In Foligno, Curiosities Unveiled in Sant Maria Infraportas
Foligno – often overlooked by many visitors to Umbria – hides innumerable treasures. One is certainly one of the oldest religious edifices in Umbria, Santa Maria Infraportas.
Santa Maria Infraportas is the most ancient church in Foligno, sitting on the western side of the Piazza San Domenico, near the medieval church of San Domenico, now a concert hall:
As of the late 11th century, a document indicates this church as annexed to the hospital of Santa Maria and the Romanesque church is cited in an early 12th-century papal bull. The name of the church varies in the 13th-century and as the city walls are amplified, the late 13th-century names “extra porta” or “foris portam” indicated a church outside of the walls. Eventually the church is between two sections of the medieval walls with porte (city gates) resulting in the name “Santa Maria Infraportas” (“Holy Mary Between the City Gates”).
The church underwent heavy restoration in the 18th-century when the rose window was replaced with a t bifore (bi-partite window, typical of medieval architecture):
Precious remnants remain of the medieval church: the sculpted 11th or 12th-century capitals sustaining the portico of the church facade:
Inside on the right, one enters the chapel of the Assunta (Madonna of the Assumption), the oldest part of the structure and possibly dating to the 7th or 8th century. Some archaeologists even opt for the 6th century.
Over the altar in a niche, a 12th-century Byzantine-style fresco depicts Christ blessing flanked by Peter and Paul.
Dangling below the trio is a tapestry of intertwining garlands encircling lions of strong oriental inspiration.
Throughout the church, remnants of frescoes adorn walls and niches, many of them ex-voto, that is inspired by a vow made or a favor received.
The two frescoes of San Rocco, saint invoked during an outbreak of the plague, were certainly “ex-voto.”
In the late 15th-century, Pierantonio Mezzastris, Foligno artist, painted San Rocco pointing to the pustule on his leg, angels holding an elegant golden fabric behind him:
….and another image of San Rocco was painted in the 15th-century, artist unknown:
Another famous Foligno painter, Niccolo’ di Liberatore known as L’Alunno, frescoed in the church as well in the 15th century. His Christ bearing the Cross is on a column not far from the Mezzastris fresco:
…as well as the fresco of 13th-century Dominican martyr saint.
Mezzastris also painted hermit St Jerome (who died in the 5th-century) about to be crowned by two angels and St. Catherine of Alexandria, martyr saint of the 4th-century:
When still a very young painter-in-training, Mezzastris frescoed the images of Santo Amico and Santa Lucia, 4th-century martyr, always depicted holding her eyes on a plate. I first “met” Sant’Amico here in Foligno in this church.
The image of the saint – his habit indicating a Benedictine – with a saddle-bearing wolf at his feet sparked my curiosity.
My research led me to the biography of Sant’Amico, an 11th-century Benedictine living in the Marches region. According to legend, a wolf attacked the beloved donkey which the monks had used for transporting wood and other objects. Amico domesticated the wolf and then saddled him. Sant’Amico thus replaced the abbey’s beloved deceased donkey with the wolf as the monks’ beast of burden.
Mamma mia! Two centuries before the legendary encounter of St. Francis with the wolf of Gubbio, Sant’Amico was even more successful in lupine domestication.”
Click here to read about – and see! – a contemporary mammoth sculpture in Foligno.
Read about the return of a Raphael masterpiece to Foligno
Read about a memorable Foligno culinary festival – in the medieval backstreets
Read about – and see! – Foligno’s stunning Baroque festival, La Quintana
Read about the celebration of honey in Foligno