Key to Umbria: Montefalco

History of Montefalco

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There is no evidence that Montefalco was inhabited before the Roman conquest. 


Montefalco was probably the site of a Roman pagus that was probably administered from nearby Mevania (Bevagna).  The local countryside was dotted with patrician villas.  Roman remains found in the area provided evidence of sophisticated culture in the area from at least the 1st century BC.

Latin Inscription (1st century BC)

This fragmentary inscription (AE 1965, 279a) was discovered in 1958 on a stone that was embedded near the font of San Bartolomeo, Montefalco: the reverse side had been carved in the Middle Ages with the Lamb of God.  It is now in the Museo Archeologico, Bevagna .  The fragmentary inscription reads:

[.... IIIIVIR(o) Q(uin)]Q[uennali] VIVIR (o) SACIR(is) [FAC(iundis) ......]

[...qu]AEST(ori) MARONI I[....]

[...] MVNICIP(es) ET INC(olae) [...]

It commemorates a person whose name was on the fragment that is missing from the top of the stone.  The rest of the inscription records:

  1. his tenure in two positions in a municipal magistracy, presumably that of Mevania (Bevagna):

  2. quattuorvir quinquennial;  and

  3. quaestor;

  4. his role as a sevir sacris faciundis, a member of the college of six priests that is known (from other inscriptions) to have existed in Mevania; and

  5. his position as a ‘marone’.

This is, in fact, the latest-known reference to the position of ‘marone’, which became obsolete in civic government after municipalisation in 90 BC.  It is possible that the name was used for a religious office thereafter and, in particular, in this example.

The third line presumably referred to the inhabitants of Mevania, including foreign residents (incolae).  It is likely that:

  1. they had dedicated something to the illustrious man named in the dedication; or

  2. he had undertaken a public commission for their benefit.

[A Roman inscription of gens Varia, which was found near San Fortunato, is now in the Museo Civico].

Early Christianity

The lack of urban development in the area in early Christian times is underlined by the fact that it was not the site of an early diocese. 

St Fortunatus, a farmer who became priest of the rural church of Santa Maria di Turrita, south of Montefalco in the 4th century, is credited with evangelising the country around Montefalco in the late 4th century.  According to tradition, he died in ca. 395 and was buried in a small field between Turrita and Montefalco that formed part of an estate known as the  “Fundus Varianus”.   This might be a place name derived from the gens Varia, which had owned property near San Fortunato (see the Roman inscription above).

A few years later, a Roman soldier, St Severus stopped at the site of St Fortunatus’ grave en route to Ravenna, where he faced trial and execution.  He promised to build the church on the spot if St Fortunatus would save him from execution.  He survived to keep his promise and built the first church on the site, which Bishop Spes of Spoleto consecrated (according to tradition, on 8th August 422).  The land on which the church was built, which later passed to the dukes of Spoleto, is now the site of the church of San Fortunato.  


A Lombard writer by the name of Audelaus wrote the biography of St Fortunatus in the 7th century, and his cult was popular throughout the Duchy of Spoleto from that time.  By this time, the land around San Fortunato had passed to the dukes of Spoleto: Duke Lupus of Spoleto issued diplomas in 749 and 750 from “curte nostra ad Varianum”.    

11th Century

By the early 11th century, the Roman pagus had become a walled town known as Castello di Coccorone.   San Fortunato became the parish church of a large rural parish that had grown up outside its walls.

In 1037, the Emperor Conrad claimed Coccorone as an imperial possession, and the Counts of Antignano and Coccorone occupied a palace [at the highest point of the town, which is today the site of the Palazzo Comunale]. 

12th Century

The Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa confirmed Monaldo VI as Count of Antignano and Coccorone in 1177, although he subjected the settlement to Foligno, one of the most powerful cities in the newly reconstituted Duchy of Spoleto.  Nevertheless, in ecclesiastical terms, Coccorone still formed part of the diocese of Spoleto. 

The first documentation of the existence of a commune at Coccorone dates to March 1180, when the “buoni uomini” of the town, five of whom were consuls and one a priest, submitted to the commune of Spoleto, albeit that it acknowledged its ultimate subservience to Frederick, his son Henry (the future Emperor Henry VI) and Conrad of Urslingen, Duke of Spoleto.  

Frederick I was too distracted in Lombardy to react immediately, but after the Peace of Constance (1183), Foligno secured imperial confirmation of its rights over Coccorone and Bevagna.  The Spoletans were sufficiently frightened by the fierce terms in which they were condemned in this document that they begged Conrad of Urslingen to intercede with the Emperor on their behalf.  It was during a short stay with Count Rainaldo at Coccorone in 1185 that Frederick formally forgave the Spoletans for their rebellion.

13th century

Coccorone probably remained subject to Foligno after the latter city submitted to Pope Innocent III

In 1204, a certain Andrea and his wife Casalina sold to Angolarlo, a judge at Coccorone, acquired a “petiam terre vincale in curtis castri Coronii, in loco qui dicitur Vagiano” (a piece of land in the Lombard castrum in the locality of Varianum (San Fortunto).

Diepold von Vohburg (whom the Emperor Otto IV had appointed Duke of Spoleto in defiance of Innocent III) seems to have taken the town under direct imperial control in 1210.  However, Diepold was a papal prisoner by 1214 and Otto’s ambitions were extinguished in that year.

Pope Honorius III confirmed Count Napoleone III in his possession of Coccorone with the towers and the castles of the territory in 1217. There are indications that he was becoming restive in 1219, probably at the instigation of the Emperor Frederick II, who confirmed him in his ownership of the fortress of Santa Maria de Laurentio, near Bevagna.  Napoleone III also took Marcellano near Todi in that year, while his kinsman Rodolfo became Podestà of Foligno.

