Updated: Nov 20
The phone alarm went off at 8 in my hotel in Perugia, but my train was scheduled for 9:30, so I could have had a few more winks. After my banana and pills, I did some email and scoped out the churches I wanted to visit in Foligno. There were 5 churches on my list!
Checking out and getting across the street was easy, but there were no lifts, so I had to heft the bags down to the subway and then up to platform 2. Only four stops to get to Foligno, the carriage was warm and I was glad to exit. The walk to the Hotel Poledrini was easy and direct, but the room wasn’t ready at 11. Grabbing the camera, I headed to the Duomo di Foligno.
Following an earthquake in 2016, the Basilica Cattedrale di San Feliciano V.M. / Cathedral of St. Felician, Bishop and Martyr has been closed for repairs, and the front and side façades are still under wraps. It was going to be near impossible to find a good angle from the street.
So I moved on, heading to the Chiesa Sant’Agostino, also known as the Santuario della Madonna del Pianto (Weeping Madonna). Midday Mass was underway, so I took a seat in back and observed. About 40 minutes, with about 60 in attendance, it was a calming respite. A deacon who was preparing to shut the building was able to answer my question regarding the existence of a pro-cathedral for the temporary closure of the Duomo. As it turned out, I was in that church. He then directed me part way into the sacristy where there is a relic of an arm bone, between statues of two bishops.
Walking down the streets, I noted that multi-colored banners were flying from storefronts and residential buildings. There must have been some kind of local rivalry underway. In any case, I found enough subject to take more pictures before returning to the hotel.
Assigned room 202, I began plotting how to get to the three remaining churches: I could take a train at 3 (returning at 5) to one, walk an hour each way to the second, and catch a bus or walk 2 hours each way to the third. I had the front desk trying to find a taxi driver who might have the hour plus to spare.
A driver was located, so I descended to the lobby and sat drinking a glass of rosé and read on my phone. Alessio arrived with his taxi at 2:30 and we set off for the Chiesa San Giovanni Battista, the former cathedral of Foro Flaminio.
Alessio was a jovial soul, with decent English. He was surprised to learn about St John’s history as we wended our way out of town. With a pink stone façade and central double wooden doors, I couldn’t find an opening, despite walking around the building to the distant corner and its belltower.
Onward, we headed west to Spello. Google indicated the church would be closed until Tuesday (the following day), and this proved true. The Collegiata di Santa Maria Maggiore sul Gargano has a whitewashed façade (over pink block) and a modest bell- and clocktower alongside. The carved wooden doors were framed with beautifully carved marble moldings. This was the former cathedral of Spello.
Fifteen minutes later we arrived in Bevagna, where the Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo sits on the town square. White stone blocks, there are three entry doors, a large central rose window, and a seven-story tall square belltower. Banzai, it was open! Three aisles, old stone pillars and Romanesque arches, the walls were off-white and unadorned, with small slot windows in the clerestory. Off the right side are entrances to two chapels, one a funerary memorial, the other the Sacramental chapel devoted to Mary. The presbytery was approached by two sets of 6 stairs each, with a deep altar table faced with green-, red- and gold-colored stone. Behind in the curve of the apse is a rood cross icon of the crucifixion. I was also able to descend into the crypt, which had natural lighting, and folded chairs for those attending Mass.
An hour had passed, and Alessio asked if I would like to make a stop at a monastery on the way back to the hotel. Agreeing, we headed to the Abbazia di Santa Croce in Sassovivo. The trip was beautiful, albeit not really “on the way”, as we were on minor lanes twisting up the sides of hills through short forests. I left the car at the gate and began exploring, visiting the chapel, the bricked-over cloister and well, the chapter room, the garden, to an overlook and then the lower crypt space. All I couldn’t find was the undercroft.
Dropped off at the hotel after two hours and 100€ lighter, while elated to have added 5 more cathedral sites to my list, I was still feeling angst at missing the ex-cathedral in Assisi. Checking train schedules, I figured I could return, so I did so. At the Assisi station I got two more bus tickets and rode up to the top of the hill. Passing the back and front of San Rufino, I made my way to the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore / Santuario della Spogliazione.
