Key to Umbria: Orvieto

San Lorenzo de' Arari (before 1291)

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The church is named for the Etruscan altar (arari) that supports the mensa (see below).  The earliest reference to a church with this dedication dates to 1028, when Bishop Sigifredo conceded it to the canons of San Costanzo. 

This original church was actually on the opposite side of Via Ghibellina.  However, in 1291, the Franciscans from the neighbouring San Francesco objected to the disturbance from its bells and insisted on its demolition.  The altar was moved to the present church, which was slightly further away from the Franciscans, and which was given the dedication of the old one.  (A common tradition has it that the present church was actually built in 1291 as a faithful replica of the old one, but this has been proved to be incorrect).

In 1625, when the Jesuits were called to Orvieto and given the church of SS Apostoli, the parishes of San Lorenzo and SS Apostoli were united.   From this point, the parish priest at San Lorenzo had responsibility for the cure of souls throughout the new parish.

The church passed to the Congregazione di Santa Maria della Mercede (Padri Mercedari) in 1715.  The fathers moved to Palazzo Buzi in the early 20th century.



The simple façade has a Renaissance portal (late 15th century) with a ruined fresco of the Madonna and Child and with saints (SS John the Evangelist and Laurence??) in the lunette.  



The interior was remodelled in the Baroque style in 1739.  Paolo Zampi carried out a complete restoration in 1900-5 in which he removed all trace of the Baroque and attempted to recreate the original appearance.  The surviving original frescoes were restored (and in some cases over-restored) at this point.



As mentioned above, an Etruscan altar supports the mensa.  The ciborium dates to the 12th century.

The fresco (late 13th century) in the apse, which depicts Christ enthroned with the Virgin and SS Laurence, John and Francis, was heavily repainted in the restoration of 1900-5.   

Scenes from the life of St Laurence (1330)


These frescoes are above the colonnade on the left.  An inscription gives the date of 1330, but they were effectively repainted perhaps a century later.   They should be read from right to left, and depict:

  1. St Laurence giving alms (not illustrated);

  2. St Laurence before the Emperor;

  3. St Laurence saving souls from limbo; and

  4. the martyrdom of St Laurence.

Frescoes on the columns (14th century)


The frescoes illustrated above depict:

  1. a bishop saint;

  2. St Michael;

  3. St Francis;

  4. St Laurence; and

  5. another bishop saint.

Nativity (14th century)

This damaged but still beautiful fresco is on the right wall.

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