Key to Umbria: Assisi
 


History of Assisi


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Ancient History

See the pages on: Ancient History    Municipium of Asisium     Quinqueviri and Seviri

Early Christianity

St Felician of Foligno seems to have evangelised Assisi in the early 3rd century.   According to tradition, the Roman Governor of Assisi expelled him after he had preached in the forum, and he then took up residence in a hut next to the Roman mausoleum on the footpath between Porta Nuova and San Damiano.   (A small chapel next to the mausoleum replaces an ancient church that was dedicated to San Feliciano).  He continued to attract converts and such was his success that he was beaten and forced to return to Foligno. 

Less reliable but extremely durable traditions relate to the early bishops of Assisi, SS Rufinus, Victorinus and Savinus. 

The first documented bishop of Assisi was Bishop Aventius (see below). 

Goths and Byzantines

The comparative peace and prosperity of Roman Assisi came to an end in 545, when Byzantine General Belisarius landed at Ravenna.  However, when Belisarius left Italy, the Goths regrouped under a new general, Totila.  He managed to retake much of the territory lost to Belisarius.  Having taken Naples in 544, he moved on Rome. 

Belisarius returned to Italy, landing at Ravenna, but he had insufficient resources to stop Totila’s advance.  When he laid siege to Assisi in 546 , the Byzantine General Sisifridus was rash enough to march out of Assisi to confront him.  When he was killed in battle outside the walls, Bishop Aventius opened the gates to Totila’s forces, thereby saving the city. 

In 547, Totila sent Bishop Aventius as his ambassador to Byzantium

Lombards

Assisi became part of the Lombard Duchy of Spoleto in 568.  However, the bishopric seems to have survived and to have absorbed the diocese of Bettona in the late 6th century.  A Bishop of Assisi accompanied the Bishop of Spoleto to synods in Rome in 649 and 680.

[Bishop Aquilinus attended a Roman Synod held by Pope Martin I in 649.] 

Carolingians

The city probably housed a Lombard garrison, since Charlemagne devastated it in 773 during his defeat of the Lombard King Desiderius and then apparently ordered it to be rebuilt. 

Fragments incorporated into the exterior of Santa Maria delle Rose might belong to the Carolingian period. 

A dispute over property between Duke Winigis of Spoleto and the Abbazia di Farfa culminated in a hearing at Norcia in 821 at which a representative of the Emperor Louis the Pious officiated.  Two Umbrian bishops attended: Bishop Sigualdus of Spoleto and Bishop Magione of Assisi.  Bishop Magione also attended a Roman Synod held by Pope Eugenius II in 826.

Bishop Ibone [Dono ?] attended a Roman Synod held by Pope Leo IV in 853.

10th Century

The earliest surviving document in the cathedral archives dates to January 963, in the episcopacy of Bishop Eremedius.  It relates to the lease of some episcopal property, the rent of which was to be paid each year of the feast of Santa Maria Assunta.  This suggests that Santa Maria Maggiore was the episcopal church at this time.

Two other bishops are documented in the 10th century:

  1. Bishop Ingizone  attended the Council of Ravenna, which Pope John XIII convened in 967; and

  2. Bishop Leone as involved in a documented property transaction in in 985.

11th Century

In 1018, Bishop Giorgio obtained from Marquis Rainerio I of Tuscany confirmation of the rights and property (including parish churches subject to the diocese) that had previously been granted by the Emperor Henry II.  These possessions included the important Abbazia di San Crispolto, at Piano di Bettona.

In 1019, Bishop Guglielmo confirmed the integration of the diocese into the Regno Italico and participated in a comital parliament.

Bishop Ugone (ca. 1029-59) attended two Roman synods held by Pope Benedict IX and was at the head of the delegation of Italian bishops at the Diet of Worms in 1048.  The Emperor Henry III nominated Pope Leo IX, whom Bishop Ugone accompanied to Italy. 