A former cathedral (until 1036,) it had been built on the site of an old Roman temple. The western façade is plain, of pink and white stones, with two entrances. Three aisles with thick walls separating them, the apse is very simple, a table altar on a raised platform under a crucifix. A few frescoes remnants are on the walls. In the south aisle, a glass-faced coffin contains the relics of Blessed Carlo Acutis, a 15-year-old who died of leukemia in 2006. As I was on a tight schedule, I didn’t visit the crypt. A friar at the door confirmed that the church had been the cathedral.
Descending towards the bus stop, as I approached St Peter’s Gate I saw a bus pull up, and “ran” (as best what I can hustle might be called) and was soon heading down the hill. There were two trains back to Foligno before 7 (after that, the next was at 8:30) which I hope to take, and I managed to get on the earlier one. After getting to my room, I left the camera charging and went into the city to find dinner. After a few more shots with the phone of the Foligno Cathedral, I sat down at Me te Magno at 7:30, being told that I needed to be away at 9 as the table was reserved. While writing in my journal, the eggplant parmigiana arrived, which I found overcooked and needing the basic seasoning of salt and pepper. I noted that the melted piece of parmesan and three dollops of pesto was a nice touch. With a glass of vino rosso: Ignoto vino: Quando non sai cos’è, my main was crispy baby pork, with a side salad of thin slices of carrot and zucchini, in an orange and oil dressing. (I’d ordered carpaccio of fennel, orange, olive and rocket.)
The wine was fair, oxidizing in the warm open air. The staff seemed harried and disorganized, not top drawer as they presented. I ordered a tortino al ciocolato for dessert (apparently a souffle that takes 10 minutes to make, but it had been twice that long), but with 10 minutes before I needed to be out, it hadn’t arrived, I went to the counter and paid my bill. I left feeling particularly dissatisfied.
Arising 10 minutes before my alarm, I was cleaned up and ready, first heading to have breakfast of banana, juice, coffee and a croissant with slices of ham and cheese. I’d had a message from the German rail system that my camera had been found and transferred to a central location, but my several calls that morning went unanswered. At 10:30 I went to check out, and then headed to the 11:10 train to Terni.
The platform was busy, but I managed to find a 4-seat where I could keep my roller; next seat up were two YA North-American-accented males, with a third sitting solo across from them. While we didn’t talk, I observed their attitude – privileged, spoiled punks. At the third stop, forty-five minutes later, I was glad to get off in Terni.
The Hotel de Paris was a block and a half away, and room 226 was ready for me to break out the toiletries. With two twin beds, there was even enough floor space to open out the big roller, and lots of counter space. Happy camper!
But when I checked for a map, I was advised much was shut down for midday. Armed with my camera, I headed to the Tourist Office for a map, getting numerous other suggestions as I set out to the first church. San Francesco’s was closed until 3; then to the Duomo, closed until 4!
Adjusting my plans, I decided to head south of the centro to St Valentine’s Basilica, almost 2km. Alongside the cathedral complex are the ruins of the Anfiteatro Romano, site closed behind gates, fences and walls. A vehicular artery encircles the city, so I had to cross at the rotary where a pyramidal needle structure, the Lancia di Luce stood, overlooking the Nera River. (The route proposed by Maps crossed on a smaller, pedestrian-only bridge which was under construction at the time.)
Following the Via Mentana, trying to be in the shade as much as a road heading south southeast at midday would allow, it took me 45-minutes to reach the footbridge that brought me up to the hill with the church. And the notice on the door announced it would open at 3:30, and it was almost 2. Really wanting to visit, and not anxious to head back, I checked Maps for a place to eat. Most within a half mile were closing at 2, so I selected the nearest that should still be open and headed further south. This took me into a high-rise housing complex, where the only commercial storefront was a closed bank, and then I chanced up an open Illy, which hadn’t even been on Maps’ radar. Water and a reheated mortadella “pizza” was my lunch solution. I hung out until about 3 in the AC, and then backtracked to the church.
