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S. Lucia di Montefalco

[image ALT: It is the façade of the church of S. Lucia in Montefalco, Umbria (central Italy).]

When in the late 12c Benedictine monks came to Montefalco from the abbey of S. Stefano in Manciano (about 15 km E of here across the valley of the Clitunno) to build a church in honor of St. Lucia, they chose, or were assigned, a difficult place which became the source of much of its sad history; and we can get an idea of it from the photo above. The clues are right in front of us, in the sky and the resolute little wall along the street, where we would expect a more typical urban scene of buildings and shops: the church sits on the very edge of Montefalco, on top of the city's walls, which in this particular stretch means a drop of several stories on the side away from us.

In 1295 S. Lucia became property of the Chapter of the Duomo of Spoleto, which abandoned it. This neglect precipitated the ultimate problem, since failing to maintain a stone masonry building atop high walls in a densely populated area is a recipe for disaster. Eventually, in 1793, the choir of the church was condemned and demolished; it was, or was alleged to be, too damaged for public safety.

In the 19c, the roof of the truncated structure collapsed, taking with it almost all the medieval frescoes; and by 1913, when Giulio Urbini wrote his book Spello, Bevagna, Montefalco, which covers in great detail the churches of the three towns, the church seems to have been so ruined that the historian didn't even rate it worth a mention.

In 1926, at last, or 1927 according to the plaque on the side of the church, the remnant was restored,

[image ALT: An inscribed stone plaque on an outside wall of the church of S. Lucia in Montefalco, Umbria (central Italy); the text is transcribed and translated on this webpage.]

tempore podestatis
Francisci Bechelloni
restaurata amore
et pietate popoliº

In the time of Podestà (Mayor)
Francesco Bechelloni
restored thanks to the love
and piety of the people
A·D 1927

and a further restoration was undertaken in 1977.

[image ALT: A small rectangular room about the size of a living room. It is what remains of the interior of the church of S. Lucia in Montefalco, Umbria (central Italy).]

This small room is all that's left; framing this photo to the right is the edge of the wooden front door. Until the 18c demolition, the church would have extended at least the same length farther back to the main altar and very likely a rounded choir.

[image ALT: A somewhat damaged plaster wall with a fragmentary painting depicting the head and shoulders of a haloed woman. It is a fresco of St. Lucia in her church in Montefalco, Umbria (central Italy).]

By good fortune, the sole surviving fragment of the medieval frescoes, which we see to the left in the preceding photo, is a depiction of the church's patron St. Lucia; on stylistic grounds it is datable to the 12c, and was very likely therefore part of the original decoration.

The round objects in the saint's hands are almost certainly her own eyes — which also accounts for her somewhat unsettling vacant stare; her martyrdom in 304 A.D. is traditionally said to have included having her eyes gouged out, and eyes are therefore her usual iconographic attribute, although usually presented on a dish.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the church of S. Lucia in Montefalco, Umbria (central Italy).]

Much of the charm of this little building is due to the material of which it was built: the soft warm tones of pink Subasio limestone have made it a favorite thruout central Umbria.

Below street level, S. Lucia has a crypt that apparently remains unexplored to this day: the loophole windows can be seen high in the city walls.

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Page updated: 7 Jan 07