Bishop Ugone revived the cult of St Rufinus, whose relics were houses in the “parva basilica” (small basilica) in what is now Piazza San Rugino.  Following the rediscovery of the Roman sarcophagus that was believe dto have previously housed them and its translation to the small basilica, Bishop Ugone built a new church that became the cathedral of Assisi.  In 1035, Bishop Ugone built a residence next to  the church that the bishops of Assisi shared with the Canons of San Rufino until 1080.

Bishop Agino (1059-1072) reformed the Canonica di San Rufino, which gained in strength and subsequently emancipated itself from the bishops.

The other powerful figures in the politics of Assisi at this time were the Benedictine abbots of: the Abbazia di San Benedetto on Mount Subiaso; and the Abbazia di San Pietro in Assisi.  Each abbey owned a considerable amount of land in and around Assisi, and the Abbazia di San Benedetto owned a number of churches in Assisi such as San Damiano and San Paolo

12th Century

Relations between Prior Ranierio (ca. 1127-51) and Bishop Clarissimo (1126-34) seem to have been difficult, and Raniero went so far as to claim the right to ordain priests in his own right.  Bishop Clarissimo seems to have obtained papal backing for the canonical position, which insisted on the episcopal prerogative in this area.

In 1140, Prior Ranierio began the construction of the present church of San Rufino.

The oldest formal document in the archives of Assisi, which dates to November 1160, records that the Emperor Frederick I declared the city was subject to no authority other than that of the Emperor or his trusted representatives, “as it was from the time of Henry IV”.  It gave Assisi rights over an extensive contado and defined its boundaries (which included the Tiber as the boundary between Assisi and Perugia). 

Tension between the nobles of Assisi and the popolo seems to have intensified in the subsequent period.  The Imperial legate, Christian of Mainz intervened on behalf of the nobles in 1174 and took possession of  Assisi.  (The peace signed between the factions of Assisi in 1210 (see below) referred back to an earlier “conquest of the city”, which was almost certainly an allusion to the events of 1174).

Spoleto had been ravaged and disgraced by this time, and Assisi seems to have become the power centre of the newly invigorated Duchy of Spoleto.  Frederick I spent Christmas of 1177 there, and this was probably the occasion on which he established Conrad of Urslingen as Duke of Spoleto.

Bishop Rufinus II studied theology and canon law at Bologna and is first documented as a master there ca. 1150. He wrote the “ Summa decretorum” (ca. 1157), an influential commentary on canon law.  He became bishop of Assisi before 1179, the year in which he delivered a sermon at the opening of Third Lateran Council in which he urged ecclesiastical reform and asserted papal supremacy.  Between 1180 and 1186, he was elevated to the archbishopric of Sorrento. 

Spoleto’s return to Imperial favour in 1185 does not seem to have undermined Assisi’s pre-eminence.  Frederick I was in the city again in 1186, as he awaited the arrival of Constance of Naples as she travelled towards Milan for her marriage to Frederick’s son, the Emperor Henry VI

When Henry VI returned briefly to Germany in 1194, he left his baby son, the future Emperor Frederick II at Assisi in the care of Conrad of Urslingen.  It is possible that the child was christened at San Rufino. 

On his return to Italy in 1195, Henry VI reaffirmed Conrad of Urslingen as Duke of Spoleto and created him additionally Count of Assisi and Nocera.

13th century

When Conrad of Urslingen left Assisi to make his submission to Pope Innocent III at Narni, the the “homines populi” (merchants opposed to the ruling nobility) tore down the Rocca before Innocent III could take it over.  The noble faction was exiled, and many of these exiles found refuge in Perugia. 

The earliest document relating to the Commune of Assisi dates to this period: it names a single consul and a “notarius Communi” (notary of the Commune).

Innocent III bolstered the position of Bishop Guido I by reaffirming a number of alleged ancient privileges that placed vast lands in his possession, as well as all the churches and monasteries of Assisi and its contado.  (It was under this legislation that Guido’s successor, Bishop Guido II (see below) would try the case of the future St Francis’ inheritance in 1206).  The diocese of Assisi now formally included Bastia Umbra, Cannara, Bettona, Valfabbrica, Gualdo Cattaneo and Bevagna.  The privilege also stressed that the ruling that denied the right of the Prior of San Rufino to ordain priests was “irrefragabiliter” (unbreakable).

