Umbria Benedictine Itinerary – part 4

This is an excerpt from the book “Umbria

Abbey of S. Felice di Giano dell’Umbria
Abbey of S. Felice di Giano dell’Umbria

Abbey of S. Felice di Giano dell’Umbria

The abbey complex of S. Felice di Giano runs along the right-hand side of the church of the same name, with the oldest part, to the North, appearing in all its might to the pilgrim who, arriving from Giano, makes his way up the long tree-lined avenue towards the church.

In 1373 the historic abbey was subjected to the jurisdiction of the Benedictine abbey of Sassovivo near Foligno and in the course of the 15th century passed under the control of the Augustinian hermits of Perugia.

Along the right-hand wall of the church is the entrance to the cloister; this has a rectangular plan, two sides of which are entirely frescoed with The Stories of Saint Felix and also contains fragments of sculpted material originating from the old church and found during the recent restoration.

On the East side of the cloister stands the great Chapterhouse with a sturdy central column supporting the barrel vault and a small loophole in the left-hand wall which opens onto the crypt.

Since 1815, the abbey of S. Felice has been the seat of the Congregation of the Most Precious Blood, founded by San Gaspare del Bufalo.

Abbazia dei Santi Fidenzio e Terenzio – Massa Martana

The ancient abbey of Santi Fidenzio e Terenzio dates back to the 9th century, when a community of Benedictine monks was established in the nearby monastery and ran the complex until the end of the 14th century.

Previous to its construction a small oratory had stood on the burial place of the two martyrs, whose sacred remains were exhumed in 1629 and transferred to the nearby village of Bassano di Orte. The simple pitched facade has a portal surmounted by a round arch and an elegant double lancet window crowning the pediment.

The interior, after the radical alterations carried out in the 13th century, has a single hall, with a raised presbytery terminating in a deeply-recessed apse where there are a remarkable number of early mediaeval sculptural fragments reused in its construction. It has an interesting ceiling with wooden beams and painted bricks, reinforced by transversal Gothic arches.

Above the narrow passage which leads to the crypt, on the left of the stairs, is an ambo with reliefs. The crypt, datable to the end of the 9th century, is dominated by the large central column in grey marble with an Ionic capital which supports the vaults, reinforced with sub-arches during the 13th-century renovation. Along the left-hand side of the church rises the mighty bell-tower which rests on a large room with a domed vault from the late imperial age.

Massa Martana
Massa Martana – Photo Silvio Sorcini

Abbey of Santa Maria in Pantano – Massa Martana

The abbey complex of S. Maria in Pantano stands along the route of the ancient Via Flaminia, as demonstrated by numerous archaeological finds. At some undocumented time the church had a monastery of Benedictine monks annexed to it.

As soon as they were settled in the area, the latter devoted themselves to reclaiming the fertile terrain which had turned to marshland due to the frequent flooding of the Tribbio torrent, giving the complex of S. Maria in Pantano, i.e. in the mud, its name.

After 1104 the abbey was subject to Farfa, as is also recorded in a document by Emperor Henry V in 1118.

Abbey of San Benedetto al Subasio – Assisi

The monastic complex of S. Benedetto al Subasio has extremely ancient origins and is documented from 1051, when it is recorded as being subject to the Abbey of Farfa.

At the end of the 14th century, after it had been deserted by the monks, the abbey became the refuge of the rebel citizens who had poured out of Assisi and were led by the Fiumi family. Only in 1945 did the Benedictines of S. Pietro of Assisi regain possession of the abbey.

All that remains of the Romanesque abbey are the perimeter walls and the church, which dates back to the second half of the 11th century; it has a single nave and the presbytery is raised above the coeval crypt, divided by columns with sculpted capitals into five aisles.

Not far from the church, within the monastery precincts, is another, older crypt (dating back to the 7th-8th century). Characterised by lowered vaults supported by three large columns, it recalls the coeval crypt in the church of S. Silvestro in Collepino. At the time of St. Francis, the abbot of S. Benedetto al Subasio donated the Chapel of the Porziuncola in S. Maria degli Angeli to the Saint and each year in memory of this gesture the Franciscans still offer the Benedictines of ‘Subasio’ a basket of fish.

