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S. Maria in Camuccia

[image ALT: The façade of the church of S. Maria in Camuccia, in Todi, Umbria (central Italy); it is described in the detail in the text of this webpage.]

[image ALT: A stone tower, some 10 meters tall, windowless except for a very small lancet window high up on the far left and a rectangular window at street level on the right next to an arched doorway. About a third of the mass of the tower is taken up by a projecting cylindrical portion. It is a view of the apse of the church of S. Maria in Camuccia, in Todi, Umbria (central Italy).]

What's left of the apse of the 13c church, submerged in later masonry (and a closer view).

The disorderly façade we see above — the last foot or so truncated in my photo in order to avoid including the unsightly collection of cars littering the paved square in front of the church — bears witness to the checkered history of the building. Church façades in Italy often present this kind of disarray, or are unfinished; not so in France or England: why the difference, leaves me puzzled. At any rate here we have the walled-up remnant of a very large 13c door on the right, a somewhat later small ogival door on the left, and the main door of the 16c although incorporating a pair of elegant spirally-grooved medieval columns, moved here in 1389 from a church of S. Leucio that once stood on the very top of the hill of Todi where the ruins of the Rocca are now seen. In all that, only the lancet window (14c?) with its quatrefoil is centered; finally, the madonnuccia on the corner is part of the streetscape rather than the church: such street shrines are common thruout Italy.

This is in fact the third church on this site. A pre-Romanesque church, apparently of the 8c, is reduced to fragmentary vestiges below the pavement, but the second church still survives: Romanesque, it sits under what you see here, and has, or had, a number of frescoes on its walls, at least some of which have been moved to Todi's Biblioteca Comunale. And in case you're curious, gentle reader, under that an assortment of remains have been recently brought to light dating from the 3c B.C. to the 1c A.D.; such is Italy, and Todi is an Etruscan and Roman city.

[image ALT: A wide vaulted hall, about 8 m across and 10 m tall, ending in a smaller area marked off by a semi-circular arch. Along the sides, similar lower arches alternating with pilaster-bounded spaces with large paintings; the two rows of wooden pews down the hall mark it as a church. It is a view of most of the interior of the church of S. Maria in Camuccia, in Todi, Umbria (central Italy).]

The classic 16c interior is much more orderly, but even so, has also been reworked. Of the five chapels originally on each side, three have been walled up: there are now three on the right, four on the left; a pair are behind us. The coat of arms over the arch features a dog on a pillow: a frequently-seen version of the arms of the Dominican order, whose church this was from 1394 to 1810.

[image ALT: A wooden statue of the Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus, rather hieratically seated on her arm. It is the Madonna known as the Sedes Sapientiae in the church of S. Maria in Camuccia, in Todi, Umbria (central Italy).]

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The greatest treasure of S. Maria in Camuccia, and maybe in the entire city of Todi, is the Sedes Sapientiae, a 12c statue of Mother and Child: a beautiful piece of sculpture, though much restored: it too has had its checkered history.

The church contains many other works of art, as well as old inscriptions and a 4c paleochristian altar table, but this was the item that appealed to me most when I last visited:

[image ALT: The front of an altar, painted with a symmetrical composition: in the center a crescent moon, horn upwards, with a large snake coiled around it, and above them a six-pointed star: this vignette is framed by a wreath of grape-laden vines tied with a ribbon at the bottom. On either side, a plump winged cherub running on the wind and trailing a drapery that covers its genitals: between them they carry a banner with the inscription 'Pia Unione delle Figlie di Maria'. It is an altarpiece in the church of S. Maria in Camuccia, in Todi, Umbria (central Italy).]

The altar of the Pia Unione delle Figlie di Maria:

This altar of the women's guild, the Pious Union of the Daughters of Mary, is not only a beautiful example of (18c?) folk art, but is additionally interesting by its iconography. Just as in manuscripts, where space is limited, occasionally the Birth of Christ is reduced to its pictorial essentials — the cow and the donkey — here the Virgin Mary is unmistakably figured by a star, the crescent moon and the serpent on which she treads. The unabbreviated, normal version may be seen in a thousand places: as for example this roadside shrine in Monte­falco, just 23 km from Todi.

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Site updated: 31 Mar 09