Guido I excommunicated those who opposed his new privileges, with the support of Innocent III.  Nevertheless, he had to share power with the new Commune that seems to have been in place by December 1198, and he could do little to stop the destruction of the houses and castles of the nobility throughout the city and the contado.

Perugia declared war on Assisi in 1202, ostensibly because its demands for compensation on behalf of the exiled nobles of Assisi were unheeded.  Assisi secured the support of a number of the other Umbrian cities, including Nocera, Bevagna and Spello.  Nocera switched its allegiance from Assisi to Perugia, and this defection brought Gubbio into the fray as an ally of Assisi, but the city was nevertheless defeated in the Battle of Collestrada in 1202.  (The future St Francis was taken prisoner during this war.  He languished in jail in Perugia for a year before his father could ransom him and then returned to Assisi sick and chastened by his ordeal.  This probably marked the start of his conversion.)

By 1204, conditions were sufficiently grave in Assisi for the citizens to appoint a Podestà for the first time.  They chose Girardo di Giliberto, who had been excommunicated in 1202 when he had held the same office in Spoleto.  Bishop Guido I reacted by placing Assisi under interdict until Cardinal Leone Brancaleone managed to negotiate the resolution of the situation.  Girardo and Assisi were forgiven and a new Podestà was appointed in late 1204. 

Assisi’s relations with Innocent III were further strained in July 1204, when Philip of Swabia issued an Imperial privilege from Germany for the city that mirrored the papal privilege that Perugia enjoyed.  Philip recognised the liberty of Assisi and the right of its people to elect “consulem vel consules” (one or more consuls).  He also promised that the Rocca would never be rebuilt, and that he would not make peace with Perugia or with the exiles from Assisi without the consent of its Commune.

Since he seemed likely to win the civil war in Germany, many of the exiled nobles of Assisi deemed it prudent to make peace with their native city.  Assisi’s fortunes in its war with Perugia improved; Assisi retook Nocera in 1204 and the war between Perugia and Assisi gave way to an uneasy peace.

In 1206, Bishop Guido I mediated in the argument between the future St Francis and his father, when Francis famously relinquished his inheritance outside the Palazzo Vescovile.  He was in Rome in 1209 when Francis sought papal approval for his   form of life, and was influential in Pope Innocent III’s decision to comply.  Both Innocent III and Guido I recognised the part that the young man could play in the consolidation of papal control of Assisi.  Bishop Guido I subsequently encouraged the new Order of Friars Minor, although it was not the bishop but the Abbot of San Benedetto who was able to give it its first church, the Portiuncula, in 1209.

In November 1210, the Emperor Otto IV, having sacked the contado of Perugia, was well-received in Assisi.  It was probably at his instigation that peace between the warring factions was finally agreed “to the honour of  the Emperor Otto IV and Duke Diopoldo of Spoleto”.   (Innocent III excommunicated Otto IV a few days later).  The factions agreed that neither of them would forge allegiances with either the imperial or the papal authorities.

San Rufino was still unfinished and the terms of the peace provided for the Commune to complete the construction project.  The relics of St Rufinus had been lost by this time.  They were under water in the crypt of the new new church in 1212 and Bishop Guido translated them to its high altar.  This was probably Bishop Guido II, who is first securely documented in that year.

In 1212, in a document dated with reference to the Emperor Otto IV, Abbot Maccabeus of San Benedetto sold the church of San Donato (in the ex-temple of Minerva) to the Commune and it was converted to become the Palazzo del Commune and residence of the Podestà.  Guidone di Giovanni del Papa, who was the leading Consul and also Podestà, exercised his offices from this building by 1215.

In 1215, Pope Honorius III formally acknowledged the independence of the Canons of San Rufino from the bishops of Assisi.

St Francis intervened to resolve the conflict between Bishop Guido II and the Podestà, Oportulo di Bernadone in 1225.  The cause was an alliance that Oportulo signed with the exiled knights of Perugia, despite the efforts of Pope Honorius III to achieve peace between the factions of that city.  Guido II excommunicated Oportulo and this led to discord throughout the city.  St Francis sent one of the brothers with a new verse that he had written for the Canticle of Brother Sun, which he read to both men in the courtyard of Palazzo Vescovile.  Neither could resist its call for peace.