Spello Street
Spello Street – Photo © Michele Tortioli – proprietà Regione Umbria

Abbey of San Silvestro – Spello

The Abbey of S. Silvestro was founded in the vicinity of the village of Collepino by St. Benedict in 523 and, in 1025, when St. Romuald was abbot, the complex was dedicated to Pope St. Sylvester. Originally the building was only a hermitage and remained so until 1150 when Pope Eugenius III imposed on the monks the Camaldolese Rule.

The remains of the original structure of the church include the presbytery area and the semicircular apse, with an admirable fresco depicting the Madonna and Child enthroned , the interesting sarcophagus on the high altar and the crypt below.

The latter is a fine example of mediaeval (11th century) monastic architecture and consists of a rectangular room with three mighty columns supporting the substantially lowered barrel vault.

The Abbey of S. Silvestro had many famous abbots, who have entered the history books as popes (including Gregory IX, Clement V) and Don Ugolino, the fraternal friend of St. Francis, whom he canonised on 16th July 1228. In 1970, on the area occupied in former times by the monastery, the so-called hermitage of the Transfiguration was built, where the community of the Little Sisters of Mary resides, founded by Sister Teresa dell’Eucarestia.

Abbey of S. Croce di Sassovivo - Foligno
Abbey of S. Croce di Sassovivo – Foligno – Photo © R.o.b.e.r.t.o.

Abbey of S. Croce di Sassovivo – Foligno

Situated on the mountainside, the Abbey of S. Croce di Sassovivo is one of the oldest proofs of the Benedictine presence in the Spoleto valley. The monks founded it in the 11th century and organised a study center and a scriptorium there of great cultural interest.

Nowadays the archive belonging to the Abbey of Sassovivo, consisting of parchments and documents some of which date back to the 11th century, is preserved at the Diocesan Archive in Spoleto.

All that remains of the original Romanesque structure are the mighty perimeter walls and the understructures on the valley side which prop up the rooms of the monastery. The very fine cloister is also Romanesque, the work of the Vassalletto family, celebrated Roman marble workers. One of the churches subject to the Abbey of S. Croce was the Roman Basilica of the Santi Quattro Coronati, seat of the monastic delegation of Sassovivo at the Holy See.

Church of S. Alè – Terni

The church of S. Alè is one of the oldest and most fascinating places of worship in the city. The saint’s name is a Latin diminutive of Aloysius, a goldsmith saint who lived in the 6th century. Erected in the 12th century, but perhaps on top of older buildings, it was characterised by a pitched facade with a high bell-tower. The construction of a town-house in front of the old facade in the 13th century, resulted in the closure of the road which led to the front of the church and the entrance was moved to the right-hand flank of the building.

The present-day entrance is characterized by a fight of steps with two Roman age, column-bearing lions either side, placed there to protect the site. Above the portal there is a charming panel with the Madonna della Misericordia (15th century), appealed to against the scourge of the plague. The small construction was used as a place of worship by various communities: the Augustines (13th century), the Sisters of St. Clare of Assisi (15th and 19th centuries) and the Knights of the Order of Malta (18th century). At present St. Alè is the church of the new Diocesan Seminary and the Diocesan Vocations center.

The interior is divided into three aisles between two rows of cylindrical columns and pillars. The apse, which is entirely decorated with frescoes, is preceded by a rectangular connecting space. The walls and columns are also decorated with frescoes which date from the 12th to the 16th century. The most important are those on the wall at the entrance, outstanding among which is a fragment of a Crucifixion of considerable interest in terms of its antiquity (12th century), and the figures of Saints on the ancient counter-facade.
The external wall face shows numerous fragments of Roman and Longobard sculptures salvaged and reused as building material. Several of these it seems come from the furnishings of the old Cathedral.

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