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Sine Nomine

[image ALT: A cubical stone building, about 2 meters on a side, on a two-tiered base of stone masonry nearly doubling the height of the whole. It sits on a street corner, attached to adjacent buildings, and thus presents only two sides, each consisting of an arch occupying most of the side's width. It is the Edicola in Norcia, Umbria (central Italy).]

As you can see, this is a very small structure; not really a building, since it has no door. Built in 1354, in a curiously transitional style with its Romanesque arch forms and its Gothic sculpture strongly influenced by a much older Lombard tradition, it is said by some to commemorate the location of a destroyed church of S. Feliciano.

By now of course, those of you who know my site can see me coming a mile away: I don't believe it.

If this in some way commemorates S. Feliciano or his former church, where is he? I would expect a prominent statue of him; there is none. Yet the most striking feature of this little shrine is precisely its decoration: featuring all the usual instruments of Christ's Passion, and many unusual ones as well.

I would expect an inscription, and indeed there is one, framing the instruments of the Passion. Not a word about previous churches or St. Felician, though: it is the Ave Maria.

I have seen one such commemorative monument in Umbria: at Trevi, where a small church was lost to the widening of a road (see this inscription recording the fact).

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Here's my interim solution, with not a shred of authority behind it. In 1354 the first and greatest wave of the Black Death had pretty much subsided in central Italy; and it is well known that the Great Plague of Europe was in large part responsible for a powerful iconographical shift away from a serene Christ to a suffering Jesus, from the peaceful host of Christian saints to the Lord's Passion: it is the mid‑14c that saw the birth of so many confraternities of flagellants, and Umbria in fact provides one of the earliest examples, the Confraternita dei Disciplinati of the town of Fratta (now Umbertide), whose verse lament on the Passion a century later is a beautiful early example of modern Italian.

This somber building with its representation of the instruments of the death of Christ, like the major Arcanum of the Tarot with the image of Death, has no name. Neither does it have a door: it is a forbidden place, a sort of medieval puteal to the Plague.

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Page updated: 1 Sep 08