Finding a shady spot at a bench near a fir tree covered in red hearts (perhaps the local’s version of locks on a bridge?), twenty minutes later the doors were opened. A single-aisle nave with deep chapels off the sides, I found it to be a simple, comfortable church. In the presbytery, the main altar was an open table, with a crystal coffin displaying the gold martyred bishop with mitre and crozier. The old high altar was back against the apse rear with a gold canopy hung above from the ceiling. The only natural light was from the modern stained-glass windows in the clerestory and transept arms, depicting events from San Valentino’s life. My journal noted that I was glad I’d made the effort and persisted.
Walking back the way I’d arrived, it took a half hour to reach the river, and soon I was in the plaza (car park) in front of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta. Cloud cover and fewer vehicles were welcome, aiding in my pictures of the east-facing entry and its Palladian porch. A bell tower rises at the end of the north transept. Three cast bronze doors allow entry, each a unique design. There are three aisles, and I noticed that the apse was quite deep – it appears to be as long at the transept arms. With a warm glow, the pale walls and vault are clear, while some of the arches are adorned. The chapels reflect the taste and times of the donors, with elaborate use of various colored marbles, and a large oil painting behind the tabernacle. The Presence is in a chapel at the end of the north side altar, its dome in shades of terracotta.
In the sanctuary, the marble old high altar stands forward from the back wall, the tabernacle rising high and blocking the view of the murals at the center of the back wall. The half dome that rises above it depicts the Trinity, surrounded by frolicking cupids. Walking behind it, I found old choir stalls and an old cathedra. The main altar is a block, with old carvings placed on its faces, large and square. The sacristy is a tiled room, archeological finds on one wall opposite the cabinets containing vestments. Deeper into the back is a second sacristy, dark wood paneling and a trompe l’oeil rounded ceiling.
Most intriguing, and quite controversial, is the painting located on the wall at the east. Titled The Mystic Net, by Ricardo Cinalli, it depicts a clean-shaved Christ with nets in either hand, full of naked sinners, most still in the acts of their sins. It is the Argentine’s view of the Last Judgement. Since its installation in 2007, discrete adjustments have limited or modified obvious images (less genitalia.)
Back out into the sun, I headed to the Chiesa di San Francesco. Narrow streets with terracotta-colored walls led me to open plazas, public art, a living city. A Salesian parish church, inside the front door is a former chapel, filled with large frescoes on three walls, and a glass reliquary, all roped off and alarmed. Beside it, another side space with two mosaics flanking a statue of the Madonna and Child. Much of the rest of the interior was modern, clean lines and pink stone.
Half past five, I was bushed, and began heading to the hotel. At a market I picked up shoe polish, which I’d been seeking since getting the new shoes in Perugia. Back at the hotel, I tried to do a little internet, but the WiFi was cumbersome and not particularly strong. After a shower and adjusting the dirty laundry in the large roller, I pulled haberdashery for two days, in case laundry didn’t happen.
Asking the reception for dinner recommendations, he suggest the hotel, but the menu didn’t appeal, and the ambiance lacked. Using Maps, I found a winebar, Bistro Met, where I settled inside (AC and no smokers) to journal, drink wine, and, eventually, have dinner. First wine was Carlicco, a’18 red from Cantina Ninni. First vintage for the label, it is 100% sangiovese. Getting the 28€ menu, I had the Antipasto Umbro plate, gnocchi al sugo d’anatra, and stufato di agnello ai carciofi with zucchini, both Umbrian dishes. Switching for my second glass to a Tuscan wine, I had a ’19 Le Boncie from Le Trame; this is a small 3.5-hectare vineyard, where Giovanna the woman owner is also the winemaker. Low altitude fields, bio, organic, it is from the Chianti area. The gnocchi improved with pepper and parmesan, tasty duck pieces. The lamb stew, too large a portion, with great zucchini, was too good not to finish. For dessert, cookies and cream: Chantilly with madeleines. Delicious.
