Spoleto’s Church of Sant’Eufemia has been aptly described as “a jewel of a church, situated inside the courtyard of archbishop’s palace and inspiring a profound sense of welcome, fascinating us with its sobriety and the purity of its unadulterated Romanesque style.”
When you enter into the Church of Sant’Eufemia in Spoleto, you’re entering into the area of the cappella palatine (palace chapel) of the Lombard dukes who ruled Spoleto from the late 6th-century until the early 11th-century.
The Lombards, a Germanic people, had invaded Italy in the mid-6th-century, conquering much of the peninsula and establishing the Kingdom of the Lombards, divided among several dukes subservient to the King whose seat was in Pavia.
In the late 6th-century, dukedoms were also established in Spoleto and further south in Benevento – as you can see on this map:
The Basilica di Sant’Eufemia is located near the Cathedral of Spoleto and this area probably once occupied the noble residence of the Lombard dukes and included the chapel of the palace. Adjacent to the chapel dedicated to Sant’Eufemia Vergine e Martire – 4th-century Greek martyr-saint – a Benedictine convent was added, founded by the Badessa Gunderada, probably of German origin (Lombard?).
According to legend, Gunderada also mandated burial of a saintly bishop, Giovanni, martyred by the Goths in the 5th century, in this church which then was dedicated for a period to San Giovanni di Spoleto.
The most ancient document relating the history of the church was written by a Benedictine monk and historian, Giovanni di Montecassino, in the 10th-century when Spoleto was seat of the powerful Duchy of Spoleto.
Above the three naves of the church are the matronei, tribunes or galleries for the nuns -and in fact the name derives from the word “matrona” (matron). Sant’Eufemia is the only church in Umbria with these elevated matronei.
The Palazzo Vescovile (Bishop’s Palace) — started in the 12th-century and frescoed in the 15th century – faces the entrance to Sant’Eufemia and as of the late 20th-century, now houses the Museo Diocesano e Basilica di Sant’Eufemia:
From the courtyard of the Palazzo Vescovile, one reaches the museo through a 16th-century portico and then up the stairs to the piano nobile (“the noble floor”), also called “Appartamento del Cardinale.”
After touring the splendid museum collection, entrance to Sant’Eufemia’s matronei is via the most magnificent of all the rooms, the Sala dei Vescovi (“Room of the Bishops”):
Near this room, a passage takes you to the Basilica di Sant’Eufemia..and you can see it out the window as you walk:
You’ll enter Sant’Eufemia into the upper level, that is, the vaulted matronei with Romanesque arches in local limestone, sustained by colunmns di spoglio, that is, “undressed,” i.e., taken from past monuments – and in this case, both, Roman and Lombard ones:
Light enters the church through narrow slit-like windows, monofore, also characteristic of Romanesque Lombard architecture:
Around the 15th-century, the Spoleto diocese was under jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Alexandria and the church at that time was dedicated to Santa Lucia and its name changed accordingly. In 1450, Patriarch of Alexandria, Venetian MarCo Condulmer, commissioned Bartolomeo da Miranda to paint the splendid triptych depicting the Virgin flanked by St. John of Spoleto and St. Lucy (now in the Museo Diocesano):
At the end of the 16th-century, the apse of the lower level of the church was painted with an image of God the Father surrounded by cherubs:
Originally in the cathedral, the bellissimo marble altar in the apse is adorned with Cosmatesque (stone mosaic) motifs and five reliefs depicting the symbols of the Four Evangelists and the Lamb of God:
Following the late 16th-century earthquake, restructuring was done and at that time, the upper level with the matronei was annexed to the adjacent Bishop’s Palace whereas the lower part was left open for the public. Extensive restoration was also undertaken in the early 20th-century.
Also here the columns and pilasters hefting up the arches of the main nave are often built of elements of “spoglio”:
On the right of the nave, a marble column with square base decorated with elegant vegetative motifs on three sides is probably of Lombard origin (8th/9th-c. A.D.?):
The wooden Cristo Triumphans crucifix over the altar…
…is a contemporary copy of the original 13th-century one by Byzantine master, Sotio, in Spoleto’s Duomo:
Do drop in to see it, for Spoleto’s cathedral – il Duomo – is steps away and visible from the apse area of Sant’Eufemia…..
The Duomo should be your next stop:
Read about the splendid Cathedral of Spoleto
Read about – and see! – the splendor of Spoleto’s historic library
Read here about Spoleto’s Roman house
Click here to read about – and see!- Spoleto’s 14th-c. Papal fortress
Read about one of Umbria’s most splendid medieval churches – in Spoleto