Anne's Blog

  • Church of San Francesco in Narni

Church of San Francesco in Narni, Endless Discoveries

Date: April 7, 2021 - categories: - 1 Comment

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…

…and St Thomas:
San Domenico – a contemporary of San Francesco and also founder of a monastic order- is depicted on a column and frescoed to the right of an image of the Trinity:
In this medieval image of the Trinity, a seated God the Father holds his crucified Son, the Holy Spirit represented by the dove fluttering above Christ on the cross.   Flanking the Trinity on the left (as you look at the fresco), is St. Andrew, holding fish and the protector of fishermen:
The first Apostle, St. Peter is depicted, too, holding the keys, his iconographic symbol.  Saint Leonardo, 6th-c French Benedictine abbot, is on his left, holding the symbol of his martyrdom, handcuffs.  He is the patron saint of those imprisoned unjustly:
Church of San Francesco in Narni fresco
How very appropriate:  Roberto had much to share with us about the many imprisoned unjustly in Narni’s Underground.
Ah, Narni, alway a city of mysteries  – and endless discoveries.
*Thanks always, Marco Santarelli, for generous use of your photos – including the one of San Cassiano as well as the lead photo.
*Grazie, Roberto, for the knowledge you share of your town with such passione.
(And for illuminating me on the saint with handcuffs!)
Click here to read about Narni’s underground wonders

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

1 Comment

  • Judy Bates says:

    Annie, your “visit” to Narni in your presentation yesterday was wonderful. Being with you on another tour, even a virtual tour, was so informative and full of nuggets only you can uncover by your special connection with the locals who reveal their ancient historical treasures to you. Thank you for such a rich visit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Agenzia Viaggi Stoppini in Assisi handles all technical support for my guided visits (bus transportation, organization of meals, etc)