As St Francis approached death in 1226, he stayed at Palazzo Vescovile before his brothers took him to the Portiuncula to die.

During the war between the Emperor Frederick II and the papacy, the Ghibellines drove the bishops from the diocese. 

The unprotected location of St Clare’s nunnery of  San Damiano made it particularly vulnerable, and a band of Saracens in the Imperial army attacked it in September 1240.  The sisters were terrified, but the soldiers withdrew when St Clare appeared before them carrying the Eucharist.   Danger returned in 1241, when Vitalis d Aversa laid siege to Assisi itself on behalf of the Emperor.  However, a great storm dispersed the attackers in response to the prayers of St Clare and her sisters.

In 1250, Pope Innocent IV installed his chaplain as Bishop Nicolò da Calvi (1250-1273).  He was succeeded by a series of three other Franciscans:

  1. Bishop Illuminato da Chieti (1274-1282);

  2. Bishop Simone degli Offreduzzi (1282-1296); and

  3. Bishop Teobaldo Pontano da Todi (1296-1329), discussed below. 

A new section of city wall was built in ca. 1260 to bring Santa Chiara within its ambit.  [Other new sections of walls]

One of the most important Benedictine abbeys in the diocese was the Abbazia di San Crispolto, at Piano di Bettona.  In 1266, the citizens of Bettona moved the relics of their patron, St Crispoltus, from the abbey and installed them in an oratory within Bettona.  Bishop Nicolò of Assisi insisted in their return, but to no avail. 

The first documentary reference to the office of Capitano del Popolo dates to 1267.

[War with Bettona - 1270]

Assisi supported Perugia in its war with Foligno in 1282.

14th century

Pope Boniface VIII appointed Teobaldo Pontano da Todi as Bishop of Assisi, the post he occupied in the period 1296-1329.  Bishop Pontano was a Franciscan:

  1. Boniface VIII ordered him to expel the Vallombrosians from Sant’ Arcangelo delle Fontanelle in Todi in 1296 in order to put an end to their efforts to extract compensation for what they deemed had been the unfair exchange imposed on them some forty years earlier with the Franciscans of San Fortunato;

  2. he commissioned the decoration of the Cappella di Santa Maria Maddalena in the lower church of San Francesco, Assisi, where he is depicted twice;

  3. he wrote the definitive account (1310 ) of the granting of the Portiuncula Indulgence in an attempt to refute the arguments of “the ignorant  the jealous and contentious  who try to destroy, suppress and condemn it”. 

Bishop Pontano encouraged the formation of lay confraternities in the diocese of Assisi. He fled from the city in 1319 during the Ghibelline Revolt (see below), and took refuge in San Fortunato, Todi.  He probably commissioned the Cappella di San Francesco there, and is documented as donating an altar dossal to it in 1327.

Ghibelline Revolt (1308-53)

In 1315, Assisi joined the Guelf league sponsored by Perugia.

In 1316, an ambitious project was begun in order to build a new circuit of walls that would encompass San Francesco, San Pietro and the suburb that became known as the Borgo Aretino.  

In September 1319, the Ghibelline Muzio di Francesco expelled the Guelfs with the help of Federico da Montefeltro.  He had himself elected as Capitano del Popolo, and Bishop Guido Tarlati sent Vanne da Poppi from Arezzo to act as Podestà. 

In October 1319, Muzio di Francesco forced Bishop Teobaldo Pontano and the custodian of San Francesco to hand over papal tithes that had been collected in Assisi and Nocera.

Muzio helped the Ghibellines of Spoleto and Nocera to take control of their cities in 1319.  However, the Perugians fell on his army as it returned from Spoleto to Assisi, and this defeat prompted many of the towns of the contado to defect to Perugia.  The Perugians took Bastia in 1320, and stole the relics of the Blessed Conrad of Offida.  

