Anne's Blog

Todi’s Church of San Fortunato

Date: October 24, 2021 - categories: , , , - Leave your thoughts

Certamente, the Church of San Fortunato is to be celebrated – and not only on October 14th. the Festa di San Fortunato, patron saint of Todi.

His church looks out from the highest point in Todi.

The foundation stone was laid in the late 13th-century and construction started on the church under after the demolition of a previously-existing building on this site.  A local legend narrates that the  revered local saint, 4th-century bishop, San Cassiano, was martyred and later buried near here and the structure was dedicated to him…and later to 6th-century bishop, Fortunato – who would become the town’s patron saint.

Evidence of the paleocristiano (Early Christian) structure once on this site is seen in the holy water fonts just inside the church..

…as is the 8th-century stone leone stiloforo (a lion probably once supporting a column) in front of the facade:

Erudite 18th-century Todi poet and historian, Giambattista Alvi, theorizes that the first edifice on this site had been a Roman temple to the god Jupiter.

Certainly, with the 5th-6th-century invasion of the peninsula by the barbarians, the bishop becomes il padre-difensore (“father-defender”) of his citizens. His autority became civic as well as spirtitual.

With the invasion of the Goths in the 6th-century. A.D., Bishop Fortunato thus became civitas difensore:

According to some historians, San Fortunato had been buried not far from the present Church of San Fortunato after his death in the late 7th-century A.D. – and his body moved to the present site of the church in the late 8th-century.

For other historians, the place of burial was site of the Cappella Gregoriana to the right of the main altar in the Church of San Fortunato.

The church was probably named “San Fortunato” at the end of the 11th-century.

The hill in any case will thus symbolize for the people, the place of defense of their Todi – and a defense of humanity, thus becoming a desired site for  various orders and religious groups.

The Benedictines – most powerful religious order of the High Middle Ages –  were  certamente established here by the end of the 12th century.

The church was ceded to  the Franciscans, i Frati Minori, in the mid-13th-century at request of the Bishop Pietro Caetani (nephew of Pope Bonifacio VIII) and astoundingly, when the edifice was then reconstructed, the friars renounced the privilege of naming the church after their founding father, Francesco di Assisi.

Until at least the late 14th-century, the Franciscans live in perfect symbiosis with the local tuderti and were protagonists of the town’s religious life as well as political life.

In 1292, the church had been transformed into a Gothic edifice by architect Giovanni Santuccio and his grandson, Bartolo who created a great hallenkirche (a great “hall church,” ideal for the preaching of the monastic orders to large pilgrimage groups), that is with three naves of equal height.

Each of the three naves opens to the facade through a portone, ……

Due to Santucci’s death in the mid-15th-century, the facade was never completed, sfortunatamente.

But the facade still merits close attention for created in just over ten years in the early 15th-century, the magnificent central portal is richly adorned in sculpture:

Close scrutiny of the facade took up most of my time time here at San Fortunato- and a visiting young Italian couple and I marveled together:

An Annunciation scene takes center stage flanking the portal:

On the left side of the portal, the Angel Gabriel – attributed by many to Jacopo della Quercia, 15th-century Sienese master…

…appears to the Virgin (on the right of the door):

Vegetative motifs, including grapes and figs, said by some historians to represent good and evil, intertwine among the images sculpted in the arches of the portale principale:

The sculptures sidelining threee portale centrale include a variety of personages 

…..nude figures in contortionists positions..

….as well as  volputous women above a male nude who seems to be riding a vine…

Low reliefs of prophets adorn the door, too…

and Old Testament personages including Abraham and Isaac….

…. as well as David poised above Moses:

Saints in their aedicule (shrines) border the doors…

…including Bishop San Fortunato….
…..and San Francesco receiving the stigmata…)

In this Franciscan church, certamente, scenes of the life of St. Francis adorned more than one chapel but only fragments remain in one side chapel on the right,  where a follower of Giotto painted in the mid-14th century.

Scenes included Francis receiving the stigmata, the Saint’s funeral, St. Francis holding up the church in the dream of Innocent III:

Another Franciscan saint appears – twice – in a nearby chapel in 17th-century frescoes: 15th-century saint, San Bernardino da Siena:

An unknown Franciscan – possibly Francis? – is in another fresco remnant:

Another Franciscan was perhaps depicted in a side-chapel fresco scene: some art historians theorize that the deceased figure in red at the foot of the Crucifixion (in one of the thirteen side chapels) was Matteo d’Aquasparta, a 13th-century Franciscan cardinal, brilliant philosopher and theologian who lived in the San Fortunato monastery (adjacent to the church):

In this vast hallenkirche of San Fortunato, the eponymous saint reigns at the altar, backdropped by the wooden choir stalls carved in the 16th-century by a Gubbio artist:

The statue of San Fortunato, hand raised in blessing, was commissioned in the mid-17th-century as a votive offering in thanks for Todi’s salvation in a war against Castro (in Latium).

Below the statue and  altar, the crypt houses the relics of Todi’s Santissimi Protettori found in the late 16th-century when a past altar was demolished to create the present, larger one.

The ten twisted columns from the previous 14th-century altar were used in the  late 16th-century altar and they delicately frame the images of the five saints protecting Todi:  Fortunato, Calisto (3rd-century Pope), Cassiano, and Degna and Romana (4th-century martyr saints of the Todi area):

The images of the five Todi saints were painted in the 19th-century.

Bishop Angelo Cesi had the five saints’ relics transferred  to the crypt in 1596 and placed in a marble sarcophagus:
The crypt also houses the tomb of Blessed Jacopone da Todi,  Franciscan friar author of more than 100 religious poems of great force,  power and originality and considered a protagonist of Italian medieval poetry with “una voce vigorosa e sconvolgente” (“a vigorous and shocking voice”):

It is thought that Jacopone also composed the Stabat Mater Dolorosa. Jacopone lived in the monastery of San Fortunato and died near Todi in the late 13th-century.

His numerous laudi spirituali (spiritual canticles) are vivid, original outpourings of many emotions and moods ranging from angry bitterness to mystical ecstasy.

The inscription on his tombstone (in Latin) intrigues:  “Here lie the bones of Blessed Jacopone dei Benedetti da Todi, Friar Minor.  Having gone mad with the love of Christ, by a new artifice, he deceived the world and took Heaven by violence.” 

At the top of the steps leading out of the crypt – and just to the right of the main altar – a pulpit towers above the chapel dedicated to the Holy Sacrament.  Archaeologists believe that the chapel is on the site of the earliest existing church on this hill, perhaps 8th-century (0r earlier?).

The image of San Fortunato is sculpted on a slab from a pre-existing edifice of the 11th-century. His hand is raised in blessing…..and he reigns over the eagle…

….symbol of Todi at least as of the mid-13th-century, most certainly.

Todi, where the eagle reigns.

And adorns even the churches


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)