Back in the room, I considered my options for getting to Viterbo Tuesday. The early train at 8:43 would involve a three-hour layover in Orte, getting in just before 3pm. Or I could go later, leaving just before noon with a similar layover, getting in at quarter past 4.
Independence Day in the States, I opted for a later start and decided to do laundry. The closest “laundromat” per Maps turned out to be a dry cleaner, so I headed across town to the Speed Queen. Cash only, it still had a machine to break my last 20€ note into coins. Two loads, 14kg of lighter colors, 8kg of dark: 11€ fed into the machines. When they were finished, into two dryers for 25 minutes each, after which I folded it all and filled my small roller and the laundry bag. I resolved to dispose of some clothing – it was a squeeze to close the big roller.
The later 2-carriage train left at 11:52 and after three stops, we got off in Orte to wait. (For some strange reason, I never journaled my activities in Orte.) We arrived at 1, and by 2 I was in front of the Basilica Concattedrale Parrocchia di Santa Maria Assunta which was open.
Eleven steps up from the street, the white stone eastward-facing façade is simple yet elegant, modest embellishments carved into the lintels and the endpieces at its top. Triple-aisled, a warm light sunshine yellow color emanates from the walls and vault, which has tasteful plaster coffered medallions and arches. I apparently didn’t stay long, taking only 13 pictures, needing to be back for the 15:21 train.
The trains from the north terminate in Viterbo at Porta Fiorentina, while the trains for Rome leave from Porta Romana, a distance of 1.6km. I’d selected my hotel to be between them, so walked down a slight incline, through the old city gate, to the Palazzo Verdi. My reservation had requested a ground floor room, but I had booked into a B&B, and my room was up two flights of stairs. Preplanning paid off, and I just left my big roller in the storage room, hefting the smaller bag to room 202. After taking a shower, a phone call came in from my neighbor Sue Ann. When they had checked my home, the AC had apparently stopped and the inside was at 90°F! And the smoke detector was beeping. My AC is under contract, so I asked her to call them to make a house call. I sent Grace AC an email authorizing the repair and asked them to coordinate with my neighbors. I sent a text to my handyman, asking him to go in and replace the detector battery.
Sitting down with a paper map, I began plotting my trip to the cathedral. While it could be a straight shot southwest, I opted to take some alternate streets, which involved climbing and descending rises as I took street shots. That Viterbo is a very old city is evident with the street layout! The kilometer-plus journey took a quarter hour, arriving about 5:30 at the Piazza San Lorenzo.
The separate bell tower to the south of the entrance rises taller than the height of the façade, with its top four stories horizontal pink-and-white stripes. The façade to the Basilica Cattedrale di San Lorenzo Martire has a similar look to the smaller cathedrals I’d been seeing in Umbria and now in Lazio, 9 steps up to the open-air shallow porch, and again facing east. So, later in the afternoon, it was backlit, forming one side to the Piazza San Lorenzo. An eight-story square bell tower sits to the south, its top half striped stone layers.
Entering through the south door, the smaller side aisle stretched along the black and white marble diamonds of the empty floor. Into the central nave, the wooden beams filled the rather long vault, some of them stenciled with geometric patterns. Beyond evenly spaced wooden pews, a deep apse revealed a simple altar table and a single narrow window. Multiple different geometric patterns in red, black and white marble covered the nave floor. While a cruciform footprint, the arms are relatively narrow and short, containing chapels (St Lucia to the south, Sts Ilario and Valentino with a dome to the north) which seemingly play no role as a crossing. Reaching the presbytery, a white marble block serves as the altar, placed up three red carpeted steps. The wall behind, including the half arch of the apse, are plain gray block stone above a wood wainscotting. Casual observation of the capitals at the top of the columns revealed that each was unique.
Fresco/murals appear here and there, the more modern being trompe l’oeil, but most of the walls show the native stone. Entering the chapter room, a transformation: the ceiling is a taupe and white riot of more trompe l’oeil, massive murals fill the walls, and light streams in from high windows and a “lantern.” Similarly, the sacristy had walls lined in gold-highlighted dark wood, and an elaborate ceiling painted to look like coffering, raised to a central painting from the life of San Lorenzo. In the bookstore, I got an admission ticket for the museum and the palace.
