By Livia Lupi
St John Gaulbert, or Giovanni Gualberto, founder of the Vallombrosan order, died on 12 July 1073. This same day was chosen as his feast day by pope Clement VIII in 1595.
Giovanni Gualberto was probably born towards the end of the tenth or the beginning of the eleventh century in Tuscany. According to the hagiographical tradition, he chose the religious life after forgiving the man who had murdered one of his relatives. Giovanni became a benedictine monk at the monastery of San Miniato al Monte overlooking the city of Florence.
After a time spent within the San Miniato community of monks, he travelled around Romagna visiting various monasteries, until he decided to fund his own order at Vallombrosa, a solitary location on the Tuscan Appenines. The Vallombrosan eremitic community, founded on the benedictine rule, grew rapidly, attracting numerous monks who left San Miniato al Monte for a more secluded, peaceful life. Shortly afterwards, other Vallombrosan monasteries were founded at other Tuscan locations, including Passignano, Settimo and Marradi.
Giovanni Gualberto became a popular saint and the subject of several artworks.
Reference: Antonella degl’Innocenti, “ Giovanni Gualberto, santo,” Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, Enciclopedia Treccani, 2001.
Agnolo Firenzuola, Tales of Firenzuola, Benedictine Monk of Vallombrosa (XVIth Century). Leopold Classic Library 2018.
Caterina Caneva, Museo d’arte sacra dell’Abbazia di Vallombrosa. Polistampa, 2007.
Neri di Bicci, St John Gaulbert Enthroned with Saints, 1455, Santa Trinita, Florence. Fresco.
Giovanni del Biondo, St John Gaulbert Enthroned and Scenes from His Life, 1370, previously Santa Croce, Florence. Tempera on panel.
Bicci di Lorenzo, Miracle of St John Gaulbert, 1434, predella panel from dismembered polyptych, previously Santa Trinita, Florence. Tempera on panel.
Abbey at Vallombrosa, 15th-18th centuries