In 1221, Egidio, the prior of Santa Maria di Turrita, acquired a vineyard in Fabbri, near Trevi: «terram et vineam existentem in vocabulo de Arsitali in territorio trebano».  A series of later documents reveal that the monastery was heavily involved in viniculture at this time. 

Given its subordination to Foligno, it was inevitable that Coccorone would declare for Frederick II in 1240, the year in which Foligno became his centre of operations, and that it would be among the towns and cities that sent representatives to the parliament that Frederick II summoned in the cathedral of San Feliciano there. Frederick II stayed in Coccorone on  9th-13th February, after he had left Foligno to march on Rome, and it was probably then that the town changed its name to Montefalco, in honour of a Frederick’s gift of falcons to Napoleone III.

In 1249, Bevagna and Montefalco rebelled against Foligno.  The imperial general Tommaso d’ Aquino, Conte di Acerra retook both cities and sacked them.

14th century

When Bentivenga da Gubbio, a Franciscan who had heretical views, tried to find converts among the nuns of Umbria in 1307, he made the mistake of trying to convert St Clare of Montefalco.  She appealed to Cardinal Napoleone Orsini (who was legate for Umbria, Spoleto, and the March of Ancona in 1306-9).  He arranged for his chaplain, Ubertino da Casale to mount a “sting” operation that produced the necessary evidence for the Inquisition, and Bentivenga was imprisoned for life.

When St Clare died in 1308, Bishop Pietro Paolo Trinci of Spoleto and Cardinals Giacomo Colonna and Napoleone Orsini initiated the process of canonisation under the direction of Berengar of Saint- Affrique, who submitted the findings of the process to the Curia in Avignon in 1315.   Witnesses were then formally interviewed at San Francesco, Montefalco in 1318-9 and their depositions were submitted to a panel of three cardinals: Napoleone Orsini, the Dominican Nicolò Albert da Prato and the Franciscan Vital du Four.  Their deliberations culminated in the “Relatio Trium Cardinalium”, which Cardinal Napoleone Orsini wrote in 1328-32.  However, the process was suspended in 1333.

In 1315, Montefalco belonged to the Guelf League: in 1322 it aided Perugia in its war with Spoleto.

During the papal exile at Avignon, Pope John XXII  chose Montefalco as the residence of the papal governor of Spoleto.  It remained so from 1320 until 1355.  Among the resident dukes was Jean d’ Amiel (1323-33), who built a new circuit of walls in 1328.  He also built a fortress on the site of its Lombard predecessor next to San Fortunato, which was known as the Rocca della Pieve.  The Sienese architect Lorenzo Maitani is usually associated with this work. 

In 1335, Montefalco briefly joined the Ghibelline rebellion led by Pier Saccone Tarlati di Pietramala.  The Franciscans, whose convent was outside the city walls, explained to Pope John XXII that the nearby gate had been closed for three months during this period, and sought his help in finding a site within the walls on which they could build a new church and convent.  The papal legate therefore arranged to purchase their old convent and to build a fortress there, which became known as Palazzo Nuovo: the Franciscans used the money that they received to build the present church and convent of San Francesco. 

In 1353, Montefalco was one of the few communities in Umbria that welcomed Cardinal Gil Albornoz, the legate who had been sent to regain papal control of the region.

Montefalco belonged to the Trinci in the period 1379-1424.

St Bridget of Sweden died in Rome in 1373, at the age of 71.  Her children took her body in stages back to Sweden.  When they arrived at Montefalco, the body was laid in San Francesco, and it was here that the first of the posthumous miracles of St Bridget was recorded: her children did not wished to speak to a hermit who had been among her devoted companions until her body rose from its bier and embraced him, signalling to her children to do the same.  Bishop Galardo of Spoleto initiated the process for her canonisation in the presence of Gomez Albornoz, the Rector of the Duchy of Spoleto and Corrado Trinci.  (Pope Boniface IX canonised her in 1391).

In 1386, Montefalco acclaimed Ugolino III Trinci as its lord and gonfalonier.  In 1392 Pope Boniface IX formally recognised the situation, and Montefalco remained under the Trinci family's control, until 1424. 

15th century

King Ladislas of Naples sacked Montefalco in 1414. 

Francesco Sforza liberated Montefalco from Trinci control in 1424.  The Commune took advantage of its new-found freedom by drafting the statutes that are still in existence.

In 1431, Eugene IV liberated Montefalco from the Trinci lords.

In 1434, Corrado XV Trinci attempted to regain possession of Montefalco.  His attack failed but he devastated the contado.

Nicolò Fortebracci took Montefalco in 1435.

The Trinci family regained Montefalco in 1438. 

In 1439, frightened by papal threats, the people of Montefalco gave the keys of the city to Cardinal Giovanni Vitelleschi, the legate of Pope Eugenius IV.  He established his headquarters there and proceeded to capture and kill the Trinci.  Both of the fortresses (Rocca della Pieve and Palazzo Nuovo) were destroyed.  Montefalco was now subject to direct papal control.

16th Century

In 1527, mercenaries known as the Black Bands, led by of Orazio Baglioni, sacked Montefalco, an event that marked the start of its decline.

Later History

In 1848, Pope Pius IX (formerly archbishop of Spoleto) transferred the castles of Fabbri, Fratta and San Luca from Trevi to Montefalco, which he created a city.

The process for the canonisation of St Clare of Montefalco, which was revived and then suspended in the 18th century, was finally completed in 1881.

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