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Churches of Umbria:
The Ones Not to Miss

A Checklist for the First-Time Visitor to the Region

There are well over a thousand old churches in Umbria. I've seen, at least in part, about four hundred of them, including almost all of those considered the most important, and I'm gradually putting pages onsite on many. My main orientation page to the churches of Umbria, in which I sort them by locality, is fine if you know what you're looking for — but may confuse those of you who, for example, are just planning a trip to the region and wondering what to see. The page you're now reading aims at remedying that flaw.

There are a lot of superlatives on this page: outstanding this, exceptional that, the best of the other. It's not my usual style, but that's what this page is about: for a much more balanced and complete view of the churches of Umbria, see the main page.

There's just one common thread then in this list: these churches are the ones most likely to reward the visitor, usually for their architecture or the artistic treasures they contain.

If most of the churches listed are fairly large, not all of them are: the Pieve S. Gregorio is quite small, but the carving is outstanding. If most of them contain a wealth of things to look at, again not all: the Cistercian abbey of S. Emiliano in Congiuntoli is as bare as they come, and "taken in" in a few minutes. Most of these churches are beautiful buildings — but not all: S. Maria degli Angeli in the plain below Assisi is by and large a monstrosity, but it contains the Porziuncola and the Cappella del Transito, so intimately connected with the life of St. Francis that they could not be omitted.

Conversely, the list omits a few prominent churches, or notes them as "near misses", for various reasons: the Duomo S. Lorenzo of Perugia may be the city's cathedral, but it's an ugly church with nothing outstanding; Pinturicchio's chapel in S. Maria Maggiore in Spello is quite wonderful, but most of the rest of the church falls short.

The churches are listed under the comuni in which they are located, each one of which, in italics, is linked to its homepage on my site. Within each comune any links are to pages on the church in question. The churches indicated in boldface are of course the very best the region has to offer, even among this short list.

As of the latest revision of this page (9 Mar 11) there are still rather few links. This may seem rather strange, since I've seen almost all these churches, and photographed them often quite extensively; but, precisely because there is so much to see in each case, a terrific amount of work is required to write adequate webpages: just throwing photographs online doesn't cut it. So if I haven't churned out the site yet on some particular item you're interested in, just drop me a line and I'll be glad to help. Similarly with some of my earlier photos, inexpertly scanned: I'm slowly working my way thru my site and rescanning them, but if I haven't got to yours yet, again, that's what God made e‑mail for.

My "Top 30"
(one or two more than that, actually)

Acquasparta

Outlying:

S. Giovanni de Butris: built of Roman materials atop the remains of a Roman bridge on the Via Flaminia.

Assisi

In town:

Basilica S. Francesco: actually two separate 13c churches. The walls of both are covered with for the most part outstanding frescoes by the greatest painters of the time, primarily Cimabue and Giotto.

Duomo S. Rufino: the carved Romanesque façade is exceptionally executed.

Outlying:

S. Maria degli Angeli: a gigantic classical church restored, in the most unfortunate way possible, in the 19c — but it contains the Porziuncola, a tiny Gothic chapel that St. Francis restored with his own hands at the outset of his religious life, and the Cappella del Transito, now frescoed, the place where he died.

Bevagna

In town:

Duomo S. Silvestro: a powerful example of Umbrian Romanesque.

Campello sul Clitunno

Outlying:

Tempio S. Salvatore: probably the oldest church in Umbria, and possibly one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. It dates to Late Antiquity, between the 4c and the 7c depending on the experts, and was built in the architectural idiom of the time: it thus looks like everything we're accustomed to see in an ancient Roman temple — but with Christian sculptural motifs thoroughly integrated into the fabric of the building. It is also one of the most beautiful buildings to be found anywhere in the region.

Castelritaldi

Outlying:

Pieve S. Gregorio: a tiny single-room church with an exceptional early Romanesque carved façade — dated, too.

Cerreto di Spoleto

Outlying, fraz. Ponte:

S. Maria: a large late Romanesque church the façade of which features a splendid rose, among the finest in the region. The architect also incised the rose into the interior walls of the nave, apparently used as a visual aid in presenting the project for approval to the chapter, or as a pattern for the workers building the church, or both: the feature is unique in Umbria.

Città di Castello

Outlying, fraz. Canoscio:

SS. Cosma e Damiano: a large medieval church with several frescoes of outstanding interest, if in poor repair.

Ferentillo

Outlying:

Badia S. Pietro in Valle: the nave of the abbey church is painted with large-scale frescoes that are among the oldest in Umbria. The church also houses several remarkable Roman sarcophagi. Church and cloister are very scenically situated; the conventual buildings have been converted into a luxury hotel.

Foligno

In town:

Duomo S. Feliciano: though the interior of the cathedral was totally rehabbed in the classical period, two of its sides have beautiful carved Romanesque façades and doors.

Giano dell' Umbria

Outlying:

Badia S. Felice: a massive early Romanesque church in the Lombard plan, with a charming cloister.

Gubbio

In town:

Duomo: large early 14c edifice with several interesting tombs, and many paintings and frescoes.

Lugnano in Teverina

In town:

S. Maria Assunta: one the most beautiful Romanesque churches in Umbria, built in the 12c, reworked in the 14c. Unique in the region for its interior, which preserves a once common feature: a schola cantorum, with iconostasis, pulpits and railings decorated with Cosmatesque work.

Massa Martana

Outlying, fraz. Villa S. Faustino:

S. Faustino: an early medieval church built on a raised base incorporating massive Roman stones from some previous construction.