In March 1320, Muzio di Francesco extorted not only the papal treasure deposited at San Francesco, but also the money deposited there that belonged to a number of cardinals, including Cardinal Napoleone Orsini.  He warned the reluctant friars that, were the treasure not released, the Perugians would take Assisi and steal the relics of St Francis.  Most of the stolen goods were sent to Arezzo to pay for military support. 

In June 1320, Pope John XXII wrote to the rector of the Duchy of Spoleto, Reginaldo di Sant’ Artemia, and to Perugia, Orvieto, Foligno, Gubbio and other Guelf cities, pressing them to form a league against the Ghibellines of Assisi and Spoleto. 

In July 1320, Muzio di Francesco incited the Ghibellines of Nocera Umbra to rebel; their Perugian podestà, Cucco di Gualfreduccio, was imprisoned at Assisi. 

Perugian forces under Cante de’ Gabrielli besieged the town of Isola Romanesca (later called Bastia), in the contado of Assisi, for seven months, taking it in October 1320.  They stole the relics of the Blessed Conrad of Offida from the Franciscan church of Santa Croce there.  This army then regained control of Nocera Umbra in November 1320.

John XXII excommunicated Muzio di Francesco and placed Assisi under interdict in April 1321, by which time Perugian forces were besieging the city.  When the guardian of Santa Maria della Portiuncula attempted to display a copy of the interdict on the door of the Duomo, he was forced to eat it, complete with its lead seal, and to wash it down with his own urine (or so it was alleged in the later evidence given against Muzio di Francesco).  Despite this bravado, Muzio’s cause was lost, and he slipped away in August 1321 to take refuge in Todi. 

Assisi now sent ambassadors to Perugia, and Ugolino I  Trinci acted as mediator.   (He had probably been a military captain in the pay of the Perugians before becoming the effective ruler of Foligno on the death in 1321 of his brother, Rinaldo (Nallo) Trinci.) 

Perugia had offered lenient terms to Assisi in 1321, but when Assisi rebelled again in March 1322, Perugian forces under Cante de’ Gabrielli took the city, and this time the retribution was high.   The Perugians tore down the walls and hung the keys to its gates from the chains on their Palazzo Comunale.  The Ghibellines were exiled and the citizens of Assisi were obliged to deliver an annual tribute to Perugia on the feast of St Herculanus.  (Ugolino Trinci ruled Assisi on behalf of Perugia until 1330, when John XXII insisted that he leave.  Assisi remained under interdict for some 30 years, until 1352.)

Bishop Teobaldo Pontano initiated an inquisitorial process against Muzio di Francesco (who had been condemned as a heretic) in May 1322.  Muzio di Francesco faced the inquisition at San Fortunato Todi in June 1322, but that city ignored a subsequent order from John XXII that it should surrender him to the rector of the Duchy of Spoleto.  The inquisitors took some 90 depositions and compiled their report in August 1322.  Muzio di Francesco repaid 1,000 gold florins to Napoleone Orsini in 1323 (money that he had extorted in 1320 - see above). 

The process against Muzio was suspended for some four years.  This may have been because the Ghibelline threat had receded.  However, in June 1326, as tension rose again in the expectation of the arrival in Italy of Louis of Bavaria (the future Emperor Louis IV), Muzio di Francesco (who was probably serving in the army of Bishop Guido at Arezzo at this time)was given 30 days in which to present himself at San Gemini in the Duchy of Spoleto.  When he failed to do so, Bishop Teobaldo Pontano declared him in default, and re-opened the process in his absence.  Sentence against him was declared at San Fortunato, Todi in October 1326.  His goods in Assisi were confiscated, but he managed to evade capture.  The last documentary reference to him dates to 1339, when he was at Fabriano.

The first documentary reference to the office of Prior of Assisi dates to 1330.

In ca. 1340, the Capitano del Popolo and Podestà exchanged their residences.

The Bull of excommunication on Assisi remained in force until 1352 (although there were frequent suspensions made for the Basilica of San Francesco).

Papal Reconquest of Central Italy (1353-78)

In 1353, Pope Innocent VI entrusted Cardinal Alvarez Carillo Gil de Albornoz with the task of reasserting papal control over the Papal States.  He spent a month in Perugia in October of that year, and this marked the beginning of a period of growing independence for Assisi. 

