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A "Company Town" in Medieval Umbria

A town of central Umbria, a frazione of Massa Martana: 42°49.5N, 12°31E. Altitude: 478 m. Population: 143.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the village of Viepri, Umbria (central Italy).]

This is most of Viepri; we're looking east, more or less.

Viepri, a frazione of the comune of Massa Martana, 7 km N of that town and another 7 km SSW of Bastardo, is one of the more attractive medieval villages of Umbria, in part because of the almost exclusive use of stone in its construction: its two churches, the gates that remain of its fortifications, its arched streets and old houses, make Viepri a beautiful stop on a drive thru central Umbria, say from Todi to Spello or Trevi, or from Perugia to Spoleto.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a partial view of an arched street in Viepri, Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 6/28/05: 1 page, 6 photos ]

A sampler of the medieval fabric of the town — no more than that, although it includes a quick view of the church of S. Giovanni Battista — and yes, Viepri is as neat as a pin, but it's hardly for tourists: there just aren't any. Why not is a mystery to me, except that there are a lot of people rushing along on highways on their way to big and famous things.

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a view of the church of S. Maria in Viepri, Umbria (central Italy).]

[ 6/28/05: 2 pages, 12 photos ]

Now the abbey of S. Maria was just such a famous sight once; the great 12c stone church is no less handsome today, of course.

Much of the character and beauty of the town is due to her aesthetic unity: pretty much all stone, and from the looks of her, built at the same time. In the streets of Viepri, the most telling clue to her history may be this plaque, one of the baldest statements of owner­ship I've seen anywhere, and one which surely explains the physical cohesion of this village as well as that of any 19c railroad town in America:

[image ALT: missingALT. It is a 16c plaque in Viepri, Umbria (central Italy).]

Abbatia Sanctae Mariae
Castri Veprium possidet

The abbey of Saint Mary of this Town owns Viepri.

A couple of comments on our inscription:

1. If you're reading this page carefully, you noticed that I cheated: what's C V? Well, I have to admit I don't know, but I suspect no one else does either: this is exactly why every good teacher has taught us not to use abbreviations. My best guess is that it represents the date, the year 1605, where the initial MD was omitted: I've seen this occasionally elsewhere, and both the style of the lettering and the shape of the plaque fit that date perfectly. (It might of course stand for Castrum Viepri, but if so, why would anyone have added it to the inscription?)

2. As long as we're dealing in minutiae here, we might expect

Abbatia Sanctae Mariae

Castrum Vepri(i) possidet

The abbey of Saint Mary

owns Castrum Viepri.

since a frequent way of referring to a village is Castrum X, where castrum, related to castra, a military camp, often means "fortified place". In the Middle Ages the word was used for any town, not necessarily fortified, that was not the see of a bishop (Ducange, s.v.). But here we have a careful assertion of owner­ship, and with it, an indication of the town's history: the abbey went along with the village, and the village belongs to the abbey, and don't you forget it.

For once, though, the most important item is the easiest to notice. The coat of arms has been intentionally chiselled out: you run an autocratic government, and eventually people won't like it.

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Page updated: 30 Jun 20