Esteemed biographer of Assisi’s San Francesco, Paul Sabatier, once wrote, “It seems that St. Francis had a special affection for Narni and the surrounding towns.” His first sojourn in the town probably occurred between 1209 and 1210 on his return from Rome after having received from Pope Innocent III an oral approval of his order of Frati Minori (Friars Minor).
Most probably, Francesco and the frati accompanying him received a welcome and sustenance from the Benedictines in the 12th-century monastery of San Cassiano, perched on a wooded gorge just opposite Narni.
He preached in Narni for various days on that visit, working many miracles as Tommaso da Celano, francescano poet and writer, records in his biography of the Saint, started in 1228, two years after the Saint’s death.
St. Francis returned to Narni in 1213 at request of Bishop Ugolino, again preaching for several days, working miracles once again and so endearing himself to the populace and clergy that they begged him to establish at least a small casuccia (simple little house) in Narni: an assurance that the Saint would return often.
Francesco and his followers thus created a small convento (monastery) tucked away in a less-inhabited (then) area of Narni. The structure survived for about two hundred years and local historians locate it on or near the site of the Church of San Francesco, started in the 14th-century – with an adjacent convento (monastery).
That convent changed hands various times during the coming centuries and after suppression under the French in the 18th century, the church was transformed both into a warehouse and stables as well.
Restoration and reconstruction started in 1885 with collaboration from the Confraternita della Misericordia (the Brotherhood of Mercy) and under patronage of the noble Eroli family – and their family palazzo is now a museum and not far from the Chiesa di San Francesco.
When you visit Narni, head to the vaulted backstreets to find the church dedicated to San Francesco, walking one of the most charming medieval alleyways is Via del Campanile (“Belltower Street”):
The steps lead up to the belltower of the Cathedral of San Giovenale (patron saint of Narni), the lower part built in the 12th-century in local limestone, the brick work on top added in the 15th-century with the incorporation of maiolica into the stonework:
Passing the belltower, you’ll soon come to the Gothic portal of the Church of San Francesco, a faintly-visible 17th-century fresco in a niche over the entryway:
But the wonders are inside.
The vast and spacious interior is built somewhat on the plan of a pseudobasilicale, that is like a huge hall structure…
…and 14th-to-16th-century frescoes by local painters adorn the columns of the church, the frescoes in the pictorial tradition of Narni:
Certamente, in the church dedicated to the beloved 13th-c Assisi saint, more than one column bears the image of San Francesco:
The Blessed Virgin is often depicted as most of the frescoes were probably commissioned as ex-voto (“from a vow”) images, that is, commissioned to express gratitude for a favor received or to ask for one. Prayers and requests were often directed at the Virgin, intercedent with her Son:
Many other venerated personages are there, too, including St. Antony Abbot, protector of animals and very venerated in central Umbria …
…St. Benedict of nearby Norcia…
Read about the Corsa all’Anello and 14th-c stipulation of the celebration, frescoed in Narni’s cathedral
Read about the splendor of Narni’s cathedral.
Read about my first experience of the Corsa all’Anello
Read here about Narni Roman treasures
Read about the imposing Papal fortress of Narni