from different parts of Italy, as well as from France and England.
The most famous of them was William Flete O.S.A. (c. 1310 – c. 1382, mentioned above), 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 should live as an Augustinian. He chose to discontinue his studies at Cambridge and to go to Lecceto and give himself over completely to a life of prayer. He stayed there for the remainder of his life, and became a master of the spiritual life, a guide to many persons and a personal confidant of St Catherine of Siena.
Saint Catherine of Siena, who died in 1380, visited William Flete at Lecceto on 7th January 1377, when she dictated an invaluable summary of her spiritual doctrine to him. She very likely visited Lecceto on other occasions not recorded in history.
She counselled Flete just as much as he assisted her. Six letters from Catherine to Flete remain, written over a decade, with other letters no longer extant.
A number of Augustinians of great spiritual depth opted, for prayer and solitude, to withdraw themselves from the Lecceto monastery to small hermitages or caves in the surrounding forest. (On Augnet's pages about William Flete O.S.A., the historical question is raised as to the probability of some tension in the community because of this practice.)
For example, Chistopher di Giovanni Landcucci, became a lay friar in Lecceto around 1390 and for sixty years led a life of great virtue, simplicity, prayer, reflection and obedience.
Lecceto was a point of great spiritual tradition not only for Augustinian religious but also for laity.
Among these were Niccolò Guido Saracini, from the nobility in Siena, who when he died in 1367, wanted to be buried in the Lecceto church in front of the altar of Saint Anna.
The aunt of Saint Bernardine of Siena, Bartolomea Albizzeschi, the widow of Tuliardo Tolomei, took the habit of an Augustinian tertiary and led a life of exceptional virtue there.
Giles wrote, "Whenever I am ordered to depart from holy Lecceto, I seem to leave my heart, my very self, affixed to the branches of its sacred ilexes. For this hill, Lecceto, because of the very nature of its peculiar trees, has a certain character, an aura of holiness, whereby it promises a most ample crop of the holiest of people. What should I say about these people who, eking out an existence among these trees, were brought to sanctity?"
Early Augustinian historians list by name a number of Lecceto community members for their saintly lives.
In the year 1348, for example, was the death of Umberto Accarigi O.S.A., who had been the Augustinian Prior at Lecceto for many years. He was by all accounts master of theology from the Augustinian studium generale in Paris. When he died on 29th May 1348 he was buried in front of the high altar in the church where the memorial slab is still in position.
In 1363 another friar, Giovanni Chigi O.S.A., died while attending those who had been plague-stricken.
A member of one of the noble families of Siena, he had chosen a life of prayer as a non-ordained Augustinian at Lecceto. [Luigi Torelli O.S.A., Secoli Agostiniani, 8 vols., Bologna 1659-1686: V, 589 & VI, 72]
(Continued on the next page.)
To view the photo gallery of Lecceto on Augnet select Italy: Leccetoafter you click here.
Photos (at right).
Picture 1: A cloister and tower at Lecceto.
Picture 2: The main tower of the monastery at Lecceto.
Picture 3: The outer cloister of the Augustinian monastery of Lecceto.