Crossing the plaza to the Palazzo dei Papi di Viterbo, I learned more history of the pre-Avignon papacy. This palace had been the residence of several thirteenth century Popes, had hosted election conclaves for new popes, with the cathedral being the final resting place of several popes.
From its loggia, the view over the dip and rise to northern parts of the city, including the dome and tower of Chiesa e Santuario della Santissima Trinità, was stunning. A movie on the election of Gregory X was ending as I entered, and informative broadsides in English and Italian related the history in what had been the conclave room and the Papal chambers. As time was short, with imminent closing, I hurried through, snapping away, hoping the I’d recall a bit of what all filled these rooms.
Out onto the street at 6:30, as I headed east into the old city, I passed the Palazzo Farnese, spotting bits of shields mounted on walls. My route took me to the Piazza della Morte with its outdoor cafés, along covered archways, into nooks where I overlooked a garden and old well, up and down cobbled streets. Reaching the city walls at Porta Roman, I decided to walk the outsides, towards the Porta Fiorentina.
At the Porta della Verità, I returned in, tired of the adjoining SR2 roadway exhaust and chanced upon a restaurant boasting a Guiness record.
La Spaghetteria di Viterbo lists 300 offerings of spaghetti dishes. Multi-level, I followed my waitress down a flight of stairs and around several corners to a room opening out into a garden. They are highly protective of their list, prohibiting photographs of the menu; in fact, they were concerned when I began writing down what items I would be ordering, until I showed that my journal tracked my meals as well as my travels. Started with Antipasto della cava and a glass of house red (cab). For dinner, I ordered two spaghetti dishes, one white, one red (sauces): Capolavoro (asparagus, anchovies, cream, chili, gorgonzola) and Toscana (soffritto nia, sausage, tomato, rosemary.) The “cold cuts” were an interesting assortment of deli meat slices, mozarella and fontina cheese, olives, hummus, grilled eggplant, cherry tomatoes. The Lebanese waitress served the red first, obviously well aware to the flavor profile – the red was bland and, for me, required grated parmesan and ground black pepper. The white was served warmer, and the chili flake and gorgonzola provided rich sensations in my mouth. At my server’s suggestion, I had the lemon and pomegranate tart, being served two wedges and finding it delightfully tasteful.
I took two shots, street scenes, as I attempted to find my way back to the B&B. Once I came upon the Corso Italia, I knew I would soon be back. I climbed the stairs, started my backup and equipment charges, and prepared for bed. I’d had one more place to visit in Viterbo, the Santuario Basilica di Santa Maria della Quercia, but it was 2kms east outside the walls with a rise of 70 meters (a mild incline.) As I enjoyed my brief afternoon-evening in Viterbo, and recognize that it has lots more history to explore, it would be one of the places I would keep on my list to revisit.
After getting cleaned and dressed, I packed the small roller but left it upstairs as I descended for breakfast. Juice, coffee, banana and a croissant, I was content. I figured I would want a taxi to get to the train station, and as I’d used my last 20€ note in Terni for the laundry, I needed to visit an ATM. Asking the host, he indicated the nearest was close, just up the Corso Italia. Assuming a minute or two walk, I headed out about a half kilometer before I found a “wall banker” where I got another 200 Back to the B&B, I climbed to the room, cleaned my teeth and finished packing. Down the stairs, the taxi had been called and the big roller retrieved, so I was on the stoop as my ride appeared. The fare was 10€, and I was soon on the 9:35 train bound for Roma Trastevere.
When the ticket collector asked where I was heading and I indicated Civitavecchia, he suggested (and Google concurred) that I get off at Roma San Pietro so that I could catch an earlier train and avoid the longer wait. Following this, I offloaded, and had 10 minutes to change platforms, with, of course, no lifts or ramps. The 12:02 train was packed, but I got the bags stashed near the door and managed to find a seat. A fellow passenger was too concerned about his bags, so he stood watch for the hour journey.
