The Pieve di San Leolino in Rignano sull’Arno was first mentioned in 1066 in a document of the lost San Pier Maggiore Monastery in Florence, recording its donation by Donna Gisla, the widow of Azzo di Pagano. Pope Pasquale II also mentioned the church in 1103.
Nine churches were dependent upon the ‘Pieve’ and in its turn, the Pieve was one of the 36 dioceses of Fiesole. It is interesting to note that the San Leolino Church was privileged enough to have a Baptismal Font.
St. Leolino was a Bishop who lived in the III century A.D. and was martyrised in Val di Sieve. In the 9th and 10th centuries it was probably the Guidi Counts (powerful, feudal Counts from the Romagnolo region) who encouraged the worship of St. Leolino when they took possession of the Casentino and Valdarno regions. This would probably explain the presence of four other churches dedicated to the worship of San Leolino in a rather small area: San Lorino in Monti (Londa); San Leolino in Val d’Ambra (Bucine); San Leolino in Conio (Castellina in Chianti); San Leolino a Panzano (near Greve).
We can see that the church has three aisles, divided by square sectioned pillars sustaining arches and terminating in three semi-circular apses, of which, the central one is the largest.
If we examine the structure of the Pieve, we can find characteristic architectural aspects, particular to the Ancient Roman period. Although the church has been recently restored, the posterior, the three apses, part of the Nave, and the lower part of the bell tower are dated from the original building. The upper part of the bell tower, which has four open arches surrounded by wedge-shaped stone of an alternate green and white colour, is very similar to the bell tower in the San Pietro a Ripoli church built at a later date.
Today, only the area housing the two final arches is part of the original church, the anterior part (i.e. the three remaining arches) is a new construction, probably built in the 18th century as a result of the devastating effects of earthquakes. These earthquakes completely destroyed the façade, which had to be totally rebuilt.
During the past centuries, the church has been enriched with many works of art: paintings, frescoes, statues etc. After a new church was built in the centre of Rignano sull’Arno in 1954, the Pieve was no longer used, in fact it was practically abandoned, leading to its consequent degradation. Some of the works of art that were originally in the church are today conserved in the new church in Rignano sull’Arno, others, have simply been lost, perhaps forever.
When the Pieve was restored in 1995/2002, two important frescoes were also restored, the first is a work of art from the late 14th century depicting ‘The Crowning of the Virgin among the Angels and Saints’, which can be found on the left-hand side of the church. The second, smaller fresco, ‘The Madonna Breastfeeding’ which can be found on the right-hand side of the church), is from the early 15th century and has been attributed to the Florentine artist Bicci di Lorenzo. The restoration of the fresco ‘The Crowning of the Virgin’ enabled us to discover the sinopite (i.e. the original rough sketch by the artist) which can be found in front of the fresco.
On the left-hand side of the main entrance we can see the glazed earthenware Baptismal Font, attributed to the school of Santi Buglioni from the 16th century, of great interest are the stories of St. John the Baptist engraved on the font.