Key to Umbria: Norcia

Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio (founded before 996)

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According to the Dialogues of Pope Gregory I, St Spes built at an oratory dedicated to the Virgin and an adjacent monastery (later the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio) a place called “Cample”, some six Roman miles from Norcia.  This was probably in ca. 470.  SS Eutychius and Florentius lived in a hermitage nearby.  When St Spes died, the monks persuaded St Eutychius to replace him, while St Florentius continued to live as a hermit. 

During restoration work carried out after the earthquake of 1997, some archeological evidence was found for a monastery here in the late 6th century.

[Adjacent hermitages discovered]

Benedictine Abbey

The complex later became a Benedictine abbey. 

Ageltrude, the widow of Duke Guy III of Spoleto, made a donation of land to the abbey in 907. In 996, the Emperor Otto III granted privileges to it and in 1027, Emperor Conrad II extended them. 

The abbey became one of the great landowners of the area.  It had an important scriptorium (lit by the bifore window in the illustration above).   The Confessio Eutiziana" (1095), a  formula of confession that was written here, is one of the oldest surviving texts written in the vernacular.  [Leggendari now in Rome.  Links with the Abbazia di Farfa]

It was also renowned for its medical studies, which underpinned the  "Scuola Chirurgica Preciana", a world famous school of surgery at nearby Preci that still survives. 

In 1190, Abbot Teodino I commissioned Maestro Pietro De Maria da Roma to rebuild the church.  In 1236, after the invasion of Norcia by soldiers of the Emperor Frederick II, Abbot Teodino II enlarged it and built the façade and its lovely rose window.  Popes Gregory IX and Innocent IV granted further privileges in the 13th century.  However, the rise of the communes in the surrounding towns led to an erosion of its properties, and the last of its lands passed to the commune of Norcia in 1259.   

14th Century

The period of the papal residence at Avignon proved a difficult one for the abbey.

In 1327, Pope John XXII approved the confiscation by Jean d’ Amiel, Rector of the Duchy of Spoleto of the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio, which was heavily fortified and thus provided him with a useful base.  Abbot Margarito travelled to Avignon and persuaded John XXII to reverse the decision, but the abbey remained in the control of the secular authorities until 1374, when Pope Gregory XI formally confirmed its independence.

San Benedetto di Norcia united with Sant’ Eutizio on a number of occasions in the 14th century, but this arrangement was usually short-lived.  Pope Grefory XI instituted the last of these unions in 1377 and Pope Boniface IX definitively overturned it in 1394.

In the 14th century, the floor of the presbytery was raised to make room in the crypt for the sarcophagi of SS Spes and Eutychius. 

15th Century

In 1449, Pope Nicholas V gave the abbey in commendum to Cardinal Domenico Capranica but he renounced his rights.  The abbey prospered under Abbot Epifanio 

The church was restored in 1487. 

Pope Pius V gave the abbey in commendum to Cardinal Marcantonio Maffei.  It passed successively to Monsignor Matteo Contarini ((1584-6) and then to Giacomo Crescenzi.

Abbot Giacomo Crescenzi

The Roman Giacomo Crescenzi (1570-1637), a member of the Oratorian congregation, held the abbey in commendam throughout the period 1586-1637.  He was close to  St Philip Neri,  who sometimes found peace at Sant’ Eutizio.   It seems likely that Giacomo Crescenzi was among those who promoted the canonisation of St Philip Neri: Father Bacci’s “Life of St Philip Neri” (1622), which was based on the documentation of the canonisation process, records that “Abbate Giacomo Crescenzi, who was suffering from weakness of stomach [was] instantly cured by the application of one of [St Philip Neri’s] skull-caps”.  In 1605, Abbot Giacomo Crescenzi donated some 35 illuminated codices from the library at Sant’ Eutizio to the Oratorian Fathers in Rome, and they were subsequently placed in the Vallicelliana Library in Rome.

