Key to Umbria: Bettona

Saints: St Crispoltus (12th May)

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Copy (19th century) of the seal used

by the Commune in the 13th century

According to a legend (BHL 1800), “St Chrysopolitus”  was one of the 72 disciples chosen by Christ to save the world.  St Peter sent him and two others, SS Brictius and Eraclius, from Jerusalem to evangelise Bettona.  St Brictius ordained him as Bishop of Bettona after he had cured a man possessed by a demon.  When he also cured Valerius, the nephew of his persecutor Austerius, many of the people of Bettona (but not Austerius himself) turned away from their veneration of Mars and embraced Christianity.  St Crispoldus also killed a wolf that had been devastating an area called “campo Bucaronis”, near the source of two rivers, the Cleotone (Clitunno ?) and the Sambro.  St Crispoldus was arrested on the orders of the Emperor Maximian (286-305).  He refused to worship idols and was beheaded, together with his colleague, St Barontius.   When his sister, St Tutela, and twelve other women tried to bury the martyrs, they too were executed.  The martyrs were buried near a tower between the Cleotone and the Sambro.  Miracles occurred on the burial site, and a church was built there.

This legend seems to derive from the Legend of the Twelve Syrians, in which St Brictius appointed “St Scipiodotum” as bishop of Bettona at some time after the end of the Diocletian persecution.  In a passage whose significance is difficult to understand, the legend refers to St Scipiodotum as “sicut eum B. Petrus Apostolus docuit” (he whom St Peter the Apostle taught).

Abbazia di San Crispolto

The Benedictine Abbazia di San Crispolto was built before 1018 on the presumed site of these burials, at Piana in Passaggio, some 3 km to the east of Colle on the old road from Assisi to Perugia.  It is likely that a monk from the abbey wrote the legend in order to explain its dedication.  The chronological impossibility of the events described in the legend casts doubt on its authenticity.

The abbey may have existed from an early date.  For example, according to Sigebert of Gembloux, in his ‘Vita Deoderici, Mettensis Episcopi’ (Life of Bishop Theodoric of Metz), while the Emperor Otto I hunted at a place called “Collis”, above the Tiber, on the 9th October, 970, representatives of Bishop Theoderic  (Bertraus, Rothardus and Heriwardus) found a marble sarcophagus in the ruins of what they described as a very ancient monastery.  They believed that it contained  the relics of a saint that they identified (presumably from an inscription) as “martyris egregii Asclepiotati” (the eminent martyr, Asclepiodotus).  Local people told them that the feast day of this saint was 24th October, but the ‘Episcopo de Sisa’ (Bishop of Assisi, to whom the place belonged) refused to give them the text of his legend.  They took these relics to Metz. 

In versions of the legends summarised above, “Crispoltus” is sometimes rendered as “Sclipiodoctus” or “Clippeodilus”.

Relics of St Crispoltus

In 1265, the Benedictines of the Abbazia di San Crispolto moved the relics of St Crispoltus to a new church  on this site within the city wall.  The sarcophagus that once held the relics of St Crispoltus survives under the altar of the crypt (which is now private property).

The Benedictines built a new church, San Crispolto to house them.  The canons of Santa Maria Maggiore, who owned the site, objected but Cardinal Giacomo Savelli (the future Pope Honorius IV) was able to negotiate a compromise, whereby the right of Santa Maria Maggiore as the parish church of Bettona were preserved and the donations received on the feast of St Crispoltus were shared between the two churches. 

More serious were the objections from Assisi, whose Franciscan bishop, Nicolò da Calvi had rights over the abbey, placed Bettona under interdict, and an invasion by Assisi seemed imminent.  Both sides appealed for aid to Perugia, and it was through the good offices of the Perugians and of Cardinal Giacomo Savelli, that a compromise was reached: the relics remained in San Crispolto, but the Benedictines transferred it to the Franciscans.  They subsequently extended the church and convent.

The Perugians, who sacked Bettona in 1352, stole the relics and kept them in the Duomo, Perugia.  Papal pressure finally secured their return in 1371.

In 1638, the remains of two bodies were found in an urn under the high altar of the church of San Crispolto.

The reliquary of St Crispoltus (18th century) is preserved in the left apsidal chapel of San Crispolto. 

Two inscriptions (1855)

  1. one over the entrance to Santa Maria Infraportas, Foligno; and

  2. a second over the entrance to the Cappella dell’ Assunta there;

claim that St Crispoltus, a disciple of St Peter and the first bishop of Foligno and Bettona, consecrated the church to the Virgin in 58 AD.

The feast of St Crispolto is still celebrated annually at Bettona.

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