On one of the gentle hills around the town of Dicomano, there stands the parish church of Santa Maria with its strikingly squat form and imposing bell-tower, which was probably conceived for military purposes. The church was built between the fifth and sixth centuries and was one of the first parish churches to be dedicated to the Madonna. It replaced an earlier Christian church on the same site, which itself had been erected on the foundations of a pagan temple, which was destroyed by barbarians in 405.
The chapel, which used to be smaller than it is now, faced south with its apse constructed on a fortification, of which the bell-tower is a current reminder. Changing the church’s orientation in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries made it possible to open a new entrance by the apse. In 1542, after damage sustained from an earthquake, three naves were built, but in 1919 their sixteenth-century aspect was overwritten by some ‘medievalising’ restorations.
From the outside we can see the three-nave structure and the stocky bell-tower, equipped with architraves and lunettes. The central nave, raised slightly above the others, is decorated with a rose window, which bears the Soderini family coat-of-arms, and a three-sided canopy hangs over the door.
The grand interior is lined with two rows of arches, which flank a seventeenth-century central pulpit, made of pietra serena. The number of artworks in the church makes it almost more of a gallery. One can admire various oil panels, including a Madonna and child enthroned with saints, attributed to the school of Ghirlandaio; a beautiful, elaborately-framed Nativity by Cosimo Gamberucci; a Deposition of Christ with a uniquely floral frame and a sixteenth-century Our Lady of Mount Carmel with saints by Giambattista Naldini.
The church is home to other works of interest, such as the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a canvas painted by Francesco Curradi in 1613; the Robbiano Tabernacle for the Holy Oils, a glazed terracotta tabernacle from the Della Robbia school; a St Catherine of Alexandria with the angels of wisdom and martyrdom, thought to have been painted in 1629 by Lorenzo Lippi; and The Virgin with St James of Compostela and St Romuald by Giacomo Conti.
A beautiful cloister stands next to the basilica and the Reliquary of Sant’Ilario is kept in the rectory, containing the ashes and blood of the saint in a hexagonal glass urn, topped with a gold-plated bronze angel on an ebony pedestal.