Key to Umbria: Montefalco

Santa Maria della Selvetta, later San Rocco

(13th century)

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This church, which was originally known as Santa Maria della Selvetta, is in a locality that was known until relatively recently as Agelli.  The legend of St Fortunatus relates that he was buried in a field in a place called “Agellus”, and the rod that he had used to drive his oxen miraculously burst into leaf when it was stuck in the ground after his death (according to tradition in ca. 395).  The field in which this church stands is traditionally identified as this first burial site, albeit that the relics were apparently translated by the time that St Severus built the first church on the site of San Fortunato some 20 years later.

The locality of Agelli seems to have been used by hermits from an early date.  Local tradition asserts that St Francis established a Franciscan presence here in 1215.  This has been identified as the locum fratrum de Camiano” (place of the friars at Camiano) that was documented in 1242 as the first home of the Franciscans near Montefalco.  Indulgences were granted to those visiting it in 1257.  The Confraternita di Santa Maria di Laici, which was closely associated with the Franciscans, was also documented here at this time.

The Franciscans moved nearer to Montefalco ca. 1275 and ultimately moved to San Francesco.  A community of “frati della povera vita” (brothers of the poor life, followers of Angelo Clareno who were also known as fraticelli) was documented here in 1400, and they may well have grown up from a nucleus of brothers who had remained behind after their colleagues left the site.

In 1447, Pope Nicholas V allowed the Franciscan hermits, who had hitherto been living in scattered and largely independent friaries, to form the Third Order Regular of St Francis.  A year later, some 300 of them met at Santa Maria della Selvetta to hold their first General Chapter, at which Fr. Bartolomeo Bonamati of Perugia was elected the first Minister General.  Subsequent General Chapters were held here in 1451 and in 1475, and the site became known as the fraticelli’s Portiuncula.

In 1516, the fraticelli commissioned a panel depicting St Roch from Francesco Melanzio.  This panel has been lost, but it is commemorated in the new dedication of the church.  The Fraticelli moved Santa Maria della Selva Mattutina, some 10 km west of Montefalco, in 1526 and San Rocco passed to the diocese of Spoleto.

Bishop Francesco Eroli transferred the complex to a group of Poor Clares from Santa Caterina, Foligno in 1536.  They moved to San Clemente, inside the town walls, in 1577, at which point San Rocco was abandoned.  The church was partly restored in 1947.


The arch that initially led to an atrium was bricked up at an unknown date, forming the present facade.


Crucifixion (15th century)

This fresco fragment, which is attributed to Giovanni di Corraduccio da Foligno, is in the apse.

Frescoes (15th century)


These very damaged frescoes are on (respectively) the left and right walls.

Art from the Church

Christus Patiens (late 13th century)

This painted Crucifix, which was moved from Santa Maria della Selva Mattutina to the Pinacoteca in 1938, might have originally come from Santa Maria della Selvetta.  It is attributed to Rinaldo di Ranuccio of Spoleto, who is known from two signed Crucifixes, one of which is dated 1265.  It has been cut down, losing part of the central shaft and the terminal panels from the sides and the top.

St Roch (1516)

This documented altarpiece by Francesco Melanzio, which was painted at the time of the re-dedication of the church, was subsequently lost.

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