The History of a Centuries-old Building Site Origins of the Cathedral of Saint Mary’s Assumption
The Cathedral is a sign of the presence of God, as well as of an active and industrious Christian community; it shows the relationship between God and His people’s yearning. The bond with the town history and its inhabitants is so strong that still nowadays the Cathedral is Orvieto’s very symbol, the monument that most shapes its identity.
Basilica of the Holy Savior in Spoleto Ancient Origins
Although not included in the standard tours, the Basilica of the Holy Savior (San Salvatore) is surely among the “must see” things in Spoleto. The history of this church is still partially enveloped in mystery because of its very ancient origins, no documents existing of the same era as they started to build it. We anyway know for certain that it is dedicated to Christ, the Holy Savior, thanks to a document dating back to the year 815. Such an old “genesis” makes the basilica a rare witness of past eras.
Near the imposing Fortress in Città della Pieve a Church of Saint Francis exists, now also renamed Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima. The Church of Saint Francis was built precisely by the Franciscans, just outside the town gate called Porta Perugina, in approximately the second half of the 13th century. It was then renewed, especially in its interior, in the late 18th century.
On walking in the streets of Città della Pieve, you will be noticing many fine buildings, both public and religious, that enliven the place. To whose who come from Gramsci Square, that is the downtown nucleus, one of the main monuments will immediately appear – the Cathedral, dedicated to the Saint Gervasius and Protasius. They were Christian martyrs whose story is in connection with the famous saintly bishop of Milan in the fourth century, Ambrose.
The Cathedral should be observed while keeping in mind that it is a very dynamic monument, the outcome and witness of pressing architectural interventions in the course of history.
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
The story of Gubbio and Francis of Assisi means the discovery of an intense relationship, interwoven with travels, friendship, and feelings. Francis’ father, Bernardone (“Big Bernard”), had frequent trades with Gubbio, often taken care of by Francis himself, who therefore happened more than once to get there for business. In Gubbio the wealthy Spada familiy, a.k.a. Spadalonga (respectively = sword, and long sword), active in the field of wool and fabrics, also “provided” Francis with the friendship of their young sons, with whom he would spend his days over there. One of them was among his comrades in arms in the 1202 war between Assisi and Perugia.
The way that starts from the Church of Saint Ercolano, and that in past times led directly to Rome, ends in Borgo Bello, the “Beautiful Suburb,” an area that developed thanks to the Benedictine abbey dedicated to Saint Peter. As soon as you pass one of the monumental town gates, designed by Agostino di Duccio (1418 – ca 1481), you will notice the geometrical shape of Saint Peter’s belfry, with a sharp steeple that overlooks the low houses in the quarter. That belfry is one of Perugia’s symbols, along with the Etruscan Arch and the Great Fountain. The complex currently includes – beside Saint Peter’s Church – the department of Agriculture of the Perugia University, and a Medieval-like botanical garden.
Telling about the beauty of Saint Francis Square, we cannot but start by mentioning Saint Bernardine of Siena, a friar from that town in Tuscany, who had frequent, influential contacts with Perugia – see below.
The current Cathedral of Saint Lawrence replaced an older church, a Romanesque church, that therefore must have been built in the 12th century. In March 1300, the Communal authorities in a plenary session – after ascertaining that the size of the Romanesque cathedral did no longer fit the needs of Perugia, then in a phase of expansion – decided to start a new building from zero: a bigger one, and in the same place as the older. The architect chosen for this new, important public enterprise was Fra (Brother) Bevignate, a Benedictine monk of the Order of Saint Sylvester. He was also entrusted with some of the most meaningful monuments of Medieval Umbria, such as the Great Fountain and the aqueduct in Perugia, and the Orvieto Cathedral
When the Etruscans Founded Orvieto: From Sky down to Earth
A tour between earth and sky: this is how Orvieto can be visited and discovered because of both its geographic position (a town rising on top of a cliff, surrounded by a valley) and its history (from ancient Etruscans to nowadays). In Orvieto, in fact, tuff and human genius live indissolubly together since the era when the Etruscans founded it. But, who were the Etruscans? Even if their origin has still to be completely explained and many conjectures are made, they for sure were a people who existed in Central Italy between the ninth and the first centuries BC. Etruscans, basically, were skilled merchants in touch with the other civilizations of the Mediterranean Sea. The top expansion and power of their city-states took place between 800 and 600 BC, before they fell under Roman domination.Orvieto was among the last towns to be conquered by the Romans, namely when it was defeated in 264 BC.
