The shining sun that followed a recent heavy rain fall convinced Walter to spend a few hours wandering in the forest of Badia to look for mushrooms. He decided to take the street running from the centre of Collesalvetti to the Ponte Mediceo, before heading towards the path leading to an area rich in mushrooms, close to the ancient Madonnina di Badia. Walter was well-versed in Badia’s legend and mystery: it’s said that here, around the year 1200, there was a prosperous abbey called the “XII Apostles,” a congregation of religious people that followed a little-known doctrine and who lived in perpetual isolation. His attention was drawn to an unusual circular bit of white, a human skull with the eye sockets surrounded by thin but clear patches of flesh. Walter backed up a few steps, his thoughts flooded in a mix of emotions. He fled back up the riverbank of the Madonnina, anxious to get back to his car. Panicking, he headed straight to Piazza della Repubblica to alert the authorities. Looking around him, he saw the town hall’s clock tower, the bar, the faces of people he knew, his panic slowly dissolving.
One day, Walter brought me to a stream barely 30 kilometres long. He told me that it was once very important for the town’s economy and how it was a nice place to send your free time. Its history, my friend tells me, can be traced to the time of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, when the Medici had a factory built at the top of the hill. The factory enlarged the land all the way to the Tora’s river plain. And so, a bridge was built to connect the two banks. The river, through a deviation, fed the huge head race of the Grand Duchy’s Mill. Every year, the head race is emptied and cleaned: that day, there was a real haul, there was fish for everyone!
A true minstrel of the town, Walter also likes to recount how in the late-Middle Ages, the Abbey of XII Apostles stood out majestically on a hill not far from here. At the beginning of the 1900s, workers were digging at the edge of the forest while laying the foundation for a vineyard. During the work, they unearthed a burial ground, most likely the monks’ cemetery, bringing to light black slates and giant skeletons! The entire town ran to see the discovery, while the children played with the skulls, sticking them on poles and walking around with their creations in a macabre procession. But the parish priest, who rushed to bless the site, put an end to the dark spectacle.
Walter explained to me that this community is very connected to Anchise Picchi, a painter and sculptor born in Crespina on April 1, 1911, but who moved to Collesalvetti in the mid-1920s, where he died in 2007. “I’ll end this account with his words,” he told me:
“Where the light dies, even if drawing excels, is where Art dies. When there are no tricks of light, there is no life.”