The Pieve di Santa Mustiola in Sticciano is on the Knights Templar trail in Maremma, but is it or isn't it a true Templar location in Tuscany? Take it from me, the answer doesn't matter, because the trip to see it will reward you with a view made in heaven and more.
Despite many interventions over the years to curb the land sliding around it, what you see today - apart from the bell tower which was rebuilt in the 19th century and, similarly, the double flights of steps to its main door - is pretty much how this church would have looked when it was first built.
The earliest surviving records to mention the Pieve are dated 1188, in which it is recorded as being dedicated to Santa Mustiola. It didn't receive its current day title of the Chiesa della Santissima Concezione until the mid-fifteenth century, when it came under the patronage of the Sienese Piccolomini family. Which is why, as far as its Knights Templar association goes, it is recorded as the Pieve di Santa Mustiola.
The Piccolomini family were Tuscan nobility, whose initial wealth came from trading (including arms). They had counting houses throughout northern-Italy, France, Germany, Austria, and England. Sticciano became their property in 1461. They also owned through the centuries nearby Castiglione della Pescaia and the Isola del Giglio. As well as a lot of other castles, towers and fiefdoms.
The lintel above the front door has carved geometric and floral designs, and two stylised eagles. As well as, in its centre, what is considered to be a Knights Templar cross.
The two eagles in close-up. I can see a pupil in eye in the first one, can you? I know that it is only lichen that has formed it, but it has done so perfectly!
The second eagle - no pupil staring at me in this one!
Some of the lintel's floral and geometric decorations.
Well, first of all, the Pieve di Santa Mustiola is documented amongst the churches and ancient pilgrims resting places in Maremma considered to be, without any significant doubt, Knights Templar sites.
However, in my research for this page, I spoke with a revered archaeologist in Maremma who knows his stuff about the churches and cathedrals around here, and he told me, irrevocably at that, that no Templar ever set foot there!
Apparently he isn't the only one to hold such an opinion, as one of his students wrote a whole thesis on the place and Templars there were not!
I made a mental note for when I ask him about other locations: apparently archaeology and the Templars don't get along together all to well ;)
But that said, in my humble opinion the jury is still out. Why? Well, because the likeness between the Sticciano Templar cross and the Knights Templar stone in the Cour del la Commanderie at La Rochelle - the Templar's French harbour headquarters and largest base - is nothing less than remarkable.
Take a look for yourself.
This is the Sticciano Templar cross.
And this is the "croix templière en relief" at La Rochelle.
So, as much as I though that this church was going to be one of those on Maremma's Templar trail that I could say quite irrevocably was a Templar site due to the weight of historic evidence rather than legend, it appears that I can't!
But what does that matter when the view from the double steps to the front door is one that takes your breath away and is made for sitting and staring at the world. :)
The left side church door with no where to go! The hill top town in the background is Montepescali.
The view from the lovely village of Sticciano reaches all the way up and down the valley and across the plains of the river Bruna to the coast and out to the Tuscan archipelago. And inland to the hill towns of Vetulonia, Giuncarico, Montemassi, Roccatederighi, Sassofortino and Roccastrada - all made for days out exploring.
But it is the rear of the church - and its semicircular apse - that I found the most fascinating. When I really looked at it that is, because there were four "men" looking back at me!
Can you see their faces?
It is clear that originally there were more - maybe another four. But the symmetry of the decoration pattern changes from one side of the apse to the other, so I can't be sure. But these are the four that remain visible today.
Romanesque man number one.
Man number two - a little harder to see in the photograph, but he is very evident when you are stood on site under him.
Man number three. This one is interesting because his eyebrows have been carved at an even height, which would have given him an altogether different kind of expression from the others.
Sticciano man number four.
If you are standing at the rear of the church looking at the apse face on, above it on the left hand side you can see something else too. It isn't that obvious, but one of the sandstone building stones has words engraved on it with the date 1259.
It is thought to probably be a reference to restoration works on the church, rather than its date of construction, which would have been much earlier.
I was hoping when I saw it that it was another Templar reference, but my archaeologist friend said no to that idea too!
The "campanile" - bell tower - was rebuilt in the nineteenth century, but it looks to me that it needs some attention on high pretty soon!
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