Churches of Umbria

Assisi GubbioOrvieto • Perugia • Spello


The Cathedral's side wall with the Loggia di Braccio on the left and the Fontana Maggiore in the foreground

Churches in Perugia

From the establishment of the bishopric, a cathedral existed in Perugia in different locations, until, in 936-1060, a new edifice, corresponding to the transept of the present cathedral, was built here. The current cathedral, dedicated from the beginning as the Cathedral of San Lorenzo and Sant'Ercolano dates from a project of 1300 by Fra Bevignate that was initiated in 1345 and completed in 1490. The external decoration in white and pink marble lozenges (adapted from the Cathedral of Arezzo) was never completed; a trial section can still be seen on the main façade.

Unlike most cathedrals, the cathedral of Perugia has its flank on the city's main square, facing the Fontana Maggiore and the Palazzo dei Priori. This side is characterized by the Loggia di Braccio commissioned by Braccio da Montone (1423), an early Renaissance structure attributed to Fioravante Fioravanti from Bologna. It formerly formed part of the Palazzo del Podestà, which burned in 1534.  

Under it a section of Roman wall and the basement of the old campanile can be seen. It houses also the Pietra della Giustizia ("Justice Stone") bearing a 1264 inscription by which the commune announced that all the public debt had been repaid. Also on this side is a statue of Pope Julius III by Vincenzo Danti (1555); Julius was a hero to Perugia for having restored the local magistrature, which had been suppressed by Paul III. In the unfinished wall is a portal designed by Galeazzo Alessi (1568), a pulpit composed of ancient fragments and Cosmatesque mosaics, from which Saint Bernardino of Siena preached in 1425 and 1427 and a wooden Crucifix by Polidoro Ciburri (1540).

The sacristy was entirely frescoed by Gian Antonio Pandolfi starting from 1573. The cloister houses several architectonic and sculpture fragments, including a head attributed to Giovanni Pisano and a Renaissance bust of the Redeemer.

Sant'Angelo - Perugia


The church of Sant' Angelo dates to the V-VI centuries A.D. and it is one of the most ancient churches in Italy. It was probably built on the remains of a Roman temple when paganism was decaying and Christianity started to appear in the territories of the pre-existing Empire.

More previously, this temple had been built on a land sacred to the Etruscans.  This makes of the church, and of the place where it is set, two important evidences of the many cultural and religious changes in the Italian peninsula.  Umbria is one of the Italian areas where Christianity grew more rapidly.  By the VI century A.D., there were already 21 dioceses in a land disputed between Barbarians and Byzantines, and where the populations sought refuge in the new monotheistic religion to escape from the tragedy of wars and famine.

At that time, some churches had already been raised, as the one of the Salvatore in Spoleto (IV-V century), but not all of them could survive to time.  Many of them took the place of the ancient pagan temples, for instance, the abbey of St. Peter in Valle a Ferentillo and the basilica of Sant' Eufemia in Spoleto.

The early Christian church of Sant'Angelo is also called "Padiglione di Orlando", "Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo" or "Tempietto" and it rises on one of the highest places of the town.



Basilica di San Francesco

Churches in Assisi

The Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi (St. Francis) is a World Heritage Site. The Franciscan monastery, il Sacro Convento, and the lower and upper church (Basilica inferiore e superiore) of St Francis were begun immediately after his canonization in 1228, and completed 1253.

The lower church has frescos by renowned late-medieval artists Cimabue and Giotto; in the Upper church are frescos of scenes in the life of St. Francis by previously ascribed to Giotto and now thought to be by artists of the circle of Pietro Cavallini of Rome. The Basilica was badly damaged by the earthquake of September 26, 1997.

Part of the vault collapsed, killing four people inside the church and carrying with it a fresco by Cimabue.  The edifice and was closed for two years for restoration.





Churches of Spello - PG The densely-inhabited town of Spello, built of stone, is of decidedly medieval aspect, and is enclosed in a circuit of medieval walls on Roman foundations, including three Roman Late Antique gates (Porta Consolare, Porta di Venere and the "Arch of Augustus") and traces of three more, remains of an amphitheater, as well several medieval gates.  Spello boasts about two dozen small churches, most of them medieval: the most important are:

S.M. Maggiore - Spello

Santa Maria Maggiore (known from 1159), probably built over an ancient temple dedicated to Juno and Vesta. The façade has a Romanesque portal and a 13th century bell tower, while the pilasters next to the apse have frescoes by Perugino (1512). The most striking feature is however a very fine chapel (Cappella Bella) frescoed by Pinturicchio. The Umbrian artist was called to paint it in 1500 by Troilo Baglioni, after he had just finished the Borgia Apartment's decoration. The cycle include the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Dispute with the Doctors, plus four Sibyls in the vault. The Palazzo dei Canonici, annexed to the church, houses the Town's Art Gallery.

Sant'Andrea - Spello

Sant'Andrea (known from 1025). The interior, on a single nave, has 14th century frescoes. There's also a panel by Pinturicchio.  San Lorenzo (12th century). San Bernardino da Siena began his preaching season in this church in 1438.

San Claudio - Spello

San Claudio (11th century or earlier), an elegant example of Romanesque architecture with a rose window on the asymmetrical façade.   The interior has 14th century votive frescoes from the Umbrian school.   It is said to have been built on the remains of a Paleo-Christian cemetery.




Duomo -Gubbio

Gubbio is a beautiful medieval city with magnificent well-preserved historical buildings including the Palazzo dei Consoli, the Church of San Francesco, the Church of San Giovanni, the Church of San Pietro, the Logge of the Tiratori, the little Church of the Vittorina ( the place where St. Francis tamed the wolf).  The main folkloristic events held here include: the Procession of the Dead Christ ( on Good Friday), the Feast of the Ceri (May 15), the Crossbow Competition (held on the last Sunday of May).

