Bevagna’s San Silvestro: Roman Links
The main piazza of Bevagna, Piazza Filippo Silvestri, could almost be a theatrical setting – and has been a backdrop for more than one film set in the Middle Ages.
The 13th-century civic building, Palazzo dei Consoli, flanks the church, San Silvestro, which backdrops the fountain. In the Middle Ages, competition between Church authority and civic authority was a permanent aspect of urban life, each entity striving to dominate power with the buildings representing them vying for dominance.
The upper level planned for San Silvestro, as well as the belltower, were never completed – and so the church is less dominant on this piazza: the civic palace towers over it, seeming to look down sternly on the church,
A single Roman column topped with a Corinthian capital stands rather forlornly on the piazza, the Church of San Silvestro (on the left) side facing the Church of San Michele Arcangelo – both churches fine examples of Umbrian Romanesque architecture:
At one time that lonely column would have joined with others, sustaining a temple which would have stood in this area, for temples faced the Roman consular road of 220 B.C., the Via Flaminia. Roman Mevania grew up along the Via Flaminia – the ancient road ran through what is now the main piazza (though at a lower level then).
Before you enter the Church of San Silvester, note the plaque to the right of the door, lauding the builder, the reigning Holy Roman emperor and the church prior:
The inscription announces: “In the year of our Lord 1195, Henry VI reigning Emperor, the prior Diotisavi and his brothers and the Master Binello may they live in Christ. So be it.” Binello – builder – also built the church across the piazza, San Michele Arcangelo, along with a collaborator, Rodolfo. Both of them a probably teamed on other area churches, including San Feliciano in nearby Foligno and the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Spello.
The inscription refers to a prior and his religious brothers for a medieval monastery was once attached to the church built during the reign of the Duchy of Spoleto dependent on theHoly Roman Emperor, Henry VI (son of Frederick Barbarossa – and father of Frederick II).
The Superintendent of the Monuments of Perugia undertook restoration of the Church of San Silvestro during the years 1953-1954 and in 1987, restoration continued with work on the facade’s decorative elements.
The tri-partite window, la trifora, was restored at that time, as well as the animal and human faces on the frieze above the window.
A pair of bifore (bi-partite windows) flank the trifore and they, too, were restored at that time:
The door is bordered by an ornate frieze, rich in symbolism: on the left, a mountain (Christ) where four brooks (the Gospels) flow…
A grape-laden vine (the Church) sprouts from the mountain and in the vines, animals hide (the faithful):
On the right side of the frieze, a demon (the devil) spits out a river: a clear admonition for righteous behavior to those entering the church.
The lower part of the church was constructed of massive travertine blocks and the upper part, in the pink limestone of Mount Subasio (which backdrops Assisi and Spello), called locally “la pietra di Assisi.”
Inside, splendid Romanesque simplicity awaits.
The central nave is flanked by side aisles, all barrel vaulted, the vaults supported by robust columns. The brick block on the right with holy water font was intended as reinforcement to the column in order to support the bellower above (never finished).
A rare architectural element is that of the irregular barrel vaults of the side aisles for such vaults are only present in a few French churches and in one other in Umbria, San Giovenale in Orvieto.
Steps lead up to the altar in the presbytery which is built over the crypt (in medieval times, burial place of important personages and at times, venerated saint).
Windows are narrow slits – for during the city-state wars of the Middle Ages, churches, too, were places of refuge for the local populace with few access points to the exterior.
Do note the window to the left of the altar: veritable feritoie (embrasures) for the shooting out of crossbows, if necessary.
The column flanking the altar that you see here in the foreground moved in the earthquake of September 26, 1997 with a slight fissure opening on the column, since restored; in fact, this church and the one opposite, San Michele Arcangelo, were restored and retrofitted following that earthquake.
Below the altar, you’ll want to visit the crypt and a light illuminates the stairs leading there:
The crypt – at the level of the Roman consular road, the Via Flaminia – is supported with robust travertine columns…
…although not all were sculpted for the church as were all the columns in the nave above.
One of these columns is less stout and topped with a Corinthian capital: a vestige of Roman Mevania.
Perhaps this Roman column in the crypt was once a companion to the Roman column outside of this church in Bevagna’s main piazza.
Mille grazie to https://www.iluoghidelsilenzio.it for use of some of the photos above – and for those below as well.
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