Key to Umbria: Città di Castello

Monastero di Santa Cecilia in Paradiso (1658)

and Monastero  di San Giuseppe

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Santa Cecilia in Paradiso 

Detail from the plan (ca. 1675) of Città di Castello

by Filippo Titi (Biblioteca Comunale “Giosue Carducci”)

This nunnery occupied most of the “island” bounded by:

  1. Via della Fraternita;

  2. Via dei Fucci;

  3. Via del Paradiso; and

  4. Via Sant’ Andrea. 

It was the result of the merger in 1658 of two nunneries of Franciscan tertiaries that had been formed in the early 15th century:

  1. the Monstero di Santa Cecilia [26]: and

  2. the adjacent Monastero del Paradiso [30].

Monstero di Santa Cecilia (1429)

In 1427, Pope Martin V gave permission to a group of pious women (including Margherita, Cassandra, Nicolosa and Marietta) to live as a community of Franciscan tertiaries in a nunnery in Città di Castello dedicated to St Cecilia.  They were allowed to elect a “ministra” and to appoint a confessor or chaplain.  The nunnery was given formal papal recognition two years later.  It seems to have based its form of life on that of the sisters of Sant’ Anna, Foligno, although there is no evidence that it was ever formally associated with this new nunnery in Foligno.  In 1443, the Commune exempted the sisters from taxes.

In 1533, the maximum number of sisters at Santa Cecilia was set at 37.  Following an apostolic visitation in 1571, Monsignor Paolo Maria della Rovere, Bishop of Cagli, imposed upon them the regime of “clausura” (enclosure).

Monastero del Paradiso (ca. 1435)

The nucleus of this second community of female Franciscan tertiaries was a group of some 40 women known as the “bizoche della Paola”, presumably because of the name of their leader.  In 1436, Pope Eugene IV instructed the papal governor of the city to protect “Paola del Paradiso di Città di Castello” from harassment by Carlo di Braccio Fortebracci.  Grants made to this community by the Commune are documented in 1447-8. 

In 1458, Bishop Ridolfo secured the approval of Pope Callistus III for an exchange of properties with the Fraternita della SS Trinità: the fraternity transferred to the sisters a church and other property that they owned adjacent to the nunnery and, in return, Bishop Ridolfo gave them the nearby church of Santa Maria del Vingone (1350) over which he had had commendatory rights [30].  The Commune gave the sister further adjacent property in 1471. In 1520, Pope Leo X transferred the good of the suppressed Monastero di Santa Maddalena [44] to the nuns of the Monastero del Paradiso.

Following an apostolic visitation in 1571, Monsignor Paolo Maria della Rovere, Bishop of Cagli, imposed upon them the regime of “clausura” (enclosure).

Monastero di Santa Cecilia in Paradiso (1658)

Attempts were made to unite the adjacent nunneries from at least 1477.  These finally came to fruition in 1658, under the auspices of the Observant Franciscans.  The nuns acquired further adjacent properties.  They also secured the closure of a small street that had separated the two nunneries and converted what had been a piazza into an extension of their garden. 



The original entrance to the nunnery in can be seen in Via Sant’ Andrea (between Via del Paradiso and Via della Fraternita), with a niche high up to the right of it that contains a modern fresco of St Clare. 


It seems that the nuns initially used the church of Santa Cecilia [26], which the plan (ca. 1675) of Filippo Titi shows across Via del Paradiso from the main body of the combined nunnery.   This church was subsequently demolished and the nuns built a new church with its entrance at number 3 Via della Fraternita.   An inscription on the exterior records the Monsignor Luigi Gherardi, Bishop of Cortona, consecrated it in 1746.  It was initially dedicated to St Cecilia but was rededicated as San Giuseppe after the nuns had absorbed those from the Monastero di San Giuseppe (below) in 1815.

The entrance at number 1 Via della Fraternita leads to the church that the Monastero del Paradiso had received from the Fraternita della SS Trinità in 1458. 

The closed window in the wall between these two portals was probably used for abandoned babies who were entrusted to the care of the nuns.  The aedicule above it probably contained a fresco.

Interior of the Church


The nuns’ choir is to the right of the high altar.

Adoration of the Magi (ca. 1520)

This glazed terracotta relief in the lunette above the nuns’ choir, which is attributed to Santi Buglioni, bears the arms of Pope Leo X.  It was first documented here in 1878.  Giuliana Rosini (referenced below, pp 116-22) proposes that it was moved here from the Convento di San Giovanni Battista after the latter was suppressed in 1861.

