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Bill Thayer

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The Oldest Church in Foligno


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S. Maria infra Portas (or Infraportas) on the piazza S. Domenico.

Exactly how old this church is, no one rightly knows. Legend claims that the apostles Peter and Paul consecrated Crispoldus, the first bishop of Foligno, in the year 58, and that there stood a church here before the end of the 1st century: which, since Foligno was an important way station on the Via Flaminia (the main highway northwards out of not so distant Rome), may well be true, and the church is generally felt to be the protocathedral of Foligno — but, understandably for so remote a past, no independent fact confirms it.

The church as she now stands belongs of course to a much later period, her architecture being easy to date on stylistic grounds. The main body, a single rectangular nave, dates to the 11th or 12th century; the belfry you see is later, as is a pair of cross-vaulted lateral aisles (14c). The kernel of the building may be much older, possibly as early as the 7c: for some, the Chapel of the Assumption, a painting of Christ between SS. Peter and Paul in the Byzantine style (with its lions that remind one very much of Sassanid fabrics), and the small columned entrance porch, seen here to your left, would all date to the high Middle Ages.

For what it's worth — I'm no expert in Romanesque art — my feeling is that the porch, often dated to the 12c and let go at that, may have been rebuilt at that time, but the elements of which it is composed are surely much earlier. Whether they came from a previous church on this spot, or from many miles away, is another matter. If I had to date the capitals, it would be to before the year 1000.

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Nondescript and relatively recent portico showcasing four old columns. The awkwardly proportioned, mismatched columns themselves might be remnants of Roman antiquity cut and spliced for the requirements of this new building. (Here for a somewhat closer look.)


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The capitals, however, are not antique, but high medieval: the only question is to precisely what century they might belong. This one: a bit of Ionic (the volutes), a bit of Corinthian, sort of (the very stylized leafage), a bit of thoroughly medieval (the entrelacs-like plant motif etched across the face of it).


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The same capital from the side; the capital in the background is a more straightforward variation on Corinthian.


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The unfinished Gothic church across the street in this view out is S. Domenico.

The interior of the church is handsome, especially after its latest restoration, and includes a number of good frescoes; the sheer wealth of them is delaying my pages, but here's a general view:

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Page updated: 8 Aug 09