Key to Umbria: Spoleto

St Abbondanza (19th January)

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Fresco (ca. 1600) of St Abbondanza

Cappella degli Innocenti

San Gregorio Maggiore

Two saints of this name are associated with St Gregory of Spoleto:

  1. St Abbondanza (the widow), who recovered his body and arranged for its burial in 303 AD during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian; and

  2. St Abbondanza (the virgin), who built the first church of San Gregorio Maggiore on the site of his grave in ca. 840.

These two figures were often confused: for example, the lady in the fresco above is associated with both the recovery of the body of St Gregory and the building of the church.

St Abbondanza (the widow)

This saint is known only from the legend of St Gregory, although later tradition credits her with the burial of some 10,000 martyrs in the Christian cemetery on which San Gregorio Maggiore was built. 

St Abbondanza (the virgin)

Prior Decio Gelosi of San Gregorio Maggiore wrote an account of the life of St Abbondanza in ca. 1597.  The fresco cycle in the Cappella degli Innocenti (from which the illustration above is taken) seems to have been based on this account and was probably executed at this time.

According to this late tradition, the young Abbondanza went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with her mother.  They lived there as hermits but Abbondanza returned to Spoleto after her mother's death and became renowned for her visions and miracles.  After the death of her father, she paid for a church to be built in the Christian cemetery and gave the rest of her inheritance to the poor.

In 1842, the ashes of St Abbondanza were rediscovered in a chapel in the left aisle of San Gregorio Maggiore and transferred to a new altar on the right of the church.  Her presumed sarcophagus was moved to the crypt in 1854.