Key to Umbria: Todi

St Philip Benizi (23rd August)

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Detail of a fresco (1346) by Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio

San Francesco al Borgo, Todi

An entry in the Roman Martyrology under 22nd August  reads: “At Todi in Umbria, the birthday of St Philip Benizi, confessor, of Florence.  He was a zealous promoter of the Order of the Servants of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was a man of great humility.  He was canonised by Pope Clement X; his feast, however, is observed on the day following”.

St Philip Benizi was born in Florence in 1233, on the very day upon which the Virgin appeared to the seven founders of the Servite Order.  It was perhaps inevitable that he would join the Servite Order.  Despite his humility, he became its General Superior in 1267.  He was instrumental in saving his order from suppression after the Council of Lyons acted to reduce the proliferation of new orders in 1274.

He established the Servite convent of San Marco al Borgo (later San Francesco al Borgo), Todi in 1282 and died there in 1285. 

Servites from Florence visited San Marco soon afterwards and organised a banquet, which provided a distraction while some of them tried to steal the relics.  However, the bells began to ring and children ran into the room shouting “Filippo va via” (Philip goes there).  Thus the plot was thwarted.  

One of St Philip’s converts, Pietro da Todi, was General of the Order in the period 1314-44 and one of the early biographers of the saint and the Order.  He arranged for the relics to be translated from their original grave to the Cappella di San Giuseppe in 1317.  They were translated to the high altar in 1579.

The Servites of Todi moved from San Marco to what was the the church of SS Giovanni e Rocco, Todi in 1590.  Bishop Angelo Cesi translated the relics of St Philip Benizi from San Marco to the high altar of this church in 1599 and re-dedicated as San Filippo Benizi.  (This was somewhat premature, since St Philip was not canonised until 1671 - see below.)   His relics remain in the church.


In 1671, St Philip Benizi became the first Servite to be canonised.  There had, in fact, been a number of campaigns to secure this canonisation since the 14th century, promoted by the Servites and by the civic authorities of Todi and Florence.  The pressure intensified in the 17th century, when it was promoted by a series of Holy Roman Emperors and Grand Dukes of Tuscany.  The efforts of the Emperor Leopold I and Grand Duke Cosimo III de Medici finally succeeded under Pope Clement X.

An inscription in the cloister of the Servite convent of Santa Maria Nuova, Perugia records the canonisation and the role played by its most important advocates..

Bishop Ludovico Giustiniani of Assisi, who belonged to the Servite Order, gave a relic of St Philip Benizi to San Rufino, Assisi in 1672

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