An Intimate Medieval Village

San Gusme, is an intimate medieval village located in the commune (municipality) of Castelnuovo Berardenga, just outside of the Arceno estate that I call home. The lands of San Gusme and Arceno abut and if they were sitting at a dinner table, I would say they “rubbed elbows”.

The village was founded in the late fourteenth century and was originally a castle named after Saints Cosmus and Damian, to whom the parish church is still dedicated. San Gusme was first documented in a sales act by Count Senna Winigi of Ranieri in February 867.

The historical back drop of San Gusme includes an Etruscan settlement in close proximity, to the well documented medieval feuds between Siena and Florence and the 2nd World War. Thankfully the fortified walls of San Gusme remain intact. History buff or not, you will enjoy a visit to this well-preserved medieval gem.

San Gusme’s position provides spectacular views which are a photographers dream. The surrounding scenes of vineyards, olive groves with Mount Amiata and the citta (city) of Siena in the near distance are breath-taking.


I tend to take the same pictures every time I visit, simply because it is so beautiful. My husband always says “ You took that picture the last time, there is no memory space in the computer ” but no two days seem alike to me.


On a recent and very warm Sunday, my lovely British neighbour asked me if I would like to attend church in San Gusme.  At Christmas my husband and I had made a failed attempt to attend midnight mass. This was a result of a language misunderstanding with a villager concerning the times and location of the service. Thus prompting our continued Italian lessons.

I often hear the crisp ring of the church bells from the Church of Santissima Annunziata’s bell tower in the distance. Today, the bells seem to be beckoning me, thus with the decision made, the two of us set off chauffeured by her charming husband.

We entered one of three-arched entrances, the southwestern citta gate.


The Sienese entrance (below) has the “Balzana” plaque, made from local stones overhead. The “Balzana” is Siena’s coat of arms.


The third entrance, the Porta Nuova opens beside the Pieve (church) of Saints Cosmus and Damian which was our destination.

We walked through the stone alleyways, appreciating the coolness cast by the village walls. It was a reprieve from the 30 degree sun and my decision to wear panty hose!


The swallows swooped in between and above the village walls decorated with flower pots filled with bright flowers as the cloths hung on lines stretched between the windows.

The village has a unique charm and you have a sense of being in a place from another time. Whom has walked on these stones before me?

The service was held in the neo romanesque parish church dedicated to Saints Cosmus and Damian widely known and respected (reputed) twin brothers, famed physicians and Christian martyrs. The chapel is adorned with two-figures, the twins. My beloved father Stuart and his brother Cedric were twins.  I always believed they were “reputed” thus making the experience more personal.

church of Saints Cosmus and Damian

The interior of the parish is a delicate blue with simple adornments but beautiful in its simplicity, worth seeing. The service led by the parish Priest was capably supported by local adults, but mainly children. It was a joy to see such confident children delivering their sections of the service in beautiful, rolling and clearly pronounced Italian, even I could follow the program with my limited understanding of the language. A small boy and his sister held hands and twirled in the single centre aisle, their mother breast-fed their sibling, while parishioners came and went.

Appreciating that neither my neighbour nor I are catholic, we were pleased to have worked our way through the required kneeling and readings quite well. The recent events in Manchester, UK and the world for that matter, had been unsettling to both of us. We felt blessed to feel safe in this serene environment.

As we left the service with spirits raised, I saw the swallow nests above, I have been told they are a sign of good luck – I crossed my fingers, said a prayer of peace. I was thankful for this tranquil day, my neighbours companionship and the fellowship of the parishioners.




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