A guide to splendid Montefalco, “the Balcony of Umbria” - Bellarome

A guide to splendid Montefalco, “the Balcony of Umbria”

Montefalco is an Italian town of 5.496 inhabitants in the province of Perugia in Umbria. Landmark of the wine region where Sagrantino di Montefalco and Montefalco Rosso are produced, it is part of the club of the most beautiful villages in Italy.

The toponym Montefalco is due, according to tradition, to Federico II of Svevia. The emperor, visiting the places in the thirteenth century, noting the large number of hawks in the area, decided to change the name of the place from Coccorone (Cors Coronae) to the current one.  The presence of the animal in the territory has gradually diminished, until it reaches the historical minimum in the modern age. On July 31, 2007, a pair of kestrels were released into the skies of Montefalco for the purpose of restocking.

The project was a huge success and the kestrels reproduced.  Around 1280 the city was conquered by Todi, as evidenced by the city coat of arms representing an Eagle and placed on a building to the right of Porta di Sant’Agostino, during the period of the Tuderte occupation the cultivation of grapes began for the grechetto that they are added to the oldest traction of red wine, in the same period also the construction of the public palace takes place (today the seat of the municipality) and the most important religious buildings.

The city thus became the most important fortification in the Tuderte territory against Foligno and Spoleto until 1383 when, alternately, it first passed under the Trinci of Foligno and then became like the other Umbrian centers of papal domination.

Montefalco is City of Wine and Oil City. To enhance the famous red, a food and wine and cultural itinerary was established called “The road of the Sagrantino” which winds along five villages that shine with unique art, flavors and aromas: Montefalco, Bevagna, Giano dell’Umbria, Gualdo Cattaneo, and Castel Ritaldi.

In addition to getting lost in the streets of the center of Montefalco, it is advisable to leave its borders to visit the surrounding countryside, a splendid example of the Umbrian landscape. Olive groves and vineyards draw the territory and there are numerous opportunities for food and wine tours that allow you to deepen the wine art and taste the nectar produced in these lands. An immersion in the beautiful territories that form the backdrop to Montefalco perfectly completes the exploration of these areas of Umbria. From Montefalco you can, for example, take the Via del Sagrantino, which winds its way between wonderful scenery and places that have remained pleasantly intact over the centuries.

Let’s start to discover this enchanting medieval village!

Museum Complex of San Francesco

The museum complex of San Francesco is a prestigious museum of Umbria, thanks to the quality of the materials that make up the collection and the monumental appearance of the complex. Important testimony of Renaissance painting of the XV-XVI centuries, it is composed of: Church of San Francesco, Civic Art Gallery, Archaeological section, cellars of the friars and exhibition spaces for temporary exhibitions.

The first settlement of the Franciscan friars in the Montefalco area dates back to the first half of the thirteenth century with the construction of the Church of Santa Maria della Selvetta, in Camiano, a hamlet not far from the historic center. Over the years the friars tried to get closer to the city walls, with the construction of a new church dedicated to Saints Philip and James, in the belvedere area of ​​the current Via Ringhiera Umbra. Only in 1335 did they obtain a plot of land within the walls, in the district of Collemora and built the current church dedicated to the Holy founder of the Order. The building was completed in a few years (1335-1338), built thanks to large offerings and testamentary bequests, with which the friars were also able to finance the rich interior decoration and a first nucleus of the convent.

The extension of the dormitory dates back to the end of the 1600s when, to better accommodate the community of the friars that had grown, a large part of the cloister adjacent to the left side of the church was sacrificed; a part of the columns is still visible in the third room of the ancient cellars.

The Franciscan community remained in the complex until 1861, when with the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy the property owned by the convent, the friars removed from liturgical activities and housing were confiscated. The convent was used as a civil hospital, while the church already underwent restoration and maintenance in the nineteenth century, with the aim of preserving its huge artistic heritage and welcomed the assets confiscated from religious communities, which first merged into the former church of San Filippo Neri.