Leaving the station in this port city (the port for Rome) and I headed north along the waterfront. One slight zig right-and-left inland to stay along the main thoroughfare, I soon came to my lodgings, getting buzzed in the door and on a lift to the B&B-like space. Residence Stendhal Guest House is in a commercial-like building; there are a half dozen rooms as well as a common space, kitchen and reception. Not a large room, it would do as I had little to unpack. Armed with a keycard (which activates power in the room), I was soon back out the door and down to the street. Practically next door, the cathedral faced out towards the water. And was closed for midday.
After taking a half dozen shots of this rectangular building situated on a street corner, I decided to explore. An old fortress, the Fortezza Michelangelo, is a reconstruction of the medieval fort, destroyed in WWII. All I saw were fences, no way to enter (but I know there are tours which go there.) Out in the harbor, cruise ships were tied up at the pier, and I studied how one got there, as that was my next destination. I walked up a way, towards the fishermen’s docks, then back down to the broad esplanade, where a Ferris wheel rose next to a familiar statue of a swabbie bending a nurse back for a kiss – similar to one on Sarasota’s waterfront.
Back across from the still closed cathedral, I sought shade and beer and water to wet my whistle. Café Gilbert had bottled beer, so I poured out an Ichnuso while I sucked down water straight from the 1.5-liter bottle. Wanting protein and no starch, I ordered a chicken breast, which had to be prepared at the sister site about a half block away. While waiting, I plowed through some email.
Just before 4pm, the cathedral door was open. I crossed the street to enter the Cattedrale di San Francesco d’Assisi. Built in the 18th century, the Baroque structure is elegant, but not overstated. The single-aisle interior is deep, with three side chapels per side, framed by Romanesque arches and red marble slabs. The clerestory and vault have gold highlights. At the east end, the altar sits up a step from the diamond-tiled floor, in front of a large oil painting of the patron saint. Below this representation of the death of St Francis of Assisi is the white marble cathedra, a step higher but behind the altar. Sadly, the Stations of the Cross, plaster bas relief, are in need of restoration, the paint flaking. An interesting Renaissance Madonna and Child on wood is displayed prominently.
My right knee had been bothering me, and I was unable to find an Ace bandage in the shops I’d passed, so I headed back to the room for a laydown. I couldn’t get the power to come on, so called Sam, the concierge-receptionist. He returned, bringing a family visiting from South Africa with him. After blowing into the unit on the wall a half dozen times, the mechanism began working. I chatted a bit with the new arrivals, learning that they had just left Paris, where they had a hand bag stolen, and had experienced rioting. [A French-Algerian teenager had been shot by police in Paris a week earlier.] I brought my Chromebook into the common space and began filling the narrative with photos so that I could push the first France report up to the blog before I headed to dinner.
When I was ready to eat, I decided to head back across the street for a later shot of the cathedral, with the door closed. With the setting sun, the lower half of the façade was in shade, but I was able to see the scaffold-clad tower at the rear of the building. Without my reading glasses, I wandered the area a bit, checking out restaurants. Finding one where a large extended family was settling in for a dinner of pizza and wine (or beer), I decided Pico Pallino was worth a shot. Truly a local joint, I got a half liter of birra alla spina, and a pizza diavola (mozzarella, pomodoro, peperoncino, salame piccante). Seemingly a half of a large pie, it was served cut into rectangular portions and was probably the best pizza I’d tasted thus far in Italy. It was hot and spicy, had enough cheese and gravy, and the crust was as thick as I like. It definitely outshone the beer.
During the previous week I’d had several emails from folks purporting to have both my camera lost in Germany and my phone lost in Luxembourg. I’d tried to ensure this wasn’t a scam, especially since the Germans were using a different tracking number than I’d received, and would only accept money if wired to an account. The phone came with a screen shot, but after 2 messages back in forth, he went silent. I resolved to call both police offices in the morning, and sent off copies of all the emails ahead of those calls.
You can purchase your own copy
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Cathedrals to the Glory of God
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