Montefalco

In town:

S. Francesco: much of the nave, side aisle and choir are frescoed — the latter with a particularly beautiful, and complete, cycle of the Life of St. Francis by Benozzo Gozzoli. The church is now deconsecrated and is part of a museum.

Monteleone di Spoleto

In town:

S. Francesco: one of the largest Gothic churches in the region, 14c; its large door is unquestionably the finest example of Gothic carving in Umbria. The interior of the church contains some unusual frescoes; and the complex is rounded out by a two‑story cloister.

Norcia

In town:

Basilica S. Benedetto: a somewhat disparate Gothic church, but built on extensive Roman remains, that may be visited, and which are possibly those of the birthplace of St. Benedict.

Orvieto

In town:

Duomo S. Maria Assunta: one of the great Gothic glories of all of Italy, for its triptych-like monumental façade carved with some of the finest sculpture of the 14c in Europe. The interior of the cathedral is rather bare except for the exceptional chapel of S. Brizio, entirely frescoed by Luca Signorelli.

S. Giovenale: a large and atmospheric medieval church with many frescoes.

Perugia

In town:

S. Angelo (S. Michele): paleochristian, 5c or 6c; the church is circular and largely built of Roman materials.

S. Bernardino: the façade by Agostino di Duccio is among the best works of Renaissance sculpture in central Italy.

S. Domenico: large medieval church with an assortment of good art, and in particular the early‑14c Tomb of Pope Benedict XI, traditionally attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. The cloister houses the Archaeological Museum of Perugia.

S. Pietro: the interior of the church houses an incredible collection of artwork, some frescoes but mostly paintings, covering almost every square inch of the inside: much of it quite good. Two cloisters.

Preci

Outlying:

Badia S. Eutizio: abbey (late 12c, early 13c) in a particularly scenic location founded on once hermit-inhabited caves, some of which may still be seen.

S. Anatolia di Narco

Outlying:

S. Felice: Romanesque church of the second half of the 12c, with rose window; not very large, but maybe the most beautiful of those of its type in Umbria.

Scheggia e Pascelupo

Outlying:

Badia S. Emiliano in Congiuntoli: a massive Cistercian edifice, entirely undecorated but among the most beautiful architectural spaces in the region.

Spello

On the outskirts of town:

S. Claudio: particularly attractive Romanesque church with medieval frescoes and Roman remains.

Spoleto

In town:

Duomo S. Maria Assunta: large 12c Romanesque church with roses and carved door.

S. Pietro: early 12c monumental façade: the best Romanesque sculpture in Umbria.

S. Salvatore: step inside this medieval church and the visitor finds a Roman temple.

Todi

In town:

Duomo S. Maria Annunziata: particularly picturesque in its siting, at the top of a steep staircase overlooking an equally medieval piazza; but some very good medieval carving as well: the apse, many storied capitals inside the church, and the rose on the façade.

S. Fortunato: one of the most beautiful Gothic spaces in Umbria, with a good carved door. Among the frescoes, a particularly attractive Madonna by Masolino da Panicale.

Umbertide

Outlying:

Badia S. Salvatore di Montecorona: well-preserved Romanesque abbey: an upper church with an interesting reconstructed 8c ciborium, and in the lower church a very attractive forest of columns and capitals, with charming 18c frescoes.

Near Misses

Ficulle

In town:

Pieve S. Maria Vecchia: an attractive 13c door; frescoes, 15c wooden statue, Mithraic cippus.

Massa Martana

Outlying:

S. Maria in Pantano: a fortified church with a watchtower and one of the oldest churches in Umbria (the apse may be as early as the 8c); a fair amount of Roman stone incorporated in the fabric of the church, as well as the altar.

Spello

In town:

S. Maria Maggiore: one chapel, the Cappella Baglioni, was beautifully frescoed by Pinturicchio.

Good Candidates, but I Haven't Seen Them:

Foligno

Outlying:

Badia di Sassovivo: a splendid Romanesque cloister, which is also the largest in Umbria.

Montecastrilli

Outlying:

S. Lorenzo in Nífili: an 11c abbey church.

Perugia

Outlying:

S. Bevignate: 13c Templar church with interesting frescoes.

S. Costanzo: a very ancient church much reworked but preserving its sculptured Romanesque façade (see Milton Garver, "Symbolic Animals of Perugia and Spoleto")

A Few Personal Favorites:
(Usually smaller churches; if you're in the area, don't miss them)

Foligno

Outlying, fraz. Fiamenga:

S. Maria in Costantinopoli: one of many votive chapels in Umbria, but the quality of the individual frescoes is very high.

Gualdo Tadino

Outlying, fraz. Collesecco:

S. Angelo Sconcolo: 13c Romanesque, particularly attractive apse with blind arcading.

Massa Martana

Outlying, fraz. Viepri:

S. Maria: 12c Romanesque, good stone.

Norcia

Outlying, fraz. Cortigno:

S. Michele Arcangelo: a porticoed church incorporating stone from every period, Roman thru the 18c; and under the portico, some beautiful medieval frescoes.

Spello

In town:

Cappella Tega: fronting on the street, an insignificant-looking room easily passed by, with a splendid ensemble of frescoes coherently organized.

Terni

Outlying, fraz. Cesi:

S. Erasmo: a massive early Romanesque church in an extraordinary site on the top of a mountain surrounded by pre‑Roman megalithic walls.


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Site updated: 10 Mar 11