Key to Umbria: Perugia

Santa Croce (San Giuseppe)

(12th century)

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A hospice on this site “ante portam Sancti Petri” (outside Porta Marzia, the gate in the Etruscan walls that was then known as Porta San Pietro) was documented in 1145 in a privilege issued by Pope Eugenius III that listed all of the possessions of the Abbazia di San Pietro.  However, in the case of the hospice,  Eugenius III added the caveat “salvo jure dominici Sepulchri” (without prejudice to the rights of the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher).  

In ca. 1150, Eugenius III revoked this part of the privilege and recognised the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher as the rightful owners of the complex.  It seems that the privilege of 1145 had been based on an earlier privilege of Pope Callistus II (in ca. 1120) that was now judged to be a forgery.  Thus, the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher, who had presumably founded the hospice, succeeded in defeating the predations of the Abbazia di San Pietro.

The bull of ca. 1150 specified that the complex was not to be used by the local people, with the exception of those whose poverty led to their needing its services.  Only those who died here could be buried in its cemetery.  Its single priest accountable to the “magistri Sepulchri” was to officiate at its church.   

Canons of the Holy Sepulcher

Tradition has it that Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Christian King of Jerusalem, established this order in ca. 1099 as an "honour guard" for the Holy Sepulcher.  Whatever the precise truth of this claim, it is clear that the order was formed in Jerusalem at about this time and that it soon established itself across Europe.  Unlike the broadly contemporary Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller (Order of St John of Jerusalem), the Order of the Holy Sepulcher was probably not a military order.

The Canons of the Holy Sepulcher built a second church and hospice at San Luca in 1184.  Following the fall of Jerusalem in 1187, when the Order of the Holy Sepulcher became fragmented, the superior of San Luca took the title of "Master of the Holy Sepulcher”, a claim that gained acceptance in Italy, but not elsewhere.  In 1291, the church and adjacent Casa della Commenda became the headquarters of the order, and Santa Croce was presumably dependent upon it from at least this time.


This tripartite relief, which is now in the inner courtyard of the Palazzo dei Priori, contains:

  1. the arms and bishop's mitre of Fr. Bartolomeo di Cuzio;

  2. the double cross that records his position as prior of the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher; and

  3. an inscription that records a program of work that he commissioned in 1363, which probably involved the construction or renovation of the hospice at Santa Croce.

Order of the Hospital of St John

Pope Innocent VIII suppressed the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher in 1489, at which point both San Luca and Santa Croce passed to the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.  Their arms can be seen above the window on the wall of this complex in Corso Cavour.  

The Knights of Malta retained it until 1833, at which point the church took over what had been the parish of Santa Maria di Colle.   The complex then passed to the Corporazione dei Falegnami (Carpenters’ Guild), which moved here when the expansion of the Ospedale della Misericordia caused it to vacate the Chiesa di San Giuseppe in Via Oberdan.  The guild re-dedicated the church to its patron saint, St Joseph. 

The construction the  Tre Archi and the extension through it of Via Marconi in 1857 radically changed the complex:
  1. the hospice was demolished;

  2. Via Marconi tore through the inner courtyard, leaving two colonnades (one of which is illustrated here) behind; and

  3. the portal of the church, which was originally in Corso Cavour, was moved to the present location in Via Marconi.   (Traces of the original portal can be seen in what is now the side wall, in Corso Cavour.)

Interior of the Church

Madonna della Misericordia (15th century)

This detached and much repainted fresco from a lunette is now on the left wall.  Some authorities suggest that it was commissioned during the plague of 1429: others attribute it to Mariano d’ Antonio and/or Benedetto Bonfigli, which would suggest a date closer to the 1450s. 

The fresco depicts the Virgin shielding the people of Perugia under her cloak, with St Sebastian on the left and an angel holding the sword of faith on the right, [while God the Father fulminates above].  Inscriptions in poetic Italian document an exchange between the Virgin and St Sebastian.

Madonna and Child with Saints (16th century)

This fresco in the niche on the right depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned with SS [which ones?] and Bernardino.   Christ the Redeemer is depicted above, with SS [which ones] to the sides.

Monument to Raffaele de’ Pazzi (1608)

This monument to the Commendatory (prior) of the Knights of Malta is on the counter-façade. [Is this a member of the Florentine family ?]

Madonna and Child with saints (17th century)

The Collegio di Pietra e Legname commissioned this panel for their church of San Claudio.  It is attributed to Giovanni Antonio Scaramuccia, who enrolled in this college in 1614.  It depicts the Madonna and Child with SS Joseph and Claudius.  When San Claudio was demolished in 1798, following the suppression of the Collegio di Pietra e Legname, the panel passed to the the Corporazione dei Falegnami, in San Giuseppe.  They took it to Santa Croce when they moved there in 1833, and it is now on the left wall of the church.  

Read more:

The material on the history of the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher is taken from the website of Guy Stair Sainty.

The dispute in 1120-50 with the Abbazia di San Pietro is documented in:

  1. M. Bellucci, “Rapporti nel XII Secolo fra l’ Abbazia di San Pietro in Perugia e l’ Ospedale di Porta San Pietro o del Santo Sepolcro”, Bollettino della Deputazione di Storia Patria per l' Umbria, 64:2 (1967) 69-73

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