Key to Umbria: Norcia

History of Norcia

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Ancient History

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Early Christianity

Relatively little is known about the early Christians of Norcia.  According to the legend of St Felician, this bishop of Forum Flaminii (near Foligno) converted a group of Jews here to Christianity in the 3rd century.  He ordained one of them, Pisentius, ‘in basilica quae appellatur Argente’, later the cathedral of Santa Maria Argentea.

The first securely documented bishop of Norcia was Stephanus, who attended synods in Rome in 495 and 499. 


[St Benedict]


The diocese was subsumed into that of Spoleto in 570. 

The work of most priests in the region loyal to Rome was suppressed, but a priest from Norcia called Santolo (Sanctulus) so impressed the occupying authorities that they allowed him to continue his ministry in the city.  They also allowed him to make annual visits to Pope Gregory I in Rome until he died in 593.  Pope Gregory relates in the Dialogues how Santolo rebuilt the church of San Lorenzo after the Lombards had burned it, and how he persuaded them to release many of their Christian prisoners.

The Exarch managed to recover the city from Duke Ariulf of Spoleto in 598, but Ariulf's successor, Duke Theudelapius recovered it in 603.

A letter from Pope Gregory I in 603 asked Bishop Chrysanthus of Spoleto to discipline the priests of Norcia, which probably did not have a bishop at this time. 

Its diocese seems to have been absorbed by that of Spoleto in the late 6th century.

The diocese had regained its independence by 680, when a Bishop of Norcia accompanied the Bishop of Spoleto to a synod in Rome.

The city seems to have suffered again in 741 when Duke Transamund II recovered the Duchy of Spoleto from King Liutprand.


In 962, the Emperor Otto I donated Norcia to Pope John XII in return for his coronation in Rome. 

13th century

Consuls are mentioned at Norcia for the first time in 1201, when the city formally acknowledged its dependence on Spoleto.

The medieval walls of Norcia were built in the 13th century, largely on the foundations of their Roman predecessors. 

14th century

A violent earthquake in 1328 halted the expansion of Norcia, which subsequently suffered recurrent outbreaks of plague.

Once Cardinal Gil Albornoz had taken Spoleto in 1355, he easily reasserted papal control over Norcia.

15th century


16th century

After the sack of Rome in 1527, Sciarra Colonna tried to usurp power in Norcia. 

Papal authority was gradually reasserted, as symbolised by the construction of la Castellina (1554-63).  Pope Julius III commissioned Jacopo Barozzi, Vignola to build this fortress on the site of the old Palazzo del Podestà as a residence for the papal governor. 

Later History


The first Diocesan Seminary in Norcia was established in 1820, the year in which it was re-established as a diocese.

History:   Main page     Ancient History

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