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Umbrian Zen


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Two hundred yards or so before the visitor reaches the gate of Collemancio:
the medieval church of S. Maria della Fontanella, also known as the Madonna del Latte.

It is no accident that St. Francis, the "apostle of poverty", was also the great Umbrian saint. This little rural church is a good expression of the character and genius of Umbria: simplicity, good materials, restraint, concentration on the essentials.

And yes, the not-so‑distant hills you see in the background, rising on the other side of the flood plain of the Topino, are those of Assisi and its surrounding villages; the best way of getting there is to walk.


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Limestone, brick, and wood: a closer view of the side door of the church.

The guidebooks say that in the 15c the interior of S. Maria was resplendent with frescoes, and that what's left has been detached and removed to the Palazzo Comunale in Cannara. I don't know about that: I haven't seen them. What I did see was these early 17c wall-paintings; don't let me tell you they're good, but don't let me tell you either that I could draw or paint half as well. When I visited the church, it was being restored:


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The main altar.


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On the left, Crucifixion with St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist. On the right, a Madonna and Child of course, but the specific subject is just a guess of mine, based on the name of our church: "St. Mary of the Little Spring", or "The Madonna of the Milk". I suspect the scene represented is that of a well, maybe on this exact spot, the water of which turned to milk. It's fairly unusual that a sizable church should have been built outside the walls of a town.

The inscription (see close-up) at the foot of the latter offers a clue only to the piety of a man who paid to restore the church a previous time, in 1609: Delvbr. hoc die XX Ianvarii expolitvm MDCVIIII Piergentilis Iacobi expoliendvm relegavit.


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Site updated: 1 Dec 09