Key to Umbria: Spoleto

San Pietro and San Silvestro

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San Pietro (12th century)

This church is built into the lower slopes of Monteluco next to the site of a pre-Roman necropolis.  The necropolis was later used as a Christian cemetery, as is evidenced by a number of sarcophagi (6th century) found on the site.  A number of these are now in the Museo del Ducato di Spoleto (see below).

First Church

The circumstances in which the first church was built here in the 5th century are known from three original  inscriptions.  These no longer exist, but their content is known from copies (9th or 10th century) from the Abbey of Lorsch that are now in the Vatican Archives.  

  1. The first inscription is in the form of a Latin poem of 32 lines on two separate tablets.  It begins: “Achilleus, devoted bishop of Christ built a large edifice in honour of St Peter”.  This must have been Bishop Achilleus, who was documented in 419.  Carlo Carletti (see below) has summarised the theme of the remainder of the poem as “Magna Roma - Magna Petrus”, and pointed out that it drew heavily upon letters (422) in which Pope Boniface I set out the dogma of the Petrine succession. 

  2. The second, a poem of only four lines, refers to the prerogative of St Peter to melt the chains of evil.  

  3. The third seems to have been written after the death of Bishop Achilleus.  It recorded that he had built this church on the mountain above the road to Rome, that he had dedicated it to St Peter and that it contained a relic from the chains of St Peter.  This is the earliest surviving reference to this relic: it is generally assumed that Bishop Achilleus acquired filings from the chain when he was in Rome in 419.

San Pietro seems to have been used for the burial of Bishop Achilles and his successors. 

  1. An inscription [CIL XI 4972] that was found under the pavement of the apse in 1650 (but subsequently lost) belonged to Bishop Amasius, who died in 489 (the year of the Consul Petronius Probinus) aged 85, after having been bishop for 13 years.   Two sarcophagi that were found at the same time were re-discovered in 1952 and are now under the high altar (see below). 

  2. The monk John, who wrote the legend of St John of Spoleto (see below) in the reign of the Emperor Otto II (967-83), referred to the epitaph of Bishop Petrus (Peter) in the church.  According to local historians, he was bishop in the period 563-93.  If this is correct, he would have been the bishop who refused to provide  church for an Arian bishop after the Lombard invasion, causing him to attempt to take San Paolo inter Vineas by force. 

An architrave that seems to have formed part of the portico of the early church was discovered in the 1960s.  It contains an inscription (5th century) that refers to a construction project that was undertaken with the help of God.  It was later embedded in the wall of the adjacent church of San Silvestro and is now in Room 2 of the Museo del Ducato di Spoleto (see below).

San Pietro in Hagiographic Legend

  1. A version of the legend of St Laurence (BHL 4748d) places him among a large of Syrian immigrants who came to Italy in 283.  He succeeded an unnamed Bishop of Spoleto (perhaps St Brictius) who built San Pietro and had been buried here with an epitaph that identified his tomb.

  2. According to most versions of the Legend of the Twelve Syrians, St John, whom St Brictius had ordained as Bishop of Spoleto in ca. 360 built the church of San Pietro.  However, in the version devoted to St Herculanus (another of the twelve) St John merely decorated the church and built a staircase there.

Silvestro Nessi (see below) has suggested that the information regarding the predecessor of St Laurence had probably been taken from the epitaph of Bishop Achilles, whose name must have been illegible at that time.  If this is so, Achilleus, Laurence and John could have been successive Bishops of Spoleto.

The memory of Bishop Achilleus as the founder of San Pietro had certainly been lost by the 17th century.  The inscription from that period on the facade (above the main portal) reflects the hagiographical tradition: it asserts that St John, the successor of St Brictius, built the church; that it was the cathedral of Spoleto, and that many other bishops, including a later St John and SS Peter and Laurence were buried here.

Present Church

A college of canons existed at San Pietro by 1128.  It seems that Bishop Enrico Gualfriedi translated the relics of St John of Spoleto from Sant’ Eufemia to San Pietro in 1130.  The canons presumably built the present church, which seems to date to the 12th or early 13th century. 

The Ghibelline faction in Spoleto burned it down in 1329, although its splendid facade survived.  The subsequent work of restoration was protracted:  Pope Boniface IX offered indulgences for the reconstruction in 1393 but work was still in progress in 1404. 

The door in the wall to the right of the church leads to the Canonica. 

A number of interesting architectural fragments are embedded in it.

The path to the left runs along the side of the church and then behind its campanile and partially buried apse of San Pietro (illustrated) to the adjoining church of San Silvestro (see below).


The church has a nave and lower side aisles, with an octagonal dome over the crossing.  The interior was re-modelled in 1699. 

[Two ancient sarcophagi under the high altar were discovered under the pavement of the apse in 1650 and re-discovered in 1952].

The relics of St John of Spoleto were housed under the altar in the left transept until the recent restoration of the church, when they were moved to the high altar.

Madonna and Child with saints (14th century)

This marble relief of the Madonna and Child with SS Antony Abbot and Peter is on the 3rd altar on the left.

Font (1487)

The font, which stands by the side door, is the documented work of "Rosso da Firenze", who is thought to be Matteo Rosso Balsimelli da Settignano (who worked on the pavement of the Duomo at about this time).

Water stoups (15th century)

These two water stoups stand by the first pilasters in the nave.

Tabernacle (15th century)

[Where is this?].

Finds from the Church

The following finds from San Pietro are now in the Museo del Ducato di Spoleto:

Terracotta Sarcophagus (6th century)

This terracotta sarcophagus is among a number exhibited in Room 1 that came from the early Christian cemetery at San Pietro.

Architraves (mid 5th century)

These two architraves are in Room 2:

This inscribed architrave, which seems to have formed part of it portico of the first church of San Pietro, was discovered in the 1960s.   It contains an inscription (5th century) that refers to a construction project that was undertaken with the help of God.
This decorated architrave also came from the first church of San Pietro.  

Relief (8th century)

This decorative relief in Room 7 came from San Pietro.

San Silvestro (14th century)

This tiny church was restored in 1963.

Crucifixion (15th century)

This important fresco is on the altar wall.

For the construction of the first church, the bishops buried in it and the related hagiography, see the page on Early Christianity in Spoleto

The material above relating to Bishops Achilleus and the Petrine succession is
“ Magna Roma - Magna Petrus: l’ Inno a Roma di Achileo vescovo di Spoleto” 
by Carlo Carletti, in “Umbria Cristiana: Dalla Diffusione del Culto al Culto dei Santi”
Spoleto (2001) 

The material above relating to Bishops Achilleus, Laurence and John is taken from
“La Diocesi di Spoleto tra Tardoantico e Medioevo” by Silvestro Nessi
in “Umbria Cristiana” as above.

Proceed to the page on the facade of San Pietro. 

Return to Monuments of Spoleto.
Return to Walk IV.