Saint Ubaldo’s Basilica – Gubbio

Vista della Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, a cui piedi si trova un prato con una stradina che porta alla grande scalinata e all’ingresso.

A Brief Biography

The personage of young Ubaldo – who was officially declared a saint on March 5, 1192 – cannot be divided from Gubbio and the great love the town's inhabitants still have for him. More than eight centuries later, in fact, its unique memory has not faded away: a sign of gratitude toward the Patron Saint for having been an inspirer of peace and reconciliation

Tempted to Flee

After the Year 1000, the Church underwent a deep crisis because of a decadence in its ideals and, sometimes, the seduction of a worldly way of thinking and the greed for possessions. Ubaldo left everything he owned and, after having already become a Canon (community member) of the Gubbio Cathedral, he was ordered a priest. On the basis of examples coming from Church movements in Fonte Avellana (in the Region of Marche) and Santa Maria di Porto, Ravenna, he started an attempt at a reformation of local clergy – but the reaction was quite other than enthusiastic.

So, and more than once, Ubaldo had to fight against a temptation to quit. For example, he would have wished to stay in Fonte Avellana, but the abbot sent him back to Gubbio to face the problems caused by a fire in the Canon house in 1126. Or, the other way round, the Perugia community chose him as their bishop (bishops were not directly appointed by the Pope, back then); Ubaldo fled to Rome and asked Pope Honorius II to accept his resignation. In that case, the Pope agreed, but would not do so again when, in 1129, the Church in Gubbio remained without a bishop. So, Ubaldo was appointed the Bishop of Gubbio. For thirty-one years.

They Hated – then Loved – Him so much

Maltreated at first, left alone to perform his duties, insulted and slandered by many, step by step Ubaldo anyway succeeded in gaining the citizens' trust; they were conquered by his saintly lifestyle.

The most shocking episode involved Frederick Barbarossa (“Redbeard”). In 1155, while traveling north after his crowning in Rome, Frederick besieged Gubbio. Forces were unequal, the town cold not resist, just a withdrawal of the Imperial troops might save it. The mediator was precisely Ubaldo, a then ill man – to the extent that the people asked him not to get up, fearing he would die. “So,” sources report, “the man of God got up, went out of the town, and entered the Emperor's tent. . . Frederick gave him back a nephew who was among the hostages, and by a wholly personal decision, stopped the siege.”

Five years later, just after Easter night at dawn, on May 16, 1160, the blessed Ubaldo died. He was mourned by all people in Gubbio, who exalted his sainthood.

Saint Ubaldo's Basilica

Ubaldo's body was first kept inside the cathedral. On September 11, 1194, it was moved to the little Church of Saint Gervasius on Mount Ingino, that would later be incorporated in Saint Ubaldo's Basilica. Built starting from 1513 and completed in 1527, the basilica still contains the Saint's remains.

The location is fantastic. The landscape, with ridges rich in flora, lets our eyes have a glimpse at the Medieval town too, with its houses, its neighborhoods, almost as if the very basilica were protecting Gubbio from above. And the people look at the mountain, whence the belfry stands out, when their needs are most pressing. The hairpin turns leading to Saint Ubaldo's Basilica often turn into a path for pilgrims who – even independently of one another – go there to pray the Saint and do penance.

The architectural complex includes the church, the cloister, and the adjoining convent. You will enter the basilica via the cloister, plain and essential in its structure, as even arches and pillars are made in bricks. Here, in same areas on the walls, 16th century frescoes can be seen; they show episodes from Ubaldo's life, and are ascribed to a local painter, Angelo Basili.

The Interior

Entering the basilica through the main gate, you will detect five naves, and an interior that has been clearly modified during the centuries. The marble altar, embellished with mosaic figures of saints, carries on its top a bronze urn containing the body of the Patron Saint, that therefore remains constantly visible to pilgrims and visitors.

On the glass windows in the apse, in the chapels, and in the counter-façade (the inside side of the façade), episodes from Ubaldo's life are represented. They are based on his biography written by some Tebaldo/Theobald, who had been commissioned by no less than Frederick Barbarossa. In 1921, master glass-maker Francesco Mossmeyer produced the windows on request by the then church keeper, Father Emidio Selvaggio. Father Emidio also has been portrayed, namely in the rose window, while asking the Pope that the church might be given the status of “basilica,” as he was actually granted in 1919.

The “Ceri” and the Basilica

In the counter-façade side windows, to be “read” bottom to top, some miracles are shown that happened in Gubbio after Saint Ubaldo's death. In the middle we see Bishop Bentivoglio asking that the Pope may declare Ubaldo a saint. This would be decreed by a Papal bull (Latin bulla) on March 5, 1192. In the same text, the Pontiff invited Gubbio's population to celebrate the festival every year, and do so hilariter, “with great joy.” Those who happened to take part in the Festa dei Ceri can witness that such advice has never been disobeyed.

In Saint Ubaldo's Basilica, nave on the right, the Ceri themselves are kept: three high, heavy wooden structures, looking like huge ritual torches. The first document making reference to the festival is included in the Statutum Eugubii (Statute of Gubbio) of 1338. At that time, the habit probably already existed that men of the main Medieval Arti (professional associations), namely Bricklayers (patron: Saint Ubaldo), Vendors (Saint George), and Donkey Breeders (Saint Anthony), joyfully carried the three Ceri on parade along the streets and up to Mount Ingino, to offer them symbolically to the Saint.

Currently, the Ceri leave Saint Ubaldo's Basilica exclusively on the first Sunday in May. The day is called calata, “carrying (them) down” horizontally, when the Ceri are “ridden” by children from the respective neighborhoods, surrounded by parents and relatives – all belonging to designated families, called Ceraioli. The three beloved objects are then kept in the great hall in the Palace of Consuls until May 15, when they will be carried back to Mount Ingino, this time vertically and in a crazy race, in a triumph of colors, sounds, rites, ingrained habits, songs, and rhythms that it would be impossible to convey to those who never saw any of it.
This festival, one of the most fascinating in Italy, has been chosen by the authorities of Region Umbria as the emblem of the whole territory. (That is all the more remarkable as Umbria's County Seat is not in Gubbio, but Perugia.) Only the COVID-19 pandemic could stop this rite, that had never been interrupted before, not even during the First World War