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There is much to explore in Montebuono - if you love old things as we do - but this post is focussing on the Church of St Peter because we found it absolutely fascinating and merits its own spotlight.
The church is called St. Peter "ad Muricentum" or "ad Centumuros" (lit. 100 walls - the presence of numerous Roman remains would suggest a Roman house or baths in the immediate vicinity). It is located just outside the town of Montebuono, in the locality of Grignano and the cemetery, situated on a hill overlooked by the Sabine hills and overlooking the Tiber valley. It is thought to date to the 13th century.
The façade is asymmetrical, the entrance appears to be too far to the left (or the right, if you're viewing it from outside) but this is because the church was originally a different size. The interior has two aisles, divided by four lowered arches on pillars and columns. The right aisle is divided into three bays, of which the last two are covered by vaults.
The church's History
There is a slightly leaning, square bell tower detached from the church, with two rows of mullioned windows. It dates back to the 12th century and the characteristics of its construction can be attributed to Lombard craftsmen.
The church, although heavily altered over time, retains the features of the original Romanesque structure, which recent restoration work has revealed. Reconstruction work of the pavement has also brought to light a series of underground rooms, partly reused over time as ossuaries, which belonged to a country house from the Roman age (Italian - 'villa rustica') often referred to as the "Baths of Agrippa," due to a fragment of inscription found in the ruins, which mentions General Agrippa, son of Emperor Augustus, died in Campania in 12 BC.
(above shows the Miracles of St. James the Greater in close-up and underneath the next photo you can see him with the sick and needy approaching his table)
There are actually three layers of decoration inside the church and in areas you can see one layer on top of another, on top of another. The top layer indicates the end of the fourteenth century and the first half of the fifteenth century. The oldest surviving paintings within the complex are those of the 10th century. Among the images are: a Madonna and Child enthroned with angels and St. John the Baptist; two Madonnas with Child portrayed with Jesus caressing on of the Madonnas faces and the other in the act of nursing her Son. There are also two large panels with paintings of the Martyrdom of St. Lawrence and the Miracle of Our Lady of the Olives - how relevant it is to have a Madonna of Olives in the area of Sabina which is famous for its olive oil.
In the right aisle of the chapel is the painting of the meeting of Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate. Inside, placed on the side walls are some episodes of the Life of John the Baptist (the baptism of Christ, the feast of Herod and the Beheading), the Martyrdom of St. John the Evangelist and Apostle James the Greater Miracles; on the back wall there is the Crucifixion. This important series of paintings were made by Jacopo da Roccantica, a follower of Ottaviano Nelli.
When the church was built many materials from the Roman era were reused (early up-cycling).
The walls of the villa were saved only in part, mosaic flooring re-emerged plus fragments of frescoed walls, a plastered cistern perfectly in tact, giving an insight into the layout and size of the villa, which was undoubtedly very wide.
It doesn't look much from a distance but when you understand the significance of the scenes the walls seem to come alive. The far wall has the oldest paintings.
Below are some close-ups of the frescoes including the artist's vision of Hell (below centre and right) where all sorts of grisly punishments are depicted - lest one stray from the path of righteousness. These powerful images were meant to terrify people into good behaviour. As it was rare for peasants to be able to read, they learned the bible from imagery.
The bottom row of these 8 photos are interesting. The Knights Templar certainly moved around a lot and their symbols are found all over the place but we couldn't figure out the niche underneath the cross, which has strange symbols of its own, or any documentation regarding the Knights.
The image bottom right, on the other hand, is interesting because it depicts Assisi but the church of St. Francis is not shown - it has been purposefully omitted by the artist (one of the White Brotherhood).
This group called the White Brotherhood was a religious movement with an intense dislike of the corruption of the church. They passed into Italy from France, and evidence shows that they came to the province of Rieti on their travels southwards down the peninsular, stopping at Montebuono, Rieti, Poggio Mirteto, Leonessa and Fare in Sabina, to spread 'pace e bene' (peace & goodwill). They maintained that a miracle occurred in Assisi in 1399 (The Miracle of the Apparition of the Madonna dell'Oliva) so this was depicted in the painting but the church was not.
The two floating figures above Assisi are thought to be St Francis and Santa Chiara.
Below are just two examples of the Roman pieces that were reused in the church - the pillar bottom (left) and the lovely decorative white marble (right).
A few shots of the church and town in the rain and mist. Notice the original doorway and the new round window which was added much later.
In 2009 a rare 15th century manuscript was returned to Montebuono, presumably after many years, where it rightly belongs, thanks to scholars from the Lillian Goldman Law Library.
Visiting the Church
Viewing is by appointment only and the church is kept locked to protect these absolute treasures.
If you are interested in visiting as part of one of our private day trips please get in touch with us at least 2 weeks in advance.
Where to Eat....
There are some very unique places to eat near Montebuono