The Italian painter Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, known as Sodoma, was documented at work in the cloister of Monte Oliveto Maggiore on 5 August 1505. Sodoma worked in the Olivetan monastery for three years, continuing the biographical fresco cycle begun by Luca Signorelli showing scenes from the life of St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism. During this time, Sodoma painted 26 episodes from the saint’s life as well as an image of Benedict giving the Rule to his disciples. The residents of Monte Oliveto Maggiore would pass by these frescoes on a daily basis, ever reminded of St. Benedict’s miracles and moral example.

View of Cloister; St Benedict Giving the Rule to the Olivetans
Life of St Benedict
, Scene 1: Benedict Leaves His Parent’s House
Life of St Benedict
, Scene 13: Benedict Frees a Monk

Olivetan Monks worshipping the Cross

“Of their wooden [idol] my own people keep inquiring, and their own [hand] staff keeps telling them; because the very spirit of fornication has caused them to wander off, and by fornication they go out from under their God. On the tops of the mountains they sacrifice, and on the hills they make sacrificial smoke, under massive tree and storax tree and big tree, because its shade is good.  That is why YOUR daughters commit fornication and YOUR own daughters-in-law commit adultery.

“I shall not hold an accounting against YOUR daughters because they commit fornication, and against YOUR daughters-in-law because they commit adultery. For, as to the [men], it is with the harlots that they get off to themselves, and with the female temple prostitutes that they sacrifice; and a people [that] does not understand will be trodden down.”

- Hosea 4:12-14, NWT

When Souls in Purgatory Return from the Dead

One relic in the museum shows a section of wood from the desk belonging to Ven. Mother Isabella Fornari, Abbess of the Poor Clares Monastery of St. Francis in Todi. Mother Isabella was visited by the deceased former Abbott, a Father Panzini, of the Benedictine Olivetan Order in Mantua on November 1, 1731. To show her that he was suffering in Purgatory, he placed his left “flaming” hand on her writing desk, leaving a scorched hand print, and also etched a cross in the wood with his burning forefinger. For good measure, he also placed his hand on the sleeve of her tunic, which burned through to her chemise and burned her arm to the point it bled. Reporting the event to her confessor, Holy Cross Father Isidoro Gazata, the latter asked her to cut out the sections of tunic and chemise and to give him the small desk for safe-keeping. All were determined to be of supernatural origin.


On this day in 1504, Sodoma completed his fresco project for the refectory (monastic dining room) of Santa Anna in Camprena, an Olivetan convent near the Tuscan town of Pienza. Begun a little less than a year earlier on 10 July 1503, Sodoma had been asked to paint a frieze of grotesques on the window wall framing scenes from the Life of St. Anne and roundel portraits of saints. A fresco triptych showing the Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes decorates the end wall, while a Pietà flanked by a scene showing St. Benedict Blessing the Constitutions of the Olivetan Congregation and another depicting St. Anne with the Virgin Mary and Christ Child Adored by Two Olivetan Monks decorates the entrance wall. Sodoma was then invited by the Olivetans to decorate the main cloister of Monte Oliveto Maggiore with scenes from the life of Saint Benedict, completing a project begun by Luca Signorelli.

Enzo Carli. “Sodoma.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. <http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T079496>.