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'La Vittorina'

The church of S. Maria della Vittoria

[image ALT: missingALT. It is the façade of the church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]

Even today, a rural church that sits in a field; its façade faces almost exactly NW.

Italy was a dark and dangerous place in the high Middle Ages: not only had law and order pretty much collapsed, robber barons fighting each other over a land tilled by frightened and impoverished serfs — but then and for two more centuries afterwards most of southern and central Italy was prey to Moslem pirates, invaders, thugs, whatever one wants to call them, that devastated the countryside, kidnapped and terrorized the civil population, and had even ransacked the tomb of the apostle Peter in Rome: one of the long-festering causes of the Crusades.

But here in the 8c, there may have been cause to celebrate: a great victory is said to have been won by the people of Gubbio over the Saracens, and the little church we see, on the southern outskirts of town, is believed to have been built to commemorate it. As with many of the oldest churches of Europe, though, records were never kept or have been lost, the date of its foundation is as uncertain as just precisely where and when this battle might have taken place, and we only truly enter history with firmer documents in the first half of the 11c, that do mention the church. Another few generations, and we find it belonging to the Benedictines; when St. Francis burst upon the scene, they generously let the local bishop put it at the disposal of the new Franciscan order (1213), as they did elsewhere in Umbria here and there, including at the Eremo delle Carceri now viewed as one of the great Franciscan sites. At any rate, very near this place the curious but relatively well attested story of St. Francis and the Wolf played out, and a monument about twenty-five meters behind us commemorates it: story and monument get their own separate page.

The building we see, though, might be of almost any period; short of an arcane analysis of its hidden masonry, we shouldn't look for the eighth century nor even the twelfth — at least from this side; but if we walk around the back we may have an indication both of its early date and just possibly a trace of its commemorative origin:

[image ALT: missingALT. It is the façade of the church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]

For a closer view, see my diary, June 30, 2000.

The projecting square apse and the equally projecting roof over the lone window in it are somewhat unusual; they might suggest some kind of earlier arrangement to view a shrine of some sort — but on balance, I think not: a purely practical provision for shade. Though the SE‑facing window wasn't shielded from the sun at more or less high noon when I took this picture, the little roof may be just what's called for at mass time on a summer morning. The window itself, timidly ogival, is decorated with a bit of carving earlier than the fabric of the building as we now see it; 12c seems a good guess:

[image ALT: missingALT. It is the façade of the church of S. Maria della Vittoria in Gubbio, Umbria (central Italy).]

The interior of the church, I haven't seen yet: I've swung by it three or four times in my trips to Umbria, but it has always been closed. There are said to be several 15c frescoes, and a cycle of 17c paintings of the life of the Virgin.

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Page updated: 2 Nov 10