Key to Umbria: Gubbio

Relic of St John the Baptist

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St John the Baptist has been regarded as a patron saint of Gubbio since at least the 14th century.  At the heart of this cult is a relic of one of his fingers that is now in the sacristy of San Giovanni Battista.  There are at least two long-standing traditions regarding the provenance of this relic:

  1. According to the 14th century  “Gesta Eugubinorum” of Greffolino di Valeriano, Charlemagne stayed in Gubbio in 774 on his return from Rome to Francia.  He apparently received a rapturous welcome and reciprocated with gifts that included important relics of saints.  Records from the 16th century claim that these included a relic of a finger of St John the Baptist.

  2. Alternatively, other sources from the 16th century identify this relic with that of the finger with which St John the Baptist pointed to Christ.  According to the Golden Legend, this could not be burned when the Emperor Julian the Apostate exhumed the body from its grave in Palestine and burned it.  Some monks from Jerusalem recovered the relic and gave it to St Thecla, who took it to France, from whence it found its way to Gubbio.

  3. In his life of St Ubaldus (1914), Bishop Giovanni Battista Nasalli Rocca (see below) claimed that the relic had been a gift from the Emperor Frederick I to St Ubaldus.

The feasts of St John the Baptist (24th June) and St Ubaldus seem to have had equal importance in Gubbio throughout the 14th century.   Thereafter, the former became less important.  Nevertheless, the relic was taken in procession on this day from the Duomo to San Giovanni Battista until the 18th century.  The feast was reinstated in 1828, and San Giovanni Battista was declared the co-cathedral and its baptistery was remodelled in 1829. 

Relic and its Reliquary

The relic was apparently initially kept in the church of San Giovanni Battista.  When part of this church collapsed in 1263, it was first among the important items that were saved and moved to San Francesco

The relic was moved to the Duomo at an unknown time thereafter.  It was preserved there in a reliquary (1369) that was apparently signed by Andreas Stafilio da Norcia and dated by inscription.  It was documented in the sacristy of the Duomo in 1885, but replaced in 1913 (see below).  The fate of the 14th century reliquary is unknown.  It is however represented in a panel (1830) by Camilla Filicchi in San Giovanni Battista, which depicts St Ubaldus standing beside an altar on which the reliquary stands. 

An inscription on the present reliquary, which is in the sacristy of San Giovanni Battista, records its commission in 1913 by Bishop Giovanni Battista Nasalli Rocca and Federico Gambucci, provost of the Duomo.

Read more:

G. Sapori, “Sant’ Ubaldo e il Reliquiario di San Giovanni”, in

  1. S. Brufani and E, Menestò (Eds), “Nel Segno del Santo Protettore: Ubaldo Vescovo, Taumaturgo, Santo: Atti del Convegno Internazionale di Studi, Gubbio, 15-19 Dicembre 1986” (1990) Spoleto, reprinted 1992, pp 415-32

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