Cardinal Albornoz arrived in Perugia in 1354, and this marked the start of a period of increasing independence for Assisi.  The city authorities resolved to restore the Rocca and the city walls at this time, although opposition from Perugia meant that the work was not carried out until 1362-5.  This new fortress, which was known as Rocca Maggiore, formed part of the medieval walls of the city, between Porta San Giacomo and Porta Perlici.  A castellan was documented in 1365, which suggests that much of the rebuilding was complete by that time.   

The arrival of Cardinal Albornoz also heralded a short burst of activity at San Francesco.  It was probably at this time that Cardinal Albornoz donated 10 dossals bearing his arms for the minor altars of the church.  The documented (but no longer extant) frescoes in the Cappella di Sant’ Antonio Abate seem to have been commissioned by Blasco Fernandez di Belvis, a nephew of Cardinal Albornoz.  They may have been associated with a payment made to an artist called Pace (probably Pace di Bartolo) in 1354, in which case, Blasco Fernandez di Belvis must have accompanied his uncle during his first period as papal legate.  This period ended with his recall to Avignon in 1357. 

Cardinal Albornoz was reappointed as legate again in 1358.  He soon gained control over most of the Papal States, with the important exception of Bologna, where Giovanni d' Ollegio faced the aggression of Bernabò Visconti of Milan.  Giovanni d'Ollegio surrendered Bologna to Cardinal Albornoz.  Pope Urban V was elected in 1362, and he retained the services of Cardinal Albornoz in Italy.  He declared a crusade against Bernabò Visconti in 1363, and this led to his defeat.  He finally sold Bologna to the papacy in 1364.  

After the mercenary army of Cardinal Albornoz definitively defeated the Perugians in 1367.

In July 1367, , the citizens of Assisi enthusiastically welcomed him into the city and made a formal submission.

Cardinal Albornoz was now able to secure peace and to receive Urban V at Corneto on 4th June, 1367, when he finally returned (temporarily as it turned out) to Italy.  Urban V then moved to Viterbo, where Cardinal Albornoz died three months later. 

The citizens of Assisi carried his body in state to San Francesco, where he was buried in the Cappella di Santa Caterina.  He had already donated 500 florins for the restoration of the chapel in 1362.  In his will, Cardinal Albornoz left a number of gifts for San Francesco, including 1,0000 florins for the reconstruction of the infirmary.  In 1368, his heirs paid ‘Andreas pictor de Bononia’ (probably probably Andrea de’ Bartoli) 450 florins for painting the frescoes in his burial chapel and a further 10 florins for painting his tomb there.   The body of Cardinal Albornoz was taken to Toledo (or perhaps Bologna) in 1372. 

In July 1367, Albornoz asked Blasco Fernández de Belvis (whom he had appointed as rector of the Papal States from 1362) to move the curia of the Duchy of Spoleto to Assisi, in order to underpin papal control of the city.  His son, García de Belvis was honourably received there in August.

Blasco Fernández de Belvis and his son were murdered in 1368 by Ghibellines from Spoleto, a.  In 1373, Sancia de Cortinis, the widow of Blasco Fernández de Belvis, gave the friars of San Francesco 300 florins for the restoration of the Cappella di Sant’ Antonio Abate and 100 florins for the tombs of her husband and son.

Civil Strife

In 1376, Assisi rebelled against high papal taxes and enjoyed a short period of self-rule.  Guglielmo di Carlo Fiumi menaced the city from this point, and finally took it in 1385 in an anti-papal alliance with Perugia.  Guglielmo was beheaded in 1393.

Two Perugians acted as bishops of Assisi towards the end of the century: Bishop Odoardo Michelotti (1381-1385) and Bishop Ermanno Baglioni ( 1385-1391).

Biordo Michelotti became lord of Assisi in 1394

In 1398, after the death of Michelotti, the condottiere Ceccolo Broglia took Assisi and used the Rocca Maggiore as a base for his brigandage.  Fortunately, he died of plague a year later.