Cathedral Santa Maia Nuova -  Gubbio

The facade is simple, but particularly elegant. At the inside of the church, on the skillful wall, lies a fresco called "La Madonna del belvedere" from 1413, realized by Ottaviano Nelli.  He realized it after having achieved a technical and constructive maturity which allowed him to perform delightful works and to develop a definitive individuality of style.


This has consecrated him as the exponent of the Gubbio school and the best artist in Umbria and Marche of first half of XV century. On the left wall an image of S.Antonio Abbate of the Palmerucci is found (XIV century).  Guido Palmerucci is considered the best painter from Umbria of his period: to him several remerkable works are attributed.


Church of San Giovanni    This church is mentioned in documents as far back as the 12th c. The original, simple building was replaced, in the 13th c., by a more impressive structure. Its plan - one nave only with four transversal arches supporting the pitched roof - was taken as a model for other Gubbio churches later on. The façade is very beautiful flanked by the mighty, square bell-tower.


right: The  beautiful Gothic Church of San Giovanni - Gubbio



The interior was “re-arranged in the old Gothic style around 1865”.  Among the works of art present in the church, several are worthy of mention: “St. Barbara and St. Lucy” by Benedetto Nucci (1st altar on the left) and “The Vocation of St. Peter” (1573) by Giovanni M. Baldassini (2nd altar on the right).  The murals in the baptistry chapel were painted in 1828-29 by Gubbio artist Annibale Beni. The stone font is dated 1510. Some remains of Gothic and late Gothic frescoes are visible on the walls of the church.


 St Ubaldo Basilica - Franciscan Cloister  - Gubbio

Relics of St Ubaldo


The Basilica of S. Ubaldo: the church, dedicated to St. Ubaldo, bishop and patron Saint of the town, has a medieval origin, but was enlarged in 1514 by order of the Duchesses Elisabetta and Eleonora Della Rovere.  It has a fine 16th century portal and a delightful Franciscan cloister.  Its interior is divided into five aisles and on the major altar is placed the Renaissance urn that preserves the relics of St. Ubaldo, brought here in 1194.   In the aisle on the left, houses the famous Candles of S. Ubaldo which are used during the celebrations on the 15th of May every year, it is the run of the Ceri the most important celebration in Gubbio. The candles are transported in a procession from Piazza Grande to the church of S.Ubaldo.

The Basilica may be reached either by road or by a cable-car.

 Other interesting churches:

  • the Church of S. Maria della Vittoria, the so-called Vittorina: near a Franciscan monastery, it was one of the places frequented by St. Francis and, according tradition, it was here that took place the meeting between the Saint and the savage wolf, the famous wolf of Gubbio;

  • the Church of S. Domenico, with notable paintings and other small churches.




Above right:  the crowning mosaic: Jesus crowns his Mother as Queen of Heaven in the uppermost gable on the Orvieto façade.  The space started with a resurrection scene but became one of the few gables replaced by a totally different episode, in this case that of the coronation (first in 1714 and then by this mosaic from cartoons by G. Bruni in the 1850s).     Blue stone was rare and expensive but used lavishly here


The Duomo of Orvieto

In 1263 or 64, a Bohemian priest was on his way home from a pilgrimage to Rome.  He stopped at Lake Bolsena, near the Umbrian town of Orvieto, to celebrate a holy mass, and was astounded to see so much blood drip out of the communion wafers that it soaked through the cloth below.   Pope Urban IV had the cloth carried to Orvieto and, to commemorate the miracle, he established the sacred holiday of Corpus Domini. Raphael covered one wall of his famed Rooms at the Vatican with a highly stylized representation of this fundamental event in church history.

At the time, the cathedral of Orvieto was an old dilapidated building, certainly unworthy of housing such an important relic. It took the Popes sixty years to convince the townspeople to sponsor the construction of a new one.

Not until 1290 was the cornerstone laid, but soon the old basilica began to acquire a whole new gothic appearance, which blended Byzantine and northern elements and softened them into the so-called Italian Gothic style, of which the cathedral of Orvieto is a prime example.  Still, as so often happens in Italy, no one is entirely certain who the author was.  The prevailing opinion is that it was a rather obscure monk named Fra' Bevignate da Perugia, but many scholars think he was merely executing plans drawn up much earlier by the great Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio.

Perhaps it is irrelevant to try to link one name to this magnificent sanctuary, which took well over two centuries to reach its greatest splendour. Visitors to Orvieto stroll down narrow medieval alleyways and suddenly find themselves face to face with this astounding façade, which soars seven stories into the sky.  Begun by Lorenzo Maitani in the year 1300, it took more than 100 years to complete.  It might be hard to imagine that behind the incredibly ornate façade of the church lurks this simple oblong structure.   No one knows who designed it, but the horizontal stripes of black and white marble, the bifore windows and the external niches all suggest that the Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio drew up the original plans.

It might be hard to imagine that behind the incredibly ornate façade of the church lurks this simple oblong structure. No one knows who designed it, but the horizontal stripes of black and white marble, the bifore windows and the external niches all suggest that the Florentine architect Arnolfo di Cambio drew up the original plans.


Photos of the interior is forbidden.  The Capella di San Brizio really does take your breath away, tucked away in the corner.

The room is full of gold and amazing frescoes and murals.  It was painted around 1499 by Luca Signorelli, and is said to be the piece that inspired Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. There is some argument that this piece is just as beautiful, if not more.  It is quite an amazing sight.


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