The Cathedral

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Spoleto Cathedral's origins are lost in the mists of time. A document in the archive tells us that both the Bishopric and the church of Santa Maria del Vescovato were already in existence by 956. Renovated in the 12th century after Frederick Barbarossa had sacked the city, the Cathedral was consecrated by Pope Innocent III in 1198.

The façade is a product of several phases. In the lower band the main and side doors stand within a Renaissance loggia built by Ambrogio di Antonio Barocci and his workshop at the turn of the 15th century. Two pulpits at either end of the loggia overlook the square, while beneath the loggia three doors provide access to the Cathedral proper. The magnificent sculptural decoration on the frame of the main door, known as the Porta Paradisi, is one of the most outstanding examples of Romanesque classicism anywhere.

The façade's second band has five rose windows, all dating to before the end of the 12th century. The central window, four metres in diameter, sits in a square frame with the carved symols of the Four Evangelists. The façade's third band, separated from the second by a string course decorated with blind arcading, is adorned with three pointed arches, the central one housing a very fine mosaic made by the artist Solsternus in 1207.

The interior of the Cathedral, which is Latin cross in plan and comprises a nave and two side aisles of six bays each, was radically altered by order of Pope Urban VIII, a former bishop of Spoleto, in the 17th century. After the alterations had been completed, precious altars were added and new structures designed by Valadier in the late 18th century.

The floor of the nave, though somewhat modified, is still basically the original Cosmatesque floor of the Romanesque building with its stone, porphyry and serpentine inlays, while the floor in the side aisles with its red and white lozenges was laid by Matteo Rosso Balsimelli from Settignano in 1481.

The apse hosts a splendid cycle of frescoes with stories from the Life of the Virgin by the Florentine painter Filippo Lippi, who died in Spoleto and is buried in the Cathedral. The curving back wall of the apse has three scenes separated by painted pilasters: the Annunciation on the left, the Death of the Virgin in the centre and the Nativity on the right. The fresco in the semi-dome above depicts the Coronation of the Virgin with angels and saints. In the central scene, above the Virgin's deathbed, one can make out the vescica of the Assumption and, on the left, the profile of St. Thomas receiving the girdle.

The Cathedral is not merely a repository of great art, however, it is also a place of lofty spirituality, particularly the Relic Chapel with its precious autograph letter from St. Francis of Assisi to Brother Leo. A cycle of as yet unpublished frescoes depicting the episode of the Wolf of Gubbio is also dedicated to the saint, whose conversion took place in Spoleto.

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