Umbria Benedictine Itinerary – part 2

This is an excerpt from the book “Umbria

Norcia – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

Church of Santa Scolastica – Norcia

The church of Santa Scolastica, cradle of the second Benedictine order, is situated in the immediate vicinity of Norcia at the center of the plateau of the same name.

The church commemorates the Saint, sister of Benedict, since according to tradition, it was in that very spot that she gathered together her first sisters and lived there until she moved to Cassino.

The pitched facade was rebuilt in the course of the 18th century and the small windows placed either side of the portal indicate that the place was much worshipped and the destination of streams of pilgrims, especially in times of drought.

The interior is a single space with a rectangular plan and wooden ceiling. On the right-hand wall and on the back wall, fragments of fifteenth-century frescoes have recently been found, including the Madonna and Child with Saints Benedict and John the Baptist, ascribed to the brothers Lorenzo and Jacopo Salimbeni and several scenes from the Life of St. Benedict which were painted over an older pictorial decoration, to which the St. Scholastica attributed to the Maestro della Madonna Strauss also belongs. A monastery, of which some parts along the right-hand side of the building remain, was built adjacent to the church.

Church of San Salvatore di Campi – Norcia

The church of San Salvatore di Campi, an important parish in the Middle Ages, was dependent on the abbey of S. Eutizio until 1493.

Built at the center of an area with a high density of hermits, it consists of two structural parts, symmetrical but not coeval, of which the older, left-hand section was the model for the right-hand part. It was the prototype for the two-naved churches found in the Norcia area: in this case the two naves bear witness to the co-existence in the church of two liturgical rites, oriental and Latin. Internally, the two naves are separated by pillars which support the cross-vaults.

On the back wall of the left-hand nave, which is older and richer in frescoes, is a large frescoed Crucifixion and in the front part a large pointed arch supporting a sort of through iconostasis wwhich is entirely frescoed; the upper attic housed a large wooden Crucifix dating back to the 14th century and much venerated.

Abbey of S. Eutizio – Preci

The Abbey of S. Eutizio in Preci stands on a high tuff crag, in the midst of an area which more than any other shows important evidence of local pre-Benedictine monasticism. In his Dialogues (late 6th century), St. Gregory the Great wrote that near Norcia, in about 450 A.D., St. Spes had established a small group of monks who led a hermit’s life, guided after his death by S. Eutychius, Spes’ disciple and evangelizer of the region.

The monastery, later converted into an abbey, had held the priorship of S. Benedetto in Norcia since its origin, but was not, however, free from conflict or interference by the Holy See.

All the rooms typical of a monastery can still be found inside the Abbey of S. Eutizio: the church, the chapter-house and the refectory.

The abbey’s most flourishing period dates back to around the year 1000, when, thanks to its well-stocked library and school of illuminated manuscripts, it became an important cultural center.

One of the oldest texts written in the vernacular originates from its library: the formula of confession dating back to 1095. The library of S. Eutizio remained intact in loco until 1605 when Abbot Giacomo Crescenzi donated part of it (around 35 illuminated codices) to his friend St. Philip Neri, who transferred the material he had received to the Vallicelliana Library in Rome.

Church of San Felice di Narco – Sant’Anatolia di Narco

The church of S. Felice di Narco was built in around 1190, on the ruins of an old Benedictine edifice, constructed after the Benedictine monks had reclaimed the surrounding marshland.

According to tradition, the terrible dragon which polluted the air of the valley with its breath (allegory of the Nera river), was defeated by two monks, Saint Mauro and his son Saint Felice. Reference to this legend is made in the bas-relief below the rose window of the facade. The latter is one of the most interesting examples of Romanesque architecture and sculpture in Spoleto, with the beautiful reliefs which frame the rose window and the Agnus Dei placed on top of the gable.

The single-naved interior has an interesting fresco depicting the Adoration of the Magi, and a presbytery raised over the crypt and delimited by Cosmatesque plutei. The Diocesan Archive of Spoleto preserves three valuable 12th-century parchment volumes, known as the Leggendari del Duomo (Cathedral Legendaries). The 1st and 2nd volumes were written in the scriptorium of the abbey of S. Felice di Narco, the 3rd comes from the church of S. Brizio, near Spoleto.

Norcia panorama -
Norcia panorama – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

Abbey of San Pietro in Valle – Ferentillo

The Abbey of S. Pietro in Valle at Ferentillo was founded in the 8th century on the burial site of two monks whom tradition identifies as Lazzaro and Giovanni; the latter led a hermit’s life, according to the model of St. Spes, in the two grottoes adjacent to the church.

The abbey was built by order of the Longobard Duke of Spoleto, Faroaldo II, who having renounced his civilian attire, became a monk and chose this place to live as a recluse. He was buried here in 728.

The apses and transept of the original church remain, as does the marble slab on the altar which comes from the ancient presbytery enclosure. The upper part of the side walls in the nave is entirely decorated with a famous fresco cycle of Romanesque age illustrating Stories of the Old and New Testament , a token of one of the first Roman reactions to the hieratic and unearthly style of Byzantine painting.

Besides the fragments of the Longobard sculptures which once decorated the church, there are five Roman sarcophagi with a pagan subject and one of Asiatic type.

Hermitage of Sant’Antimo – Spoleto

On the site of a modern hotel (now closed), once stood the hermitage of Sant’Antimo; the presence of this sacred place is recalled by a tiny modern chapel dedicated to the Saint and by the presence in the immediate vicinity of a grotto which can be reached along a little path adjacent to the chapel. Evidence can be found here of the first hermit settlements dug into the rock, including small niches, storerooms and several crosses.

Church of San Giuliano – Spoleto

The church of S. Giuliano in Spoleto, according to tradition, was founded in the 5th century on land donated by a matron named Gregoria to St. Isacco.

The monastery was already annexed to the church at the time of Pope Pelagius I (mid-6th century), who mentions it in two of his letters. After several years the complex became a Benedictine abbey and in it were buried the hermit monks of Monteluco who most distinguished themselves in terms of holiness, including the aforementioned Isacco.

The facade is embellished with an elegant window with three lights and a portal constructed of salvaged material and reliefs of the early Christian age.

The interior is divided into three aisles by arches on columns and terminates in three apses, of which the central one was entirely frescoed with the Coronation of the Virgin and Benedictine Saints by the so-called Maestro di Eggi in 1442, on the commission of the Benedictine abbot Argento Campello. Early mediaeval sculpture fragments are placed along the aisles.

<<< …previous | continue… >>>
Courtesy of Umbria 2000