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L'Abbazia S. Felice di Giano

[image ALT: A powerfully built rectangular stone hall supported by four pairs of columns that divide it into a central nave and two side aisles, leading up to a 15‑step staircase at the top of which there is an altar. It is a general view of the interior of the abbey church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

The striking aspect of the church is in large part due to the raised choir, characteristic of the Lombard style. Although the Lombard plan is common enough in Umbria, S. Felice's choir is raised particularly high.

The Romanesque abbey of S. Felice, about 2½ km N of Giano, is one of the dozen or so best large churches in Umbria and the most important monument in the comune; and is set in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Umbria, which says a lot.

It is said to have been founded in the early 4c as a martyrium, i.e., a church over the tomb of the martyred bishop St. Felix of Martana. The small church became a monastery at some point during the 6c‑7c, and the monastery, like many others throughout Europe, became Benedictine, probably in the 8c‑9c.

[image ALT: A monumental arched door in an austere expanse of stone wall. It is the door of the abbey church of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 1 page, 4 photos ]

From most angles, the exterior of the abbey is a large graceless hulk of stone masonry; austere and fortresslike is one thing, but the complex has no particular shape, nothing to catch the eye, at least from no side I saw. The church itself is drowned in a mass of functional buildings, and despite the obvious huge cost of the edifice, no attempt seems to have been made to make it readable or attractive.

The fault, however, appears to lie with the 18c rather than the 11c in which the church of S. Felice was built.

[image ALT: A short rectangular stone hall of 5 arched bays supported by columns; the area near the viewer is a raised platform, on which stands in the foreground a stone altar. It is a general view of the interior of the abbey of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 2 pages, 12 photos ]

The interior of the church is another matter: austerity and sheer mass are tempered by good proportions and purposive design; and in addition to the monumental upper church, a crypt provides a more intimate, human space. The success of the interior is enhanced by dozens of carved capitals.

[image ALT: A small square arcaded courtyard, with three or four arches on a side, and a second story above it. In the center of the courtyard, a square brick well. Pots and planters of flowers, mostly geraniums. It is a view of the cloister of the abbey of S. Felice near Giano dell' Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 1 page, 1 plan, 2 photos (and 19 more at your choice) ]

The cloister is yet a third type of space altogether, designed to be the center of the monks' contemplative life, where the body is at rest and the mind is encouraged to remember examples of Christian piety and solid theology.

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Page updated: 1 Jun 17