Key to Umbria: Città di Castello

Abbazia di San Salvatore di Monte Acuto

(11th century)

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Early History

According to tradition, St Romuald founded a monastery here in ca. 1008. 

In his adjudication in 1036 of a dispute between Abbot Bonizone of Abbazia di San Pietro, Perugia and the city’s bishop,  Andrea, Pope Benedict IX pointed out that Bishop Andrea had already assured him privately of the independence of San Pietro and that of two other monasteries, San Salvatore and Santa Maria di Valdiponte, and he asked him to renew this promise in public.

St Peter Damian, prior of the Eremo di Fonte Avellana, mentioned in a letter that he had governed San Salvatore for a period, during which time he reformed what had been a fractious community: this probably occurred in ca. 1050.  In a (probably) later letter of 1069, he mentions that the monks here had borrowed a book from Fonte Avellana so that it could be copied.  According to tradition, St John of Lodi, bishop of Gubbio and formerly the successor of St Peter Damian as prior of Fonte Avellana, consecrated the church in 1105.  All this suggests a link with Fonte Avellana and thus a pro-papal stance during the Investiture Crisis.  Local tradition also enumerates a series of later papal privileges: the only surviving documentation is for that of Pope Eugenius III in 1145, which confirms the abbey’s possession of an extensive patrimony. 

The earliest imperial interest in the abbey probably dates to 1186, when the Emperor Henry IV recognised the government of the consuls of Perugia: the associated recognition of its possession of its contado made a small number of exclusions, and these included the abbey’s lands.   The Emperor Henry VI seems to have confirmed the abbey’s privileges some ten years later and to have designated it as an imperial possession.

The abbey sent a representative to a council that Pope Innocent III convened in Perugia in 1203 to discuss monastic reform.  However, as tensions between Innocent III and the Holy Roman Empire intensified, San Salvatore seems to have taken the imperial side.  In 1210, the newly crowned and newly rebellious Emperor Otto IV recognised and significantly extended its possessions, rights and exemptions.  When Otto’s rival was crowned as the Emperor Frederick II in 1220, the abbey sought and received his confirmation of its imperial status.

Cistercian Abbey to Camaldolesian Hermitage

In 1234, while Frederick II was distracted by rebellion in Germany and temporarily at peace with Pope Gregory IX, the latter (who was resident at this time in Perugia) transferred San Salvatore to the Cistercian Order.  His overt purpose was to effect its reform.  However, his motives must also have included the political need to remove imperial control of its strategic territory, given the likelihood of renewed hostilities. 

  1. The Cistercian nunnery of Santa Giuliana, Perugia was almost certainly established at this time for the wives and other female relatives of a number of men from Perugia who had joined the newly reformed community at San Salvatore. 

  2. The church of San Fiorenzo, Perugia, which was documented among the possessions of the abbey from 1059 and which probably acted as its outpost in Perugia, followed it into the Cistercian Order in 1234. 

In 1393, Pope Boniface IX recognised the quasi-Cistercian Congregation of Corpus Christi, moved its headquarters to Santa Maria in Campis, Foligno, and gave the Abbazia di San Salvatore jurisdiction over it.  This congregation, which  had been initiated at Gualdo Tadino in 1328 under the auspices of Bishop Andrea Vincioli of Nocera Umbra, had a particular veneration for the Eucharistic blood of Christ.  A small group of mostly Umbrian monasteries joined the congregation.  San Fiorenzo had by this time passed in commendam to Cardinal Enrico Minutoli.  However, when the monastery at Bosco di Bacco, outside Perugia, which belonged to the new congregation, was forced to close, Cardinal Minutoli gave San Fiorenzo to them.   Thus it returned to the jurisdiction of San Salvatore,  However, the cohesion of the congregation was not particularly strong, and Santa Maria in Campis and San Fiorenzo transferred to the jurisdiction of the Cistercian Abbazia di San Galgano in 1395. 

In ca. 1450, Pope Eugenius IV included San Salvatore among the nine abbeys (mostly in Tuscany and the Veneto) that he wished to unite in a reformed Camaldolesian congregation.  However, this initiative came to nothing. 

In 1452, Pope Nicholas V passed it in commendam to the protonotary apostolic, Galeotto degli Oddi.  When Galeotto died in 1474, the abbey passed to his nephew, Bertoldo di Leone degli Oddi.  In 1488, after the Baglioni family had driven the Oddi from Perugia itself, they attacked the abbey and caused catastrophic damage.  Gentile di Guido Baglioni took possession of it in 1489.  An attempt on the part of Bertoldo di Leone degli Oddi and his allies to retake Perugia in 1491 ended in betrayal and execution.  Pope Innocent VIII passed the abbey to Troilo di Ridolfo Baglioni, who held it until his death in 1506.

Cardinal Gabriele de' Gabrielli held the abbey from this point until his death in 1511, when it passed to his nephew, Galeazzo Gabrielli.   In 1524, Galeazzo joined the reformed Camaldolesian congregation (see below), taking the name Pietro da Fano

The church of Santa Maria di Monterone, outside Perugia, which had belonged to San Salvatore since at least 1145, was transferred by Pope Hadrian VI to the Servites in 1523. 

