Key to Umbria: Massa Martana

Early Christian Civitas Martana

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Early Christian Community

By the end of the 3rd century, a Christian community had begun to thrive at Vicus Martis, and this may well account for a change in its name to Civitas Martana.  

Two bishops who are recorded in the hagiographical sources are associated with this settlement:

  1. St Brictius, a leading figure in the Legend of the Twelve Syrians, died at a place variously denominated “Civitate Martulana”, “Martulana civitate” or “Martulae in Umbria”; and

  2. St Felix of Civitas Martana the only person to be identified as the bishop of a diocese of that name. 

According to his legend, St Felix was decapitated in the forum of Civitas Martana in the reign of the Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.  His followers recovered the body and buried it near a church that stood outside the settlement, presumably on the site of the present church of San Felice

There is no other evidence that Civitas Martana ever was a diocese.  However, Bishop John of Spoleto seems to have translated the relics of St Felix to San Felice di Giano in the 6th century, presumably when Civitas Martana was destroyed.   It may well have been that the settlement had been a diocese until that point, when the territory was split between the dioceses of Spoleto and Todi.

According to the legend of St Fortunatus of Montefalco, St Severus, a “magister militum” or military official of “civis Martanus” (Civitas Martana) built the church of San Fortunato, Montefalco (which, according to tradition, was consecrated on 8th August 422). 

Catacombs of San Faustino (in use in the 2nd-5th centuries)

The only Christian catacomb to be discovered in Umbria was excavated in 1940 at Villa San Faustino.  It contained some 300 graves from the 3rd and 4th centuries that must have served a Christian community of Civitas Martana.  These graves  are contained in about 25 meters of corridor some 4 meters high and 7 meters below ground level, laid out in a Greek cross.  The simplicity of the tombs and the absence of inscriptions is consistent with the use of the catacomb by local, rural people.

The catacomb was restored in 1997.  During this restoration, the remains of what seems to have been a small funerary basilica (4th or 5th century) were found outside the catacomb.  Its floor was occupied by a number of tombs, some of which were relatively sophisticated and probably belonged to some of the rich Romans who had rural villas nearby.

Read more: 
F. Bisconti, “La Scoperta di una Piccola Basilica Paleocristiana presso le Catacombe di Villa San Faustino a Massa Martana (Todi)”, Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana, 74 (1998) 27-62. 

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