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S. Niccolò di Matigge


[image ALT: A small two-story stone church, behind part of an olive grove and flanked by cypresses on either side. It is the church of S. Niccolò of Matigge, Umbria (central Italy).]


[image ALT: A few roses and some grass. Clicking on the image opens to a larger image showing the path approaching the church of S. Niccolò in Matigge, Umbria (central Italy).]
The church is not quite as isolated as it looks,
only 50 meters or so from the single street of old Matigge
— a short walk past the roses:


[image ALT: A stone window, divided into two narrow rectangular lights by a column. It is the window over the door of the church of S. Niccolò in Matigge, Umbria (central Italy).]

The window over the door of the church. St. Nicholas is also the patron of stonemasons.

This little rural chapel is dedicated to the good bishop St. Nicholas of Myra: to an Italian that's S. Nicola di Bari — and to most Americans, he's Santa Claus. (If this is news to you, this useful page gives a fairly comprehensive run-down on his life and miracles.) St. Nicholas is almost always represented as a bishop, wearing his episcopal robes and carrying his crozier; in medieval art in fact, he is by far the most commonly represented bishop. He's known mainly as the patron saint of Bari, on the Adriatic seacoast hundreds of miles from here, and of sailors, perfumers and — this has nothing to do with rural Umbria, why did they raise him a chapel here?

The question is one to which nobody has any answer, but we can put forth a few guesses:

In fact there are many churches dedicated to him in this part of Umbria; this particular one was built in the last decade of the 12th century. For once, this isn't guesswork: the parchment recording the church's consecration still exists, bearing the date 1195.


[image ALT: A painting of the face of a haloed woman being kissed on the cheek by a child. It is a detail of a fresco of the Virgin Mary and Jesus in the church of S. Niccolò of Matigge, Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 3 pages, 8 photos ]

The interior of S. Niccolò is very plain, but over the centuries some beautiful frescoes have been added to its walls; now endangered by water from a leaky roof, unfortunately.

And it always bears repeating: the façade of a church is not the only part worth looking at. Walk around the building: it just takes a minute, and who knows what you'll see.


[image ALT: On the side of a 15‑degree hill clothed in olive trees, a small rectangular stone church. We see the barely marked rounded apse in the foreground; the ground level of the front of the church is about one meter lower down the hill. Some ivy has started to grow up the side of the building. It is a view of the church of S. Niccolò of Matigge, Umbria (central Italy).]

The apse of S. Niccolò: no particular surprises this time, although notice the now blocked door. We're facing NW and can see a sliver of the lower town of Matigge.


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Page updated: 10 Aug 05