The project for the construction of a new museum arrangement more suitable for the conservation and better use of the exhibited works, was carried out in 1990, with the acquisition and restoration of some former conventual premises, which determine the organization of the museum structure on three exhibition levels: the church on the ground floor, the art gallery on the first floor and the crypt in the basements. The exhibition space expanded further in 2006. The works carried out in the basements, aimed at restoring the space below the nave (once used as an ossuary), returned three vaulted corridors which now host contemporary art exhibitions. The excavations also brought to light the ancient cellars of the convent, intended for the production and storage of wine.

 

Church of Sant’Agostino

The Augustinians, in concession from the municipality of Montefalco, in 1275, had land in their time called Borgo del Castellare, just outside the first city wall, along the main road axis that went from the central stalls to the Santa Maria gate, where it existed a small church dedicated to San Giovanni Battista.

In 1279, on its foundations, between Angelo de ’Conti da Foligno, the construction of the current Gothic-style church began, completed in 1285 and dedicated to Saint Augustine Bishop and doctor of the church.

In its white and pink stone facade of the Subasio there is a valuable ogival portal with bundles of columns in alternate colors surmounted by elegant capitals, different on both sides, decorated with leaves of rare and balanced decorative elegance.

The rose window is reconstructed on the model of some fragments of the original preserved in the Civic Museum.

In 1327 the church had in addition a minor nave on the right side and above its entrance portal was placed as testimony to this expansion, an epigraph with the coats of arms of the Church of Pope John XXII and Jean d ‘Amiel, rector of the duchy of Spoleto.

Attached to the church, on the left side, in 1496, a brick cloister was built around which the convent of the Eremitani di Sant ‘Agostino was built.

The interior of the church is very impressive: in the background a large triumphal arch frames the raised altar with three steps and a polygonal ribbed apse with great effect in which colorful stained glass windows are set.

The roof supported by wooden trusses is the consequence of a reconstruction due to the collapse of the cusp of the bell tower in 1489. The ruinous fall irreparably damaged part of the the original roof and with the reconstruction work both the height of the main nave and the bell tower decreased.

The only visible visual testimony of its slender original appearance is a faithful reproduction of the city, painted around 1452, by Benozzo Gozzoli in one of his frescoes in the apse of San Francesco in Montefalco.

 

Municipal Palace

In the Piazza del Comune, almost exactly circular, stands the Palazzo Comunale, formerly called Palazzo del Popolo.

Built in 1270 with very small dimensions, it was subsequently enlarged on the whole left side during the fifteenth century, when it was enlarged with an portico with octagonal pillars, finished with capitals with large acanthus leaves: above the Renaissance loggia there is a large terrace overlooking the square. The façade along Corso Mameli preserves a beautiful testimony of the thirteenth-century construction: the elegant mullioned window with a twisted column.

Above the town hall stands the bell tower, which, following the renovation and safety measures, can be accessed to enjoy a breath-taking view. On the first floor of the building is the municipal library with 10,000 volumes including numerous sixteenth century, seventy six incunabula and about one hundred manuscripts.

Inside the second room of the Library there is a fresco of the “Madonna in Maestà” attributable to Giovanni di Corraduccio. The current Council Chamber, on the top floor of the Palace, was the seat of the Teatro dell’Aquila in the 1700s, which was active until the end of the 1800s. The council room has refined nineteenth-century decorations and is furnished with tables, chairs and benches with the municipal coat of arms engraved on the back.

In front of the Town Hall, Piazza del Comune opens, where all the main streets converge from the respective access doors to the city. On the same square overlook the Teatro S. Filippo Neri, the Oratory of S. Maria del Popolo or Piazza and private palaces such as Palazzo Bontadosi, Palazzo Santi – Gentili, Palazzo Senili (today Andreani), Palazzo de Cuppis (today Camilli) and Palazzo Pieroni (today Beddini – Meffetti).

 

Church of Santa Chiara della Croce

Blessed Giovanna in 1281, began the construction of the monastery, where her sister Santa Chiara became Abbess in 1291, following the Rule of Saint Augustine. It was she who rebuilt the Church which today bears her name and where she was buried.

