Arriving in the central square of Piazza Matteotti, the heart of Montale, one is struck by one of the most interesting forms of architecture of the town. Once you have passed the eighteenth century porch that overlooks the beautiful square, you enter the church of San Giovanni Evangelista, the oldest documented building in the Montale area. It is mentioned in the historical archives as early as 957 as “Villiano” and in a document signed by Emperor Otto the Third in 998.
In its early years it depended on the Cathedral of Pistoia, so it was a shelter for the travelers that from the valleys of the river Limentra headed down the plains towards the Cassian Way. The church, dedicated to John the Evangelist in the sixteenth century, was rebuilt in the twelfth century in Romanesque. You can still find traces of its ancient features, the single-lancet windows of the sacristy, for example. Through the years the building has undergone many changes. The atmosphere is determined by the neoclassical renovations made in the early nineteenth century following the election of the church to the rank of rectory after being under the patronage of the Cancellieri Family for at least four centuries.
The appearance of the church was restored in the 16-1700s with the construction of the bell tower and the rearrangement of the porch. The construction of the chapel that houses the baptismal font, the structural review of the apse and the cycle of tempera decorations on the walls belong to the eighteenth century.
A visit to the church of San Giovanni is a must also because of the interesting heritage of works of art inside. One of the most important works is the recently restored Annunciation, oil on canvas painted by Sebastiano Vini in 1552. Vini, from Verona, worked mostly in the province of Pistoia. This painting was originally commissioned for the church of San Pierino and it is the artists first documented work of art, therefore an ideal starting point to get to know his subsequent production. On the second altar on the left you can admire a valuable seventeenth century florentine school crucifixion. It has been attributed to Lodovico “Il Cigoli” Ciardi (1559-1613) and to the painter Lorenzo Lippi, pupil of Matteo Rosselli. The same Rosselli (1578-1650) is the author of the unusual Martyrdom of St. Sebastian on the first altar on the right. It is a rare image of the saint that is pierced with arrows and then clubbed to death. The amazing rendering of the anatomy of the saint echoes Caravaggio, perhaps influence of Rosselli during his stay in Rome. The dome of the choir hosts the large fresco by Luigi Sabatelli (1772-1850), acclaimed master of classical art in Florence. The Fresco shows the Vision of St. John the Evangelist at Patmos. Sabatelli interprets the episode of the Apocalipse: Christ dictates seven letters to the angels of the seven churches. Last but not least, Pietro Benvenuti’s oil on canvas that portrays Jesus and the Samaritan at the well, the Immaculate Conception by Piero Confortini and a beautiful carved and painted walnut wood cross from the Tuscan school of the seveteenth century placed behind the main altar.