Camaldolesian Hermitage

The Venetian Paolo Giustiniani had formed this reformed Camaldolesian congregation in shortly before he met Pietro da Fano in Gubbio in 1524.  His aim was to restore the eremitical monasticism of St Romuald, the founder of the Order.  His effort to bring the Eremo di Fonte Avellana into his congregation failed.  However, Pietro da Fano brought to the congregation the abbeys that he held in commendam, San Benedetto, Ancona and San Salvatore di Monte Acuto.  The two men travelled to Rome in 1527 to obtain papal confirmation, but were caught up in the sack of Rome.  Paolo Giustiniani returned in 1528 and secured the agreement of Pope Clement VII, who was still imprisoned in the Castel Sant’ Angelo.  Shortly thereafter, Paolo Giustiniani died.  Peter of Fano became the 4th Minister General of the congregation in 1532 and Pope Paul III reconfirmed its possessions in 1534.

At a general Chapter held in 1530, the monks decided to establish their headquarters at a new hermitage that would be built next to the Oratorio di San Savino, above San Salvatore, which changed its name to the Abbazia di Monte Corona.  A road (the so-called “Mattonata”) was built to connect them, forming a single, extended complex:

  1. the abbey was open to the public and housed a hospice and pharmacy; while

  2. the monks used the more solitary space offered by the new hermitage.

Pope Paul IV granted a subsidy towards the construction of the complex in 1553, and the work was completed two years later.  

A number of attempts were made to unite the Camaldolese Order until 1667, when Pope Clement IX confirmed the independent existence of the Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona.

Later History

The abbey was suppressed in 1812-4 and again, this time definitively, 1860.  Count Filippo Marignoli bought the property in 1871.  His heirs sold it to a bank in  1935 and the tenor Beniamino Gigli bought it in 1938: his statue stands outside the church. 

The complex was “liberated” by Allied forces in 1944 and subsequently abandoned. 

A group of mystics established the Sadhana Ashram di Monte Corona in the hermitage in 1977-80.  A community of nuns, the Piccole Sorelle di Betlemme, bought it in 1981, and it became known as the Monastero di Betlemme Nostra Signora di Monte Corona. The complex passed to a male community of the same order in 1990, and is not normally open to the public.

[Details of the hermitage]


The defensive tower to the left of the facade has three phases:

  1. a romanesque circular base;

  2. a middle 11-sided section that probably dates to the 14th century; and

  3. an octagonal upper section that was built in ca. 1756.

Interior of the Church

The steps in the nave divide the church into two parts:

  1. the original nave, polygonal apse and two apsidal chapels, which was built over the crypt (below); and

  2. the extension to the nave, which was added in the 16th century, after the establishment of the Eremo di Montecorona.

[The top of the original altar is in the left aisle ??]

Ciborium (8th century)

The ciborium was brought here from San Giuliano delle Pignatte in 1959.

Frescoes (late 13th century)

The frescoes on the arch of the apse depict the figures of the Annunciation, to the sides, and representations of the Evangelists and other saints in the “chain” of quadrilobes between them.  There is a close similarity between this arrangement and that of the frescoes on the arch of the apse of the Cistercian nunnery of Santa Giuliana, Perugia (which, as noted above, had close links to San Salvatore in the 13th century).  Mirko Santanicchia (referenced below) suggests that the frescoes at Santa Giuliana date to ca. 1295, and that the same artists then executed those at San Salvatore.

Madonna and Child with Saints (1577)

This altarpiece on the right wall, which is dated by inscription, is attributed to Nicolò Circignani.   It probably came from the parish church of Romeggio, which belonged to the abbey.  It depicts the Madonna and Child, seated on a cloud, with St Peter and a papal saint to the sides.

St Charles Borromeo (early 17th century) 

This panel in the Cappella delle Reliquie (on the left in the lower part of the nave) has recently been attributed to Avanzino Nucci.  It depicts St Charles Borromeo kneeling in prayer at an altar.

Frescoes (early 17th century) 

These frescoes in the Cappella della Vergine (on the right in the lower part of the nave) depict:

  1. Christ enthroned, who gives a rosary to St Romuald; and

  2. the Annunciation.

Art from the Church

Transfiguration with Saints (1578)

This altarpiece in Santa Maria della Reggia, Umbertide, which is signed by Nicolò Circignani and dated by inscription, was removed from the church in the 19th century.   The transfigured Christ is depicted with Moses and Elijah, while SS Peter, James and John below awake to see the miracle.  Two putti below them hold the Eucharistic bread and wine.  Two of the four saints to the sides can be identified:
  1. St Benedict, who reads from the Rule that he devised for his Order; and

  2. St Romuald, who holds a model of the complex on Monte Corona.


The crypt is split into five aisles by a number of unmatched columns that support the vaults.

[Madonna and Doctors of the Church (1549)]

Read more:

N. d’ Acunto and M. Santanicchia (Eds), “L’ Abbazia di San Salvatore di Monte Acuto-Montecorona nei Secoli XI-XVIII: Storia e Arte”, (2011) Perugia

The article by Mirko Santanicchia mentioned above is in this volume:

M. Santanicchia, “Gli Affreschi dell' Abbazia di San Salvatore di Monte Acuto: Riverberi Giotteschi sulla Pittura Perugina tra fine Duecento e inizio Trecento”, pp 201-18

There is more information in Bill Thayer’s website.

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