Monte Oliveto, a hill just outside the city gate of San Frediano, in earlier times was known as Monte del Bene, a toponym that it owed not so much to the olive groves cultivated along its slopes, but to its historic sacred associations. A monastery was founded there in 1337 by the Benedictine order of the Olivetans. In 1373 the monks were also entrusted with the running in commenda of the Abbey of San Miniato al Monte. The monastery’s church, dedicated to Saint Bartholomew, was enlarged in 1454 in the style of the architect Michelozzo, giving it the form in which it can still be seen today, although it underwent further expansions over the course of the centuries. When Cosimo I began his project of building fortifications on Mount Oliveto around 1553, the monks moved to the Church of San Michele Berteldi in the heart of Florence. They returned to their monastery on the hill in 1592, and in the same year entered into possession of the church and priory of Sant’Apollinare. The monastery on Mount Oliveto was closed by the Olivetan order in 1866, after which it was commandeered and used as a military hospital for infectious diseases until 1997 (the poet Umberto Saba was treated there around 1907). At present the building lies abandoned and in a state of increasing dilapidation, but it has been chosen by the municipality for restoration as an Area di Trasformazione.
The Church of San Bartolomeo contained many noteworthy works of art, among them an Annunciation by Leonardo. This work was moved in 1867 to the Uffizi, while others remain, including a fresco of the Last Supper by Sodoma dating to around 1515 (which has been detached from the wall of the refectory) together with the artist’s preparatory drawing.
hen the monastery was closed, the church fell under the tutelage of the Soprintendenze per le belle arti and the Olivetan monks continued to celebrate mass there. The church is now opened to the public for special occasions such as religious celebrations and guided tours.