Nuns’ Parlour

As mentioned above, the entrance at number 1 Via della Fraternita leads to the church (1350) that the Monastero del Paradiso had received from the Fraternita della SS Trinità in 1458.  It was adapted for use as the nuns’ parlour in 1698.

Frescoes (15th century)


These frescoes, which were probably the work of a Sienese painter, were discovered in 1982-3, during work to open two doors in the parlour.  The identifiable scenes include:

  1. the Ascension of Christ;

  2. the Crucifixion; and

  3. three scenes at the lower left in the photograph to the right:

  4. St Antony Abbot enthroned,

  5. St Catherine of Alexandria; and

  6. the decapitation of a martyr.

Art from Santa Cecilia in Paradiso

Three works from the complex are now in the Pinacoteca Comunale:

Madonna and Child with angels (15th century)

This altarpiece, which is attributed to Neri di Bicci, was documented in the nunnery in 1868.  Its earlier provenance is unknown.

Coronation of the Virgin (15th century) 

This altarpiece, which is attributed to the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio, was documented in 1868 on the 1st altar on the left of the nuns’ church.  Its original location is unknown. 

The composition is based on the altarpiece (1486) of the Coronation of the Virgin that Ghirlandaio painted for the Observant Franciscans of the Convento di San Girolamo, Narni, but is not of comparable quality.

Santa Cecilia Altarpiece (1516-7)

This huge polyptych, which is attributed to Luca Signorelli and his workshop and dated on stylistic grounds, was recorded on the high altar of the original church of Santa Cecilia in 1627.  Agostino Tofanelli, the Director of the Musei Capitolini, Rome attempted to confiscate it in 1813, but it only made it as far as Perugia.  The plan was then aborted, possibly because of the size of the work, and it was returned to Città di Castello.  (The relevant research by Christina Galassi is referenced in the page on the artist).  It was documented on the high altar of the nuns’ present church in 1832.  It was transferred to the Pinacoteca Comunale in 1912. 

The frame no longer survives, and the surviving original components are displayed separately:

  1. The composition of the central panel is in three tiers:

  2. In the upper part, the enthroned Madonna and Child are flanked by:

  3. -SS Francis and Bonaventura, on the left; and

  4. -SS Louis of Toulouse and Antony of Padua, on the right. 

  5. SS Cecilia (whom Christ crowns) and Clare stand to the sides.

  6. SS Catherine of Alexandria and Elizabeth of Hungary kneel below. 

  7. All of the saints except SS Francis, Antony of Padua and Clare are richly dressed. 

  8. The surviving pilaster panels depict:

  9. St Bernardino of Siena;

  10. St Jerome;

  11. John the Baptist;

  12. St Lucy; and

  13. St Margaret of Antioch. 

  14. The sixth pilaster panel, which depicted St Michael, was stolen in 1986 and is replaced in the gallery by a monochrome copy.

  15. The surviving panels that derived from the originally single predella depict the martyrdoms of:

  16. St Cecilia;

  17. St Valerian (her fiancé); and

  18. St Tibertius (St Valerian’s brother). 

Monastero di San Giuseppe (1552-5)

This nunnery in Via Albizzini belonged to a community of female Franciscan tertiaries that was formed in 1552 by a widow named Elisabetta Fuccioli.  Bishop Filodori consecrated the nuns’ church of San Giuseppe in 1555.  Following an apostolic visitation in 1571, Monsignor Paolo Maria della Rovere, Bishop of Cagli, imposed upon them the regime of “clausura” (enclosure).

The complex was extended in 1627.  In 1673, the abbess Maria Florida commissioned a painting of the Martyrdom of St Faustinian (below) from her brother, Giovanni Ventura Borghesi.  [Francesco Caetani donated the relics of this saint to the church i 1685 ??]

This community was absorbed by the nuns of Santa Ceciliain Paradiso (above) in 1815.  Its ex-church now houses the “Galleria delle Arti” (at number 21a). 

Art from the Church

Martyrdom of St Faustinian (1673)

Giovanni Ventura Borghesi painted this altarpiece for his sister, Maria Florida, who was the abbess of San Giuseppe.  Agostino Tofanelli, the Director of the Musei Capitolini, Rome confiscated it in 1813, and it remains in the Pinacoteca Capitolina.

Read more:

G. Rosini, “Il Monastero di Santa Cecilia di Città di Castello”, (2006) Città di Castello

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