Key to Umbria: Perugia

Santo Stefano del Castellare

(12th century: demolished 14th century)

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Pope Benedict XI conceding an Indulgence (1304)

in relation to Santo Stefano del Castellare

Miniature (1343) in ms. 975

Biblioteca Augusta

An ancient church stood outside the city walls on the site of what is now the transept of San Domenico.  The description "del Castellare" (and the name of nearby Via del Castellano) suggests that this site was once heavily fortified. 

In 1036, two imperial legates (Adalberto and Everardo) of the Emperor Conrad II arbitrated in a dispute between Bishop Andrea and the Archpriest Leone Bovo prior of the canons of San Lorenzo (see Palazzo dei Canonici).  The arbitration took place “erga ecclesia vocabulo Sancti Stefano” (near the church of Santo Stefano).  The church in question was probably Santo Stefano del Castellare, which was later documented as a parish church owned by the canons, which served the growing suburb outside Porta Marzia.

By the time that the first Dominicans arrived in Perugia in 1234, the clergy were finding it difficult to cope with their rapidly growing flock.  The friars effectively took over responsibility for the pastoral care of the parish and such was their success that Santo Stefano was soon too small for the congregation.  They therefore  built a new church (later known as San Domenico Vecchio) on nearby land.

Pope Benedict XI gave the formal ownership of Santo Stefano del Castellare to the Dominicans in 1304.  He also granted plenary indulgences to those celebrating Mass there on the feast of the discovery (in 415) in Jerusalem of the relics of St Stephen (August 3rd) - see the illustration above.   This would have attracted large numbers of pilgrims, many of whom would have come from Assisi, where the Portiuncula Indulgence was available on August 1st and 2nd.  (The Confraternita di San Domenico built the nearby Ospedale dei Pellegrini in 1333 to cater for the needs of the pilgrims visiting the church).  The veneration of St Stephen in Perugia pre-dated the granting of the indulgence: he was, for example, identified in the city statutes of 1279 (the earliest that survive) as the protector of the city from pestilence and hail, no doubt because he had been stoned to death.  Nevertheless, the indulgence must have boosted the popularity of his cult in the city.  

The Dominicans used the funds that flowed from the granting of the indulgence for the construction of the present church of San Domenico, which incorporated Santo Stefano del Castellare as its crossing.  Work on the new church started at its façade so that Santo Stefano del Castellare could remain in use for a while.  It was probably demolished shortly before 1368, the date of the earliest dated fresco in the apsidal chapels of the new church.