When the 28-year-old Lord Byron was in Spoleto in 1816, he was captivated by the Fonti del Clitunno “the purest God of gentle waters! And most serene of aspect, and most clear,..,”
Byron’s lauded the Clitunno Springs in his narrative poem, “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.”
Over the centuries, poets had sung the beauty of the Fonti del Clitunno, from Virgil to Pliny the Younger to Italian poet, Giosue Carducci .
Centuries prior, Virgil had written about the animals – oxen, sheep – immersed in the fountain who emerged pristinely white and purified, for sacrificial offerings.
The Clitunno River was at one time more abundant and navigable all the way to Rome. With the 440 B.C. earthquake, many veins of the spring were altered and thus the water supply was greatly diminished, though the Fonti del Clitunno still remain one of Italy’s most important springs with an outflow of 1500 liters per second.
Like many other rivers in the east Umbrian plain, the spring could be subject to sudden flooding, although it was finally properly managed in the 19th century, and is now largely banked by levees.
The Romans worshipped the god, Clitumnus, personification of river waters and believed that he dwelt in the depths of the rivers. The springs were considered sacred and celebrated each springtime with festivities called “i Clitunnali” (Clitumnus celebrations) and various sacelli (small temples) were built in his honor in the area.
Resembling a Roman temple, the 4th-5th century early Christian Tempietto del Clitunno, declared UNESCO World Heritage Patrimony in 2011, was built on a raised embankment, and thus dominates the Clitunno.
Historians and archaeologists once theorized that the tempietto had been a sacello romano, reconsecrated as a church but the relief of the cross in the tympanum….
…..as well as the other sculptural adornments (also around the back on the apse) confirm the building as a Christian edifice:
The architrave running above the Corinthian columns on the facade bears a rare example of a monumental epigraph of the early Middle Ages. In block Roman capital letters, the lengthy inscription praises the Resurrected God of the Angels, the Lord God of the Apostles who remitted all sins and the Lord God of the prophets who was the Redeeemer:
The columns and capitals could possibly be reimpiegati (re-used, recycled, that is from Roman ruins). It is likely, that the Lombard dukes of il Ducato di Spoleto (Lombard dukedom) reigning from the 6th to 8th century A.D. mandated restoration of the tempietto with the utilization of pre-existing Roman temple remains, thus creating one of the seven gems of Lombard architecture declared UNESCO Patrimonio Mondiale i Longobardi in Italia” in 2011.
And two of the seven Lombard artistic treasures are in Spoleto: Il Tempietto di Clitunno and the Basilica di San Salvatore.
In 1730, an earthquake gravely damaged the tempietto, depicted in an etching (now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in 1748:
A hermit priest, Padre Ilarione da Lucca, received permission from the bishop of Spoleto to sell marble remnants resulting from earthquake damage for the purchase of liturgical furnishings for other edifices.
Finalmente, in 1767, Cardinal Carlo Rezzonico (appointed cardinal by his uncle, Pope Clement VIII) mandated an edict forbidding the theft and subsequent sale of marble remnants of the temple.
Grazie a Dio for an 18th-century Cardinal’s action – if belated.
Read about the UNESCO recognition of the Lombard monuments in Italy
Read about hidden wonders in Spoleto
Click here to read about the splendid Spoleto cathedral
Read about – and see – Spoleto’s splendid Church of Sant’ Eufemia
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