15th century

In 1399, Assisi submitted to the protection of Gian Galeazzo Visconti, but he died in 1402.  The city then fell to the papal forces of Baldassare Cossa.

In 1408, Pope Gregory XII granted Assisi to Guidantonio di Montefeltro, the ally of King Ladislas of Naples.

Braccio Fortebracci threatened Assisi in 1416, soon after he had returned in triumph to Perugia.  Guidantonio di Montefeltro managed to keep hold of the city for a period by sacrificing Spello.  However, Braccio swooped on Assisi in 1419 and it was once more subjected to Perugia until 1424, when Braccio died.

In 1430, Pope Martin IV instituted his nephew Antonio Colonna as Lord of Assisi.

Nicolò Fortebracci left the service of Pope Eugenius IV in 1431 because he felt insufficiently rewarded and passed into the sphere (if not the service) of Duke Filippo Maria Visconti, who encouraged him to establish himself in Umbria.  He took Città di Castello and then Assisi in 1433 and held them until his death two years later.

In 1438, Assisi sought the protection of Francesco Sforza, thereby incurring the wrath of Perugia.  This was essentially at the initiative of the Fiumi and the Parte di Sotto, and many of their opponents went into exile.  Sforza named Benedetto degli Agapiti da Pisa as his deputy, but he proved unable to prevent Francesco Piccinino's mercenaries and the exiles from the Parte di Sopra from ravaging the contado.  Sforza then sent his brother Alessandro Sforza, who occupied the Rocca as governor of Assisi.

But the discord between Assisi and Perugia was not diminished [Assisi was involved in the humiliation of Giacoma, the widow of Malatesta Baglioni].

Pope Eugenius IV recruited Nicolò Piccinino against Francesco Sforza in 1441.  He took Todi, Città di Castello, Costano, Bastia and a number of other towns before laying siege to Assisi.  The city withstood for a number of months, but Piccinino took it and subjected it to a devastating sack on November 24th 1442.  Alessandro Sforza held out in the Rocca for a few more days before fleeing to the marches.  Assisi then suffered a dreadful sack.

In 1433, the Abbazia di San Pietro passed in commendam to the young Latino Orsini (who became a cardinal in 1448).  The Abbazia di San Benedetto followed in ca. 1450, although the cardinal transferred to his nephew, Cosimo Orsini in 1453.  Cardinal Orsini was a patron of the Congregation of Canons Secular of San Giorgio in Alga a reformed congregation that had been formed in Venice: it was probably at his request that the Venetian Pope Paul II united San Benedetto with San Giorgio in Alga in 1468. [The arms of Cardinal Latini Orsini are on the facade of the Palazzo dei Priori.]

In 1456, Pedro Luis Borgia, the nephew of Pope Calixtus III, became papal governor of Assisi (and of other Umbrian cities, including Spoleto, Terni, Narni, Todi, Orvieto, Foligno,  Nocera and Amelia).  He was driven from Rome following the death of his uncle in 1458, at which point he sold Assisi to Giacomo Piccinino.  He sold it to Pope Pius II in 1459, and this marked the definitive reassertion of papal control of the city.

Pope Paul II had invested Guido Fiumi as Count of Sterpeto in 1462, and his family were often subsequently referred to by this title.

Fr Fortunato Coppoli, [who lived at San Damiano] founded the Monte di Pietà in Assisi in 1468.

In 1475, Pope Sixtus IV appointed Barnaba Bennati of Montefalco as bishop of Assisi, a post he held until his death in 1483.  He had been the priest at San Fortunato, Montefalco and a rector of the Universita di Perugia, and he had close links with the Observant Franciscans.

Rival families, the Nepis (whose faction was the Parte de Sopra, of the upper town) and the Fiumi (whose faction was the Parte de Sotto, of the lower town) tore the city apart in the late 15th century.  From 1488, the Nepis had the support of the Baglioni family of Perugia, while the Fiumi were supported by the Oddi faction and other Perugian exiles.