The choir of the nuns remains of this Church (1303), the current chapel of Santa Croce, frescoed in 1333 and restored in 1932. Santa Chiara della Croce died on August 17, 1308 (fresco on the left wall of the chapel).

The sanctuary, founded in 1615, was most likely designed by the Perugian architect Valentino Martelli, who had been an honorary citizen of Montefalco since 1603. But the construction dragged on for a long time: only between 1641 and 1643 was it possible to cover the vaults of the naves, while instead of the current transept the church of 1430 still remained standing.

Montefalco Between 1663 and 1670 the upper part of the two facades and the dome were finished and the latter was restored in 1761. The grandiose construction, although affected by the lack of space that prevented a more harmonious development, it is of a severe classical elegance, both in the external walls divided by pilasters with capitals and cornices, and in the noble and solemn interior, basilica, with three naves. In the right arm of the transept, at the bottom, the altar of the saint (the only remnant of the previous church from 1430), with a grandiose stucco prospect, decorated with columns, frames, decorative friezes, and two statues placed in the two lateral niches, representing Girolamo e Sant’Agostino: built in 1600 by the Montefalchese Fabio Tempestivi who was then archbishop of Ragusa (Dubrovnik, Dalmatia) from 1602 to 1616, as attested by the inscriptions on the high lateral bases.

In the center behind a railing, in a solid silver urn sent by an unknown donor following a grace received (it was thought of a Church of S. Chiara – Outside (Montefalco) prince of the Farnese house) in 1612 by means of the general of the Jesuits, rests the uncorrupted remains of Santa Chiara. On the sides, within two niches with grates, opened in 1718, various relics of the same are preserved; a pectoral cross given to him, when he was still alive, by Cardinal Giacomo Colonna; a silver bust with Bernini references. in which his heart is enclosed; a silver cross-reliquary with the Mysteries of the Passion of Christ discovered in his heart.

Cellars of Saint Frances Friars

For the first time in 2006 the ancient cellars of the Conventual Friars Minor of Montefalco were made accessible and visited, which came to light during the last restoration works and set up with materials of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, linked to the processing of grapes and wine production . (Private Collection of the “Study and Research of Umbrian Popular Traditions Marco Gambacurta”).

The ancient tanks for the collection and pressing of the grapes and for storing the wine are perfectly preserved and you can also see the collection for the housing of the presses.

The production of wine by the friars is documented in the Municipal Statute of 1692, in which indications relating to the sale are given and the aforementioned cellars are mentioned as “the largest of Montefalco”.

Another very interesting mention relating to the premises can be found in the “Inventory of movable property of the Convent of the Conventual Friars of the Church of San Francesco” of 1798, kept in the State Archive of Spoleto, which lists the materials contained. This historical document, in fact, confirms the presence in the structure of a cellar set up and functional with tanks for the pressing of the grapes and the collection of wine, barrels, barrels, bigonci and other typical equipment of wine production.

Excellently preserved, the cellars, located within the Museum Complex of San Francesco, are an admirable testimony to a living link that has always existed in Montefalco since ancient times, which combines art and everyday life, culture and society and that right in this splendid structure has had its center, thanks to the role and activities of the friars over the centuries.

 

Church of Santa Maria di Turrita

According to the legend of San Fortunato, dating back to the seventh century, the patron saint of Montefalco would have been a priest in the church of Turrita.

According to Jacobilli, a Benedictine monastery was founded in this place in 775, but the first certain testimony dates back to 1161 and indicates the monastery as a priory dependent on the abbey of Santo Stefano di Manciano, near Trevi.

A document dated 1221 mentions the purchase by the monks of Turrita of a vineyard in Arsicciali, in the Trevi area.

Among the numerous outbuildings of Santa Maria di Turrita there were the church of San Valentino di Turrita, San Paolo and San Giovanni di Cortignano, Santa Lucia di Montefalco, founded around 1220 by the monks of Santo Stefano di Manciano; numerous notarial deeds were drawn up in this church throughout the thirteenth century.

