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S. Domenico in Foligno

[image ALT: A large barnlike 2‑story building of stone masonry. The ground story is nicely finished in small smoothed blocks of contrasting stone, with a Gothic door. The upper story is unfinished, with wide courses of rough stones delimited by much thinner and slightly projecting courses of the same. A circular window has been blocked up in the lower part, and a functional rose window is just above it. In the background, to the right, a large crane; propped up against the façade, a motorcycle and a scooter. The building is connected to lower stuccoed houses on either side. It is a view of the church of S. Domenico in Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]

The Gothic church of S. Domenico in Foligno, built in 1251, is in many ways typical of central Italy: its attractive ground story of smooth squared blocks of pink and white Subasio limestone; its unfinished upper story, courses of rough masonry waiting to be similarly veneered, when the money ran out; its second thoughts as to where to put the rose window: the newer rose is not pretty, but it's in the better place.

But the building is also typical in a subtler way. (Well, it's closed, as it has been every time I've seen it — so no photos of the interior on my site — but that's not what I mean.) It's so nondescript that we might be tempted just to walk on by. Yet here is where we're rewarded for looking a bit more carefully, for example at the door:

[image ALT: A Gothic door. It is a detail of the façade of the church of S. Domenico in Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]


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Closer still:

[image ALT: A medieval stone carving of a lion crouching amid the stylized acanthus foliage of the column capitals supporting him. It is a detail of the main door of the church of S. Domenico in Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]

This lion is all by himself, nestled in his bower of acanthus: the right side of the door is uninhabited. Would we really want to have missed him?

It also pays to walk around buildings and look at the back. Sometimes we'll get an instant insight into how the church is built, like at S. Maria in Ponte; and then sometimes just a detail, like this attractive 18c archway connecting the church with the rectory on the right. The oeil-de‑boeuf windows flanking the pedimented niche are particularly good:

[image ALT: A Tudor archway between two buildings. The story above the arch has a pedimented niche flanked by a pair of oeil-de‑boeuf windows. It is a detail of the church of S. Domenico in Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]

Moving closer once again, we can of course see the tiles that make up the Crucifixion, set in Foligno against its Apennine backdrop; but we can also read the inscriptions:

[image ALT: A pedimented niche defined by elegant grooved pilasters on either side and flanked by a pair of oeil-de‑boeuf windows. The niche is slightly recessed and contains a Crucifixion of painted tile work. It is a detail of the church of S. Domenico in Foligno, Umbria (central Italy).]

IHS, the monogram of the Savior, in the pediment;

just below that,

Ave Redemptor: Hail, Redeemer;

and less conspicuously, under the niche, the date:

Anno JUBilaei MCMXXXIII XIIn the Jubilee year 1933, Year XI of the Fasces.

The new era of Fascism was eleven years in, and was widely felt to represent the way things were going to be; so the visitor will see dates given this way on all kinds of buildings, even on tombstones: there is no particular message, no adhesion necessarily to the then ruling ideology, and no need finally to remove the witness to mid‑20c history.

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Page updated: 30 Apr 09