In the Assisi plain and among the olive trees of the countryside, there is a place much beloved with reference to the Franciscan origins: the Shrine of Saint Damian. Here silence and peace reign, wonderfully framing the view on Nature all around. We actually know little about the origin of this structure, possibly built among the seventh and ninth centuries; and little, too, about the reasons why the church was dedicated to Saint Damian, a medical doctor and martyr whose relics had been taken to Rome in the mid-fifth century. We can anyway say for sure that the history of this very small church, then kept by an old priest, started to be in the limelight in 1205, when one day a 24-year-older called Francis stopped here to pray
The expanses below Assisi are among the most fascinating in Italy thanks to their colors and the view they afford on the town, which follows the contours of Mount Subasio in its white and rose stones. Precisely in this plain did blossom the life flowers of Saint Francis and Saint Clare. The young man, after restoring the Church of Saint Damian, “moved to the place called Porziuncola, where an old church existed, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, now abandoned and forgotten. Seeing it in such a poor state, and also because he had great devotion toward the Mother of all goodness, the Saint made it his own home, and would finish to repair it in the third year after his conversion.” This is how Thomas of Celano, Francis’ first biographer, reports the Saint’s coming to this “small portion of land” (that is the meaning of Porziuncola) in the plain. Right around that abandoned little church, possibly built in the fourth century and now given the Saint by the Benedictine monks, the first Franciscan company was founded, a bunch of enthusiastic friends. According to G. K. Chesterton, this became “the home of many homeless men.”
The architectural complex called “Hermitage of Carceri” started and developed around a grotto in which Saint Francis of Assisi used to retreat in order to pray. The Hermitage of Carceri is a place of memory, kept alive by the Franciscan friars who still live there; and a place of witness, as well, permeated with spirituality. Here preserved is not only the very place where Francis talked with God, but also the way in which the little poor friar kept in contact with the Lord while closely in touch with Nature. Francis in fact immersed himself in the contemplation of all created things, which according to him were a sign of God’s love – to the extent of calling even the smallest natural beauty his “sister,” as his biographer, Saint Bonaventure, says: “While considering that all things share a common origin, he felt all the more full of compassion, and called all creatures, however small, by the name of brother or sister” (Legenda Maior, VIII.6). In a thick wood at the feet of Mount Subasio, some 2,400 feet on sea level, during Francis’ time there were natural grottoes and just a very small church called Saint Mary of Carceri. The warm color of the stones, the material in which the church and later the whole shrine was built, is in perfect harmony with the green of Nature all about, and makes this site, embedded in Umbrian woods, a really unique place.
When in 1226 Saint Francis of Assisi died at the age of 44, he was already very famous, and his movement – a true religious Order since 1223 – was followed by thousands of people. They immediately felt they had to build a basilica that may keep his remains, show his importance for all the faithful of that era, and preserve his memory. So, on July 15, 1228, Papa Gregorio IX – who had personally been a friend of Francis – declared him a Saint, and at the same time laid the first stone of the basilica on the hill just off the city of Assisi, northward. No more than seven years later, in 1235, the building made of two superimposed churches and a big belfry had already been completed, basically as we still see them nowadays. The Basilica of Saint Francis is undoubtedly one of the most famous and most frequently visited churches all over the world. It unites, in fact, a deep religious significance in connection with Saint Francis, and an exceptional value in itself, both historical and artistic.
Clare, and the Birth of the Second Franciscan Order
When Francis made his spogliazione (the act of stripping of his garments as well as, symbolically, all possessions) in the main square, Clare was little more than a baby. She belonged to a noble Assisi family, the Offreduccis, and was surrounded by the love of her sisters, besides the comforts of her social condition. Yet, she was conquered by Francis’ act: within her, now grew the seed of interest toward such men who, after leaving everything, lived by begging but also took care of the lepers in the area of the Porziuncola.