The monastic life of the priory is therefore well documented until 1295, in that year the Spoleto bishop, Gerardo, received the order from Rome to remove the monks and to annex the church and its assets to the Chapter of the cathedral since the monastery was now in serious state of spiritual degradation.

Around 1320, the rector of the Duchy of Spoleto, Jean d’Aniel, seems to have acquired the monastery to make it a residence of the papal curia.

The current building dates back to its oldest part in the first half of the twelfth century, as evidenced by the semicircular apse adorned with elegant hanging arches and the characteristics of the masonry.

Examining the side walls it is clear that in the following period, presumably in 1261, the year in which important works are documented, the building was extended.

The side entrance door, located on the left wall, has a sober decorative arched curb at the ends of which two all-round heads emerge, coming from the old main portal, probably representing the pope and the emperor.

Sancutary of Madonna della Stella

The sanctuary of the Madonna della Stella is a Catholic building located in the municipality of Montefalco, in the province of Perugia; the name also indicates the homonymous hamlet of the municipality (232 m asl, 96 inhabitants according to Istat data from 2001).

The first traces of a church in the place where the current sanctuary stands date back to 1525. The original church, dedicated to St. Bartholomew the Apostle, however, fell in 1832 following a violent earthquake. Only a fresco is saved, a Madonna and Child by Paolo Botulli da Percanestro (disciple of Perugino).

In 1860 Mrs. Santa Bonifazi of Fratta, a locality in whose territory the ancient church was located, sent to the parish priest, Don Brunetti, that the Madonna “… wants to be honored again in that place” and to rebuild the church . The economic situation of the parish, however, was not such as to allow such a grandiose work and the parish priest commented that, if Our Lady wanted the church, she had to provide the necessary money

It so happened that, in 1862, a 5-year-old boy who played near the ruins of the church of San Bartolomeo claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary. The boy’s name was Federico (Righetto) Cionchi. According to the facts reported to him, the Virgin first manifested herself by calling him by name, then stroked him on the head, then addressed simple words to him (“Righetto, be good!”).

The boy returned home and told his mother that he had seen a “beautiful lady” and their dialogue. Sister Rosa, who was with him during the games, reported, on the contrary, that she had not seen any lady.

Mum forbade Righetto to go to the ruins again without his permission, but he continued to report further appearances to his mother.

It was she, unconsciously, trusting the thing to a friend, to generate so much attention on her son, who soon became the subject of questions and requests from people wishing to attend an apparition. In fact, her friend commented that “… children are loved by heaven”.

The news of these apparitions spread quickly and even crossed regional borders. A significant contribution to the dissemination of the news came from the testimonies of alleged graces and miracles received by the faithful who attended the church.

This led to the construction of a new and larger sanctuary, whose works were financed by subsidies from the faithful. The church was dedicated to Maria Auxilium Christianorum (Mary help of Christians)

Later, a new earthquake (1878) devastated the newly built church, but with the contributions of many devotees and Pope Leo XIII the work was quickly restored.

Finally, the bishop Giovanni Battista Arnaldi entrusted the church of Madonna della Stella to the Passionist fathers through an agreement with the general of the order of the time, Blessed Bernardo Maria Silvestrelli (whose body is located in the sanctuary of the Passionists of Moricone).

In 1997, the sanctuary was hit hard by the earthquake that devastated Umbria and Marche. The restoration works of the church were completed in 2005, while those for the restoration of the adjoining convent are in progress.

The sanctuary, inaugurated in 1884, is dedicated to Maria Auxilium Christianorum. The Umbertidese architect Giovanni Santini designed a neoclassical church with baroque features, especially in the domed bell tower. The interior, 800 m² in the shape of a Latin cross, is in travertine covered with marble, a sort of plaster with a marble appearance. Above the altar is the fresco by Paolo Bontulli of the ancient church.