To the visitor, the church of San Leonardo will appear to have undergone a fairly significant and somewhat peculiar renovation: the facade was completely rebuilt in 1932 in the Neo-classical style of Cusella, in 1929 a new marble altar and balustrade were added, and the mosaic floor was completed in 1954. The church, however, is much older and full of important works. Among them are:
Boards from Manciano artist Paride Pascucci (1866-1954), who shot to fame as one of the most interesting post-Macchiaioli artists on the national scene.
The San Leonardo (1894) painted for the high altar of the church, reflects the influence of Viligiardi on the simplification of form and the contrast between light and shadow. The mystical and contemplative aspect of these portraits is a bit dimmed by the use of villagers as models; the image of baby Jesus has the expression that makes him look a bit like a bored, chubby kid from the Maremma.
The Apostles (1909): is a canvas presented the Exhibition of Fine Arts in Rome and bought by the Modern Art Gallery, which has currently lent it to the Church of San Leonardo. The work is portrays the traditional washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, the same ritual that would have taken place in the church itself, in Manciano. The painting caused some concern in intellectual circles: Giovanni Cena, director of the “New Anthology”, asked Paride where the picture had been painted and which ceremony it was meant to portray.
At first glance the “white spot” formed by the peasant-apostles is most striking, as it has a significant visual impact on the viewer; then the focus shifts to the faces, engrossed in the sacred rite. But something breaks the spell and the solemnity of the moment: immediately following the lavender the apostles again become peasants, the painter posing as “photographer” has them clumsily getting back in their shoes. There is even a child in the middle with mischievous expression playing the “raganone”, an instrument used during Holy Week instead of bells which could not be operated in the church.
Good Friday (1929): belongs to the collection of the Banca di Credito Cooperativo di Saturnia and is on loan to the Church of San Leonardo. Another popular religious episode, rendered with great realism, this is an eposide once again painted from life. Here, however, the spirituality of the ritual prevails and everyone is motionless and absorbed, women have their heads covered and men wear the white robe of the Brotherhood of Mercy. Only a child seems to be restless but his face, turned to Christ, is serious. This picture won the Spranger Prize in 1929.
The church is dedicated to the patron saint of the country: San Leonardo, who despite being from a noble family refused to engage in the war and became instead the protector of slaves and prisoners. He dedicated himself to life as a hermit, and during his life time he healed the sick and collected money to release prisoners, especially prisoners of war.
The San Leonardo legend: Local legend has it that in the period before the abolition of capital punishment in Tuscany, it happened that a Manciano man named Leonardo Morucci was unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death. The night before the unfortunate man’s execution (between 5 and 6 November) he fasted and prayed to his patron saint, responding to the jailer who taunted him by saying, “If San Leonardo wants, he shall”. During the night a great light illuminated the cell, the man’s chains melted and the door opened. Leonardo left the prison in Orbetello unhindered, walked through the countryside to Manciano, where he was welcomed by the festive sound of church bells. In the following days he was also exonerated by the civil courts.