Umbria Benedictine Itinerary – part 3

This is an excerpt from the book “Umbria

Spoleto – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

Church of S. Ansano – Spoleto

Next to the Arco di Druso stands an unusual complex of pagan and Christian art: the church of S. Ansano, whose foundations are laid on the ruins of a Roman temple of the 1st century A.D. The crypt of St. Isaac, entirely decorated with Romanesque frescos , lies within the temple area and already in the Romanesque epoch was part of the church of the same name. St. Isaac arrived in Spoleto from Syria in the 6th century and here, where his model of hermitic life was followed by many companions, he founded the church of S. Giuliano where he was first buried. Today his tomb, after having been transferred from S. Giuliano to the crypt of S. Ansano, is housed in the Rocca Albornoziana Museum in Spoleto.

The church of S. Ansano has a single nave with four altars against the side walls and a large marble frame on the back wall which surrounds the painting of the Martyrdom of St. Ansano . Near the entrance to the building, in the so-called Chapel of the Lombards, is a delightful fresco depicting the Madonna and Child by Giovanni Spagna.

Church of San Paolo Inter vineas – Spoleto

The church of S. Paolo inter vineas in Spoleto boasts very ancient origins: St. Gregory the Great relates that in the 6th century a miracle took place there concerning an Arian bishop who was struck blind for having tried to officiate Mass there.

At the beginning of the 10th century a female Benedictine monastery was founded there which, in 1234, obtained the rule of the Poor Clares from Gregory IX, who had come to Spoleto to consecrate the new church. The late-Romanesque facade, notwithstanding the 18th-century alterations, anticipates the internal division of the building into three aisles with soaring pilasters which vertically divide up the space. Inside, the aisles terminate on a level with the triumphal arch which gives access to the luminous transept containing the almost illegible remains of an important 13th-century fresco cycle. The great apse is probably older than the rest of the building.

Spoleto Centro Storico
Spoleto Centro Storico – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

Basilica of Santa Eufemia – Spoleto

The Basilica of S. Eufemia stands within the precincts of the bishop’s palace and is one of the most remarkable Romanesque buildings in Umbria. Earliest mention of it dates back to the 10th century when a monastery of Benedictine nuns was joined to the Church. Recent, reliable studies have placed the monument within the first half of the 12th century: it was rebuilt during that first phase of the Romanesque flourishing in Spoleto, mindful of or perhaps participating in Lombard architecture. The sobriety of the facade is enriched by the ornamental use of arches: the portal with concentric rings of arches, the single and double lancet windows, and the small blind arches of the crowning are integrated into the scheme with two pitches, raised in the center, which was to become typical of the local Romanesque style.

The interior, despite its small dimensions, is striking in its correctness of proportions and rhythms: the columns and pillars, often made out of elements salvaged from other buildings, stand at regular intervals along the three aisles; the presence of the matroneum, the women’s gallery, has been connected with the existence of the ancient royal and ducal seat in which, rather like the palatine chapel of Aachen, such women’s galleries existed.

The marble altar in the presbytery is decorated with a 13th-century frontal.

Church of San Nicolo’ – Spoleto

The church of S. Nicolo’ is part of the monumental complex of the former convent of S. Nicolo’, a monument which went into a slow but continual decline from the 17th century to the middle of the present century, when the Commune and the Monuments and Fine Arts Office set about restoring it. The first stone of this large, sumptuous building was laid in 1304 at the behest of the Augustines, thanks to whom it became one of the most important centers of worship in the city.

The convent library welcomed the foremost scholars and writers of Spoleto, as well as Martin Luther, who stayed there in 1512. The church is impressive in the simplicity of its plan, with a single nave and very high polygonal apse, whose lower part houses the church of Santa Maria della Misericordia.

The high bare walls of the hall were at one time decorated with sculptures, paintings and frescoes, of which fragmentary traces remain on the counter-facade, in the large niches in the right-hand wall and also in the left-hand one, dating from the 15th to the 16th century. Many of these were removed during the recent restoration and placed in the Pinacoteca Comunale. As soon as the restoration and reinforcing works are terminated, the convent and church will accommodate a large congress center of local and national interest.

Duomo di Spoleto
Duomo di Spoleto – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

Church of San Gregorio Maggiore – Spoleto

The church of S. Gregorio stands on an ancient cemetery site which, according to tradition, was founded by a widow named Abbondanza in the 4th century A.D. Here the woman buried the body of St. Gregory and other martyrs who perished in the nearby amphitheatre. The edifice was entirely rebuilt in the 11th-12th century and over the years underwent substantial alteration, although it retained its original layout.

Access to the church is from a 16th-century porch with three fornices which frame the sumptuous central portal and the small side apertures; above the left-hand one is a pluteus with 8th-century reliefs used as a lintel. The interior has three aisles and a presbytery raised at the top of a flight of steps and it, too, is divided into three aisles terminating in small apses.

Off the left-hand aisle is the Chapel of the Sacrament, inside which is a large tabernacle dated 1523. The walls preserve traces, to various extents, of ancient fresco cycles which date from the 13th to the 15th century and whose bright colors have been intensified by recent restorations. In the right-hand aisle in the presbytery is the large fresco depicting the Madonna and Child and Eve attributed to the Maestro della Dormitio from Terni. The side aisles of the edifice give access to the Romanesque crypt where the widespread recycling of salvaged building material is evident; like the presbytery above, the crypt is divided into three aisles, of which the central one, in its turn, is split into three small aisles.

Church and monastery of S.Ponziano – Spoleto

The church and monastery of S. Ponziano in Spoleto are built on the place in which, according to an ancient tradition, the body of the young martyr from Spoleto, St. Pontianus, was buried, who later became the patron saint of the town.

The monastery, already industrious and flourishing before the year 1000, after 1392 was run by a female religious community which followed the Benedictine rule. The facade of the church belongs to the late 12th century and is characterised by the great portal decorated with sculptures and Cosmatesque mosaic decorations. In the upper order, the rose window is flanked by two small double lancet windows.

The interior of the church is 18th-century in style, as a result of the general restoration carried out in 1788 to a design by Valadier. The great wooden Crucifix on the left-hand wall has a painted image showing St. Pontianus on horseback at its foot. The crypt is divided into five small aisles and terminates in apsidioles which were entirely frescoed in the 14th and 15th century. The apse of the last right-hand aisle contains the large figure of an angel with persons praying, attributed to the Maestro di Fossa, one of the greatest Umbrian painters of the mid-14th century. The monastery’s Chapterhouse contains a large fresco dated 1482 representing the Madonna and Child with Saints Benedict and Pontianus , patrons of the Archdiocese of Spoleto-Norcia.

Basilica of S. Salvatore – Spoleto

The complex was for a long time a Benedictine abbey and subsequently a female monastery of various orders before being abandoned in 1951. The church stands within the precincts of the town’s cemetery and was originally dedicated to San Concordio, a name which it retained until the 8th century when, at the time of the Longobard reconstruction, the church took the name of San Salvatore after the image of Jesus Christ placed above the high altar. After the recent restorations the building has regained its original early Christian (4th century) guise, with its facade embellished with elegant friezes containing symbolic motifs on the doors and windows. The interior is divided into three aisles and is surprising for the marked vertical development of the side walls and columns and for the presbytery area which retains its original structure. Here, the large classical columns made of salvaged materials and the sumptuous capitals support the dome with eight segments of a later date. The small apse of the right-hand aisle is decorated with a 15th-century fresco of the Benedictory Eternal with the Madonna and Saints.

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Courtesy of Umbria 2000