On 14 November 1492, Jacopo Fiumi (the son of Guido), lured Averardo, Federico and Galeotto de’ Nepis to dinner at the Palazzo dei Priori, while planning their murder.  In the subsequent attack, only Galeotto escaped.  He fled to Bastia, where he sought the assistance Gianpaolo and Carlo Baglioni.  They duly entered the city and sacked the upper town (the domain of the Parte di Sotto), including the church and convent of San Francesco.  The mayhem ended after two days, when Pope Alexander VI sent Nicolò Orsini di Pitigliano to restore order.  The Fiumi faction were exiled, and a bounty was placed on the heads of those held responsible for the murders.

Alexander VI included Assisi in the dowry of Lucrezia Borgia when she married Giovanni Sforza of Pesaro in 1493.  His castellan enabled Jacopo Fiumi to return (June, 1494), helped by the fact that the Baglioni were distracted by the military opportunities arising from the expected invasion of Italy by King Charles VIII of France.  Astorre, Morgante and Gianpaolo Baglioni used the return of Jacopo Fiumi as an excuse to besiege the city and devastate its contado.  According to tradition, the Madonna del Pianto in San Rufino wept at this resumption of violence and devastation. 

A truce of sorts was subsequently agreed and the Baglioni dispersed to the armies of their respective clients.  However, when Perugia was threatened by the march across Italy of the French army and the return of the exiles from the Oddi faction later in the year, the Baglioni returned and the siege of Assisi was resumed.  

16th century

After Cesare Borgia expelled Gianpaolo Baglioni from Perugia, he also occupied Assisi (in March 1501).  His soldiers committed many atrocities.

In 1527, troops of the Emperor Charles V sacked Assisi on their way to Rome.

In 1529, Captain Bernardino da Sassoferrato used the campanile of San Francesco as a place of refuge when the Prince of Orange entered Assisi with his victorious army.  He kept his enemy at bay for three days, and finally escaped to Spello, leaving the city a prey to another despot.

Any pretence of independence ended for Assisi in 1538 when the legate of Pope Paul III ordered that the cannons from the Rocca should be sent to the new papal fortress at Perugia.  He built the vast cylindrical tower of the Rocca Maggiore that threatens the town.

Bishop Filippo Geri (1564-75) laid the foundation stone of the new church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in 1569.

The Apostolic Visitor, Pietro Camaiani made a very critical report after his visit to Assisi in 1573.  Bishop Geri established the diocesan seminary in 1574, in response to this criticism.

17th century

The project to institute a diocesan seminary proceeded slowly until the 1690s, when Bishop Marcello Crescenzi (1591-1630) acquired the complex of Sant’ Angelo in Panzo and the palace beyond to provide premises.  He also restored Palazzo Vescovile and imposed clausura on the nuns of San  Quirico [and the Monastero della Concezione].

Bishop Tegrimo Tegrimi (1630-41) re-opened the diocesan seminary.

Two cardinals were appointed as bishops of Assisi later in the century: Bishop Paolo Emilio Rondanini (1653-1668) and Bishop Francesco Nerli (1685-1689).

18th century

Bishop Ottavio Ringhieri (1736-1755) dramatically reduced the number of hospices dependent on lay confraternites.

In 1772, Bishop Nicolò Sermattei suppressed a number of lay confraternities (the Confraternities of SantaMaria Maggiore del Vescovado, San Gregorio, San Vitale,San Lorenzo and San Pietro) and diverted their incomes to the diocesan seminary.

French forces took Assisi in 1798.  They exacted taxes for their military needs and suppressed the religious orders and the lay confraternities.

19th century

Bishop Francesco Maria dei Conti Giampè (1796-1827) refused to swear allegiance to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1810 and was exiled to Corsica.  After the fall of Napoleon, he was able to return.

Assisi suffered badly in earthquakes in Gravi 1833 and again in 1853.

[Unification - 1866]

Modern Period

Bishop Giuseppe Placido Nicolini (1928-1973) secured the adoption of St Francis as the patron saint of Italy in 1939.  He saved the lives of many Jews who took refuge in Assisi during the Second World War.  He welcomed Pope John XXIII to Assisi in 1962.

The diocese of Assisi absorbed those of Nocera Umbra and Gualdo Tadino in 1986.


Return to the home page on Assisi.