The Umbrian medieval hill town of Narni hides countless wonders and a visit there should include the discovery of them.
You can start as soon as you enter the town: off the central Piazza Garibaldi, head up towards the Cattedrale di San Giovenale leaning into the hillside.
Take time to unearth all the many treasures of the Cathedral of San Giovenale but as you leave, don’t miss the one near the exit on the contrafacciata (literally, “the counter facade,” i.e., the back wall as you exit): a fresco.
The 14th-century fresco depicts the stipulation of a contract. Why ever is the stipulation of a civic agreement in the town’s most venerated religious building? That fresco represents the drawing up and signing of the Statuta Illustrissimae Civitatis Narniae of 1371, a statute mandating a glorious celebration of beloved patron saint, San Giovanale, buried in that very cathedral.
The statute states: “We stipulate to honor and revere the most glorious Giovenale, martyr, patron, governor and defender of the people and the city council in the day of his feast, celebrated the third day of the month of May with the race of the ring of silver.”
And as Marco Matticari, noted in the book, Corsa all’Anello, “…the acquiring of the silver ring, prize of the victor, was the duty of the Jewish community of Narni. Numerous Jewish families lived in the neighborhood between Santa Maria Impensole and San Domenico and the community included merchants, artisans, doctors and noted intellectuals. The Jewish community was required to finance this initiative most probably so as to include them in the most important community event, while recognizing fully their economic activities…”
As of 1969, the narnesi have brought to life the celebrations in honor of San Giovenale stipulated in 1371 with culmination the second Sunday of May with the Corsa all’Anello (“Race of the Ring”) when riders of the three terzieri of Narni – Mezule, Infraporta and Santa Maria – compete in an event of speed, strength and precision as each rider aims his lance at the 10-cm. wide suspended ring – while galloping at breakneck speed. Three riders compete for each terziere.
The celebration of the patron saint’s feast with stipulation of such a daring and challenging horse race assured Narni of a well-trained, keenly-honed militia for the defense of Narni.
The jousting match depicted on a 14th-c relief on the facade of Narni’s Palazzo Comunale (civic palace) seems to indicate that si!, Narni IS the town for a fierce challenge on horseback:
And right below that relief, on the night before the Corsa all’Anello, personages representing the 14th-century city council members of the terzieri gather to lead the evening’s splendid procession. In this photo, the consiglieri of the terziere Santa Maria stand ready, most solemnly, with their fiaccolate (torches).
Eight hundred personages will parade proudly con passione through the medieval alleyways of Narni, in splendid costumes requiring months of work by skilled tailors of the three terzieri. Castle lords and their vassals, magistrates, noblemen, drummers, trumpeters, medieval banner wavers, jesters and knights join in honoring their patron saint, San Giovenale.
These photos of Moreno Faina give you an idea of the splendor: