Key to Umbria: Spoleto

San Gregorio Maggiore (1079-1146)

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San Gregorio Maggiore:    Home    Exterior    Interior    Crypt

Early Christian Cemetery

This church, which is dedicated to St Gregory of Spoleto, is given the title “Maggiore” to distinguish it from two others in the city that are also dedicated to him.  After his death in 303 AD, St Abbondanza (the widow) buried him outside the city walls, near a bridge called "Sanguinarius".  This was almost certainly an early Christian cemetery on the site of the present church, near Ponte Sanguinario (see Walk II).  (For the historical background, see the page on Early Christianity in Spoleto).

Further evidence of the existence of the cemetery is a funerary inscription that was once in the crypt of the present church, which Cyriacus of Ancona transcribed in the 15th century [CIL XI 4975].   This recorded the grave of a lady called Picentiae, a new convert whom Pope Liberius (352 – 66) had christened.  Two other funerary inscriptions (6th century) from the site survive in the present church (see the page on the interior).

Earlier Church

According to local tradition, St Abbondanza (the virgin) built a church in the cemetery in ca. 840.  The sculpted relief (8th 0r 9th century) that has been re-used as the architrave of the left entrance to the church (see the page on the exterior) may well have come from this building.  [Capitals and columns (6th century) in the crypt suggest that there were already other public buildings, probably oratories, nearby.] 

Relics of St Gregory were taken from this church on perhaps occasions in the 10th century:

  1. In 951, Bruno of Cologne, the brother of the future Emperor Otto I, took some of them to Cologne.  A bust reliquary (16th century) survives in the treasury of Cologne Cathedral.  (A relic of St Pantaleon that he might have given in return was found in ca. 1597.  It is now in a reliquary bust of the saint in the Museo Diocesano.)

  2. In 970, a representative of Bishop Theoderic (Dietrich) I of Metz took what he believed to be the relics of St Gregory (although he found them in San Sabino)  to Metz.  

  3. Bishop Olderico of Cremona (973-1004) took some of the them to Cremona. 

Present Church

Two inscriptions on the left wall (see the page on the interior) set out the history of the construction of the present church:

  1. The first records that construction began in in 1079. 

  2. The second records that it was consecrated in 1146 as "Sanctorum Martirum  Gregorii et Paractalis", at which point its construction was presumably complete.  (The dedication refers to SS Gregory and Baractalis).

The church does not seem to have been damaged during the sack of Spoleto in 1155, although the Emperor Frederick I seems to have seized further relics of St Gregory and sent them to Cologne.

A resurgence of the fortunes of Spoleto probably began in 1177, when Pope Alexander III consecrated Bishop Transarico after negotiating peace with the Emperor Frederick I.  Transarico seems to have moved to San Gregorio for a short time so that old Palazzo Vescovile could be demolished to make way for the rebuilding of the Duomo.  A donation that he made in 1178 to the canons of San Gregorio constitutes the earliest surviving documentation of:

  1. a community of canons here, although it may well have been formed in ca. 1067, the date at which Bishop Andrea established or reformed the canonical community at the Duomo; and

  2. an adjacent hospice, which probably stood to the left of the church.

The canons' rapport with the bishops of Spoleto did not persist into the following century:

  1. In ca. 1200, Pope Innocent III intervened on behalf of the canons in a dispute with Bishop Benedetto.

  2. In 1254, in the document by which Bishop Bartolomeo Accoramboni established the nearby Ospedale della Stella (see Santa Maria della Stella), he criticised the canons for their dereliction in allowing their old hospice to fall into dilapidation.  He prohibited them from interfering in the new foundation, although in fact there were later close links between the canons and the hospice.

The canons sold the church of San Massimo and other houses nearby to the Augustinians in ca. 1300 so that they could build what is now San Nicolò.

Relics that were believed to be those of St Gregory of Spoleto were apparently discovered in San Gregorio Maggiore in 1388.

The church was remodelled on a number of occasions, most notably in the 18th century when the walls were covered in stucco decoration.  The facade was returned to something like its original appearance in 1907 and the interior in 1947-50.

Proceed to pages on: the exterior; the interior; and the crypt.

Return to Monuments of Spoleto.

Return to Walk III.