An effort was made by the local clergy to restore Norcia to diocesan status and to appoint Giacomo Crescenzi as its bishop.  However, this was thwarted by the intransigence of clergy of Spoleto (the diocese to which Norcia belonged).



The facade of the church has a rose window surrounded by deep reliefs of the symbols of the Evangelists.

The bell tower stands on high on a rock above the attractive cloister.

[Museum in some rooms of the abbey.]



Giacomo Crescenzi re-modelled the interior of the church in line with the Council of Trent in 1594-1602.  Unfortunately, little of this work survived a restoration carried out in 1956, which aimed to restore the original appearance.  An inscription on the high altar read: IAC[OBUS] CRESC[ENTIUS] COM[ENDATARIUS] MDCII”.  A double staircase apparently lead down from the altar to the crypt, where Giacomo Crescenzi had placed the relics of [SS Eutychius, Florentius and Spes]  in 1594.

Giacomo Crescenzi built four side altars, dedicated to: St Urban; St Antony Abbot; St Florentius and the Madonna della Rosario.  The last of these was destroyed by a landslide in 1940 and the others were demolished in 1956.  The altarpieces from the high altar and from three of the side chapels survive (see below).

Crucifix (mid-15th century)

This painted Crucifix by Nicola di Ulisse is above the high altar.

Monument to SS Eutychius and Spes (1514)

This monument is attributed to Rocco di Tommaso da Vicenza.

Art from the Church

Sant’ Eutizio Polyptych (1472)

This polyptych by Nicola di Ulisse was moved to Spoleto for security in 1883 after the theft of Reliquary of St Eutychius (see below).  It is now in Room 14 of the Museo di Ducato di Spoleto. It was restored in 1920 and again in 1983.  

An inscription that was legible in the 16th century recorded the name of the artist and the date.  The central space, which is now empty, probably originally housed a statue (perhaps of the Madonna and Child or of St Eutychius).  The remaining figures depict:

  1. SS Placidus and Benedict on the left; and

  2. SS Spes and Florentius (with his bear) on the right.

Reliquary of St Eutychius (1544)

This gilded reliquary, which contained the hair shirt of St Eutychius, bears an inscription that records its commission by Abbot Giovanni Mensurati in 1544.

The reliquary was stolen from the Abbazia di Sant’ Eutizio outside Norcia in 1883.  It was subsequently recovered, minus the relic, and moved to Spoleto for security.

[Where is it now ??]

St Antony Abbot (1596)

This altarpiece (illustrated in the website of Arte Antica), which is signed by Giovanni Battista Crescenzi (the brother of Giacomo Crescenzi), was removed from the Altare di Sant’ Antonio in 1956.   It is now in the nearby church of San Giovanni Battista, Piedivalle.

Crucifixion with saints (1602)

This  altarpiece, which is attributed to Cristoforo Roncalli, was removed from the high altar in 1956.   It is now in the nearby church of San Giovanni Battista, Piedivalle.  It depicts the SS Spes and Eutychius.  Its recent restoration has revealed an inscription (which mirrored that on the altar itself) recording that Giacomo Crescenzi (a friend of Cristoforo Roncalli) commissioned it in 1602. 

Madonna of the Rosary (17th century)

This altarpiece was in the Cappella del Rosario until 1940, when the chapel was destroyed by a landslide.  Although Giacomo Crescenzi had built this chapel, he does not seem to have commissioned its altarpiece: the arms at the bottom are not his.

The panel depicts the Madonna and Child in glory, passing rosaries to SS Dominic and Catherine of Siena and [with a pope, a bishop and a number of Rosarians behind them].  It is now in the Museo Diocesano, Spoleto.

Read more:

P. Pirri, “L' Abbazia di Sant'Eutizio in Val Castoriana presso Norcia e le Chiese Dipendenti”, Rome (1960)

Return to Monuments of Norcia.