Key to Umbria: Foligno

The church is locked.

This sanctuary, which is carved out of the rock, is dedicated to St Mary Jacobi, or Mary the mother of James,  who accompanied St Mary Magdalene to the tomb of Christ, carrying spices "so that they might ... anoint Him" (Mark 16:1).   According to a Medieval tradition, she had later traveled with St Mary Magdalene to Provence.  Local legend says that she found her way to a grotto here where she lived in penance.  She allegedly left hand and heel marks in the rock at the beginning of the path that leads here from Pale.   

The shrine was first documented in 1296.  It is still the object of processions on the saint's feast day (April 25th) and on Ascension Day, [and the dead of Pale are buried under a rock at the entrance of the sanctuary's sacred area]. 

Interior of the Church

The sanctuary has a barrel vault.  The back wall and the vaults were frescoed without plastering; the present altar wall was built across the space in the 17th century. 

An inscription near the entrance records a restoration in 1712.

Altar Wall

Christ blessing (13th century)

This fresco is painted on the bare rock of the vault, above the altar. 

SS Mary Jacobi and Luke (13th century)

These frescoes, which are probably the oldest in the sanctuary, are painted on the bare rock behind the altar wall.  St Mary Jacobi is pictured holding a vase that contained the spices with which she intended to anoint the dead Christ.

Maestà with angels (early 14th century)

This fresco is also painted on the bare rock behind the altar wall (in the corner to the right, not visible from in front of the altar). 

Frescoes on the altar wall (17th century) 

These depict: 

  1. SS Charles Borromeo and Mary Magdalene (on the left); and 

  2. SS Antony of Padua and Messalina (on the right).

Left Wall


Frescoes  (14th century)

These include:

  1. Madonna and Child

  2. This fresco depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned, with a fragment of what was probably a figure of St Mary Magdalene in the desert, clothed in only her hair, above.

  3. Madonna and Child with saints 

  4. This fresco depicts the Madonna and Child with SS Mary Magdalene and Mary Jacobi, with St Bernard (in a white habit) to the right.

  5. Madonna della Cintura 

  6. This fresco fragment is perhaps the oldest of those on the left wall.

Santo Volto (late 14th century)


This fresco depicts Christ with outstretched arms, an iconography similar to the Santo Volto of Lucca.  He is depicted with His feet in chalices that seem to represent the Holy Grail. 

Dormition and Coronation of the Virgin (1391) 

This fresco, which is dated by inscription, is attributed to the Maestro dell’ Abside Destra di San Francesco di Montefalco. If this attribution is correct, it is the only dated work by this important artist that survives.  It is therefore of great value in dating his other works and might, in time, provide a clue to his identity. 

Right Wall

Votive frescoes (14th century)

These frescoes depict:

  1. St George (ruined);

  2. a bishop saint; and

  3. the risen Christ.

Nativity (late 14th century) 


This large fresco, which is badly damaged, contains:

  1. a fragment of the figure of Joseph on the left;

  2. a figure of a woman, perhaps St Mary Jacobi, who genuflects to the Virgin while placing the baby Jesus in a cradle that is in the shape of a chalice (perhaps the Holy Grail), which is also enlarged here; and

  3. a lovely scene of the shepherds and their flock on the right.


Frescoes (14th century) 

These depict:
  1. St Christopher (above); partly covered by

  2. St Sebastian with donors and a female saint; and

  3. another female saint to the left. 

Works from the Church

The following are now in the Museo Diocesano:

St Mary Jacobi (1507)

This votive panel from the oratory is signed by Lattanzio di Nicolò and dated.  It was stolen in 1964 but recovered soon afterwards.  The panel depicts the standing figure of St Mary, the mother of James, carrying the vase that contained the spices with which she had intended to embalm the body of the crucified Christ.  She also carries a gospel, and there is an apparently discarded page from it on the floor to the left.

Madonna and Child enthroned (early 14th century)

This polychrome wooden statue came from a tabernacle in the oratory of Santa Maria Giacobbe, Pale that was decorated with small panels depicting scenes from the life of Christ.  The statue and the tabernacle were stolen and subsequently recovered on a number of occasions: however some of the panels stolen on the most recent occasion have yet to be recovered.  

There were originally sixteen panels depicting eight scenes.  Those recovered are:

  1. the right panel from the “nole me tangere”;

  2. the left panel from the agony in the garden;

  3. the right panel from the presentation of Jesus at the Temple; and

  4. the pair of panels depicting the capture of Christ. 



                                                        Kitchen                                             Dormitory,

The hermitage, which is below and to the left of the church, was occupied until 1950, when the last inhabitant, Brother Luigi Flamini left.  Until that time, he heard Mass in Pale each week before begging for food.  He then carried up everything he needed (including drinking water) to supplement what he could grow in the small garden in front of the hermitage. 

The dormitory now used to house votive offerings left by the faithful.  Many of these are pictures of men fighting in various wars, accompanied by prayers for their safe return.

Return to the page on Monuments of Foligno.

Return to “Around Foligno”.


Santa Maria Giacobbe (13th century)

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