A few of Bevagna’s treasures face the Piazza Filippo Silvestri; certainly, the two churches – the Church of San Silvestro and San Michele Arcangelo – among Umbria’s finest Romanesque ones.
They face each other on the piazza and both were the work of building team, Maestri Rodolfo and Binello and constructed at the end of the 12th-century.
The builders of San Michele Arcangelo are lauded in an inscription to the left of the door – on view for all entering. Above the inscription, Arcangelo Michele holding an open book thrusts a lance down the throat of a demon, (the devil):
The inscription chiseled below reads: “Rodolfo and Binello made these works; Christ always bless them; St. Michael keep them.”
On the other side of the door, a stern-faced San Michele Arcangelo, wings outspread, clutches an unfurling parchment:
The parchment inscription counsels, “Help the poor and give joy to the saints; as the Lord commands, carry the book .(?)”
Three inlaid arches in the white and pink limestone of nearby Mt. Subasio curve over the wooden 17th-c doorway, the outer arch enhanced with Cosmatesque mosaic work:.
A variety of incised stone travertine blocks of recupero (literally, “recuperated’ – meaning recycled from pre-existing structures) frame the doorway, probably architraves from pre-existing Roman temples which were certainly in the piazza area prior to the churches; in fact, a Roman column crowned with a Corinthian capital stands nearby:
Like San Silvestro across the piazza, the interior of this church was built on a basilica plan (wide hall plan), with a raised presbytery over the crypt, the altar backed by a semicircular apse. Arcades of columns – with capitals scraped down for stuccoing during the 17th-century Baroque transformation (later eliminated) – separate the long nave from the aisles.
Why the Baroque transformation? This church dedicated to San Michele Arcangelo was Bevagna’s first cathedral but “demoted” to simply a parish church by Frederick II in 1248.
In 1621, Pope Paul V elevated San Michele to the status of collegiata – that is, a church with a group of canons presiding – and restoration followed with a re-consecration of the church in 1666 with Spoleto’s bishop presiding.
The belltower of the 12th-century was modified, its height increased with probable use of the materials first used for the belltower.
The medieval rose window – smaller and in lower position on the facade- was replaced with a larger one.
And here’s how famed local artist Luigi Frappi, imagined the missing original rose window:
Further restoration was undertaken in the mid-18th century and then again in 1834 (after the earthquake of 1832 – which also resulted in the “birth” of the Teatro Torti across the piazza).
During restoration from 1951-1957, the wooden roof was added and the Baroque decoration of the church was removed – also in the crypt, thus restoring it to glorious vaulted medieval simplicity:
After taking a last look at this Romanesque Bevagna gem, I’d often head just to the left of the Church of San Michele Arcangelo – to another Bevagna treasure.
And one so lovingly remembered by my tour guests who had the good fortune to meet Eolo Trabalza, Bevagna’s last tailor. And no longer with us.
It’s empty now in front of his shop: those benches aren’t out there (where his friends used to sit and chat) and the serrranda (metal door) is down now.
Sometimes Signor Trabalza – taking a break from mornings over the hot iron – used to be outside chatting with his friends: in summers, in a pristine white shirt, perfectly ironed:
And here he is with some of my tour guests – and he loved it when they tried to open his massive cutting shears with just one hand:
…and what stories he’d tell us, taking a pause from the handwork on this latest suit:
In 2013, I wrote about a visit to Signor Trabalza and I’d like to share those memories now as a tribute to him:
“He loves having visitors as he sews and can get teary with emotion as he tells his story: how he learned the trade at age six, threading the needles for his tailor father. He’ll show you the old photo of his father seated in front of the tailor shop, flanked by his assistants, young orphans apprenticed to the tailor so as to learn a trade.”
And here’s that photo:
“Signor Trabalza’s eyes mist over as he points up the photos of his father on the wall ‘enshrined’ above a rosary-draped image of the Sacred Heart. Nearby, you’ll note a photo of a younger Signor Trabalza pressing a suit with his iron filled with hot coals.”
“Now and then, I burned a suit in error. And in the summer, I had to tie a scarf around my head so the sweat would not pour down onto the suit I was ironing.”
And I closed my 2013 note with this memory:
“Signor Trabalza wears his measuring tape draped around his neck as he points up to all the framed awards he has received for his fine artisan work: from the Region of Umbrian, the Republic of Italy, the European Community…”
“Don’t ask him who will carry on his trade: he knows he’s the last tailor in Bevagna and that ‘all suits are ready-made these days.mHe looks wistfully at a stunning cashmere gray suit on the mannequin near the door, the precise stitching standing out along the unfinished sleeves. Signor Trabalza is over eighty now. Will the suit be finished? Pian piano.”
I’m sure he had finished that suit before closing his bottega (workshop) some years ago when he finally retired (at well over eighty).
I hope his son has his notebook with those sketches he made for requested commissions:
I’ll always remember his wistful “arrivederci” to us as we left, his hands closing, pulling us back to him in that Italian gesture meaning “until we see each other again.”
Read about the Church of San Silvestro, Bevagna Romanesque gem
Read about Professore Silvano Piatti – who taught me so much Bevagna treasures
Read about Bevagna’s many Roman treasures
Click here to read about – and see! – Bevagna’s medieval festival the Mercato delle Gaite
Read about the joys of living the Gaite for visitors
Read more about the Gaite
Read about the splendor of Bevagna’s frescoed theater
Click here to read about the medieval house and other Bevagna treasures
Read about a Bevagna visit with guests in our Assisi apartments
Click here to read about – and see – Bevagna’s esteemed tailor – and other gems