Key to Umbria: Terni

Santa Maria dell’ Oro (1441-58)

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In 1434, St Bernardino of Siena secured the approval of Pope Eugenius IV for the establishment of nine new Observant Franciscan convents, among which was Santa Maria dell’ Oro.  He had probably selected this site above Terni during his documented visit to the city in 1426.  [Was this the site of a hermitage that had been established a century earlier by Blessed Paolo Trinci?]

Bishop Ludovico Mazzancolli supported the project, but it took some time to secure the necessary financial support from the Commune, so the foundation stone of the new church was not laid until 1441.  Tradition has it that St Bernardino stayed in the new convent in 1444, en route for l’ Aquila, where he died. 

In 1471, Brother Fortunato Coppoli obtained permission from Pope Sixtus IV to establish a second Observant Franciscan convent in Terni, Santa Maria delle Grazie, because Santa Maria dell’ Oro was already too small and in poor repair.  The two convents subsequently maintained a close association.  

The original church was in the form of a single nave terminating in a shallow apse.  Its facade was moved forward by a bay and its apse was replaced by the present larger structure in ca. 1680.  Bishop Sperello Sperelli then re-consecrated the church in 1684.

Santa Maria dell’ Oro was suppressed briefly in 1797 and again in 1812, when the architect Pier Gaetano Possenti took possession of it until the friars were able to return in 1816.  It was suppressed again, this time definitively, in 1860. 

In 1862 a community of Poor Clares from the Monastero dell' Annunziata and the Monastero di San Procolo (see Franciscan Nunneries) moved here and stayed until 1895.

The church became a parish church in 1910.  It was restored in 2000 and elevated to the status of a basilica in 2005. 

The convent was used as a school until 1927, when it was adapted as an old people’s home.  It is now abandoned and in ruins.


Until the remodelling of ca. 1680, the small altarpiece (1466) by Benozo Gozzoli depicting the mystic marriage of St Catherine (see below) was in the second altar on the right.  It was displayed only for a short period each year: the mechanism that allowed the screen in front of it to be raised still survives inside the lower part of the present altar (which now has a statue of the Madonna and Child).

In 1680, Ludovico Rustici arranged for the venerated image by Benozzo Gozzoli to be moved to a new wooden structure on the high altar that he had commissioned.  Here too, it was usually covered by a screen and displayed only for a short period each year  The wooden structure survives in situ, but now houses a copy of the altarpiece: the original is in the Pinacoteca (see below).

The altar table (15th century), which is traditionally said to have been used by St Bernardino of Siena, was re-discovered inside its 17th century successor in 1943.  It was restored and relieved of subsequent additions in 2002, following which it was mounted on a column that had been part of a 14th century portal.  During this work, a reliquary was found inside the altar that contained relics of SS Abundius, Marinus and Victorinus, together with an inscription that recorded its re-dedication in 1766 by Bishop Cosimo Maculani.  The choir stalls were replaced in their original locations to the sides of the altar as part of this programme of restoration.

Crucifix (15th century)

This wooden crucifix, which is attributed to Giovanni Tedesco, is on the altar of the 1st chapel on the right.  It was removed from the church in 1860 but miraculously recovered in the home of a local farmer.

Martyrdom of Gorcum (after 1675)

This altarpiece of the left wall of the choir depicts the fate in 1572 of 19 Catholic martyrs at Brielle (in what is now Holland), after a Calvinist revolt against Spanish rule.  Most of the martyrs had been based in Gorcum, and most of these were Franciscans.  They were beatified in 1675 and canonised in 1867. 

This panel is probably based on one of the prints depicting the scene that were circulated after the beatification.  It may have been commissioned after the rebuilding of the apse in ca. 1680.  A similar panel from Santa Maria delle Grazie, which seems to have been commissioned by the Nicoletti family, is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale.   [I am grateful to Dr. Roy Tepe for sending me much of this information.]

Coronation of the Virgin (1731)

This fresco in the barrel vault over the altar, which is by Giuseppe Viana da Oneglia, was recently  restored.

Art from the Church

Triptych (15th century)

This triptych was on the high altar until its replacement (see below) in 1680.  Its lateral panels were the dispersed, but its central panel, which is the only known work signed by Paolo da Visso, was retained in the church until ca. 1860. 

  1. This central panel, which depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned, is now in the Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon (illustrated on this webpage); and

  2. The lateral panels, which depict SS John the Baptist and Bartholomew, are now in the Narodni Museum, Prague.

Mystic marriage of St Catherine (1466)

This small and beautifully detailed altarpiece is signed by Benozzo Gozzoli and dated by inscription.   Benozzo probably painted it at San Gimignano, where he worked throughout the period 1464-7.  The panel, which is now in the Pinacoteca Comunale, depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned with: St Catherine of Alexandria (to whom the baby Jesus gives a ring); St Bartholomew; St Francis and St Lucy.  God the Father at the top of the panel sends down the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

As noted above, this image was highly venerated and normally kept behind a screen, but it was displayed for a short period each year for worship.  It was kept in a side chapel until 1680, when Ludovico Rustici arranged for it to be translated to a new wooden structure that he had commissioned in the newly rebuilt presbytery of the church. 

The image passed to the Commune when the Poor Clares, who had moved to Santa Maria dell’ Oro in 1862, left in 1895.  A dispute with the Rustici family over its ownership was resolved in favour of the Commune in 1899.  Documentation at the time of the litigation  reveals that the panel was part of a triptych.  However, the side panels are no longer known and there is no other surviving record of them. 

Return to Monuments in Terni.

Return to the detour to Walk II.