Church of Saints St. Stephen and Valentine

The Church of Saints St. Stephen and Valentine, in Via dei Priori, is located in what, starting from 1819, was the parish with the same denomination, resulting from the merger of the ancient parishes of St. Stephen and St. Valentine, the latter dating back to 1500. The new Parish of Saints Stephen and Valentine was incorporated by the Parish of San Giovanni Rotondo into the New Church of Perugia in the nineties of the twentieth century.

The great devotion of the Perugians for the protomartyr Stephen is attested by a decree present in the Statute of the Municipality in which it was ordered to solemnly celebrate the feast of Santo Stefano, both within the city and in the countryside, with the prohibition of working, under penalty of a fine of 100 coins. Because of this devotion in the city of Perugia in ancient times, there were three churches dedicated to St. Stephen: one of them was in Porta San Pietro, called Plebs S. Stephani or Santo Stefano del Castellare; another in Porta Borgna called Ecclesia S. Isidori et Stephani; the third in Porta Santa Susanna. The latter was a small Romanesque Hall, called Capella S. Stephani mentioned in Federico Barbarossa’s diploma of 1163 with which the emperor took it under the imperial protectorate, assigning it to the Chapter of the Cathedral. Its construction dates back to the twelfth century (or perhaps to the eleventh), as evidenced by the small apse that is what remains of the first construction, of the Romanesque style.

The location of the church was from east to west. The cover was certainly to be roofed and supported by wooden trusses; the walls of a white and red stone curtain, were polished outside and more inside. The interior, however, was later plastered and frescoed. The floor of the foundations was at a higher level than the current church, as seen from the lower raw and uncovered area, both inside and outside. To the right of the apse was made, perhaps in later times, a niche for the well dug at that point, under the foundations. Above the tympanum stood a small sailing bell tower, of which the base remained, for about a meter in height.

In the 14th century the church was enlarged and elevated. Thus, there was a classroom, much more capable and of a different style from that of the primitive chapel, with a massive pillar in the middle and four other pillars to support the perimeter wall and the ribbed Gothic vaults, replaced by trusses. This enlargement resulted in a church that can be said to have two naves. It was certainly due to the growing devotion of the Perugians to the first Christian martyr, whose protection was invoked against hail and plague. At that time the Parish was created perhaps on the initiative and at the expense of the Municipality, as attested by the beautiful bas-relief gryphon placed on the new southern façade, above the largest entrance on whose arch it is written: ECCL.PAR.S.STEPHANI.

Between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the church was remodeled and the Gothic and Romanesque architecture was destroyed; the walls and altars were covered with decorations, stuccoes and canopies. A sacristy was made by building against the western wall a backdrop surmounted by a pallet that served as a choir; the apse was closed with masonry. The subsequent construction of the parish house, above the church, led to the demolition of the bell tower, closing the upper part with a wall that took away harmony from the whole. The well also suffered the same fate and was disfigured.

The serious deterioration caused by neglect, and especially by water infiltrations from the overlying Via Santo Stefano, was the cause of the closure of the church to worship and the parish priest for religious functions obtained, in 1876, the use of an altar in the nearby Church of Santa Teresa dei Carmelitani Scalzi until, when the religious abandoned it in 1889, the parish priest had full use of it. So the parish church was increasingly wasting away.

In 1907 the new parish priest adapted an educational theatre for the young people of the parish, entitled “A. Brunamonti” in memory of the famous poet Alinda Brunamonti, a parishioner who had lived in Via del Poggio. The theater functioned excellently from 1910 to 1922 until, performing tears on the wall of the southern face to support a mezzanine or gallery, they peeked under the plaster, which crumbled and fell, flaps of ancient painting until then hidden and unsuspected. The restoration work began, which led to the elimination of all the superstructures accumulated over time and to the rescue and recovery of the frescoes already covered by the plaster, outside the reconstruction of a two-light mullioned window bell tower that allowed the ancient bells to be put back in their place.

Among the frescoes that decorated at least until the sixteenth century the walls of the church, stands out the Madonna and Child closed within a niche, to the left of the minor entrance. It was a majesty perhaps transported from the vicinity or found in the classroom and stuck in the new wall. This fresco was detached in January 1938 and reassembled on the table by Professor L. Fumi, curated by the R. Superintendence of Medieval and Modern Art, and it was placed on the opposite wall as the altarpiece of the minor altar. The other fresco was a Madonna enthroned between two Saints, on the southern wall. One flap of the Virgin’s robe and the lower part of that of St. Bernard remain. On the light background, you can see the small figure of the client kneeling, covered in robone, that is, the ceremonial robe worn by the knights, cap, and black socks. Below it reads the inscription: S. Bernardus – Hoc opus (fecit) fieri Angelellus S. Cecchi A.D. MCCCLXX. A third fresco came to light on the east wall: it was the Madonna between two Saints: the two saints remain a little mutilated, part of the mantle of Mary with the back of one hand, of fine workmanship. On the south wall two remains of saints are chiseled and bleached. On the north wall, at the top, there was a beautiful crucifixion of which the almost entire Christ remains on a blue background. The apse was also covered with frescoes: some iconographic remains remain with the name at the bottom: the names of two Saints are still well read: Catherine (Catharina) and Cosmas. In the search for frescoes, a fifteenth-century ornamental painting was then discovered on the east wall to the left of the apse: a conopeo or pavilion with a raised curtain on both sides and two adoring Angels who support it keeping their gaze towards the center: figures of very fine workmanship. On the crown of the conopeo there is the inscription: Cristi (Christi) Corpus Ave. From… Unfortunately, in the center of the painting was made a wide and deep tear that removed among other things a good part of the two angels. The writing, evidently Eucharistic, assures us that it is a tabernacle for the custody of the Blessed Sacrament.

The news is taken from a pamphlet edited by Monsignor Egidio Giulietti, parish priest of Santo Stefano until 1952, who actively worked for the restoration of the church, also personally paying for part of the furniture necessary for it. His successor too, Monsignor Ugo Coli, parish priest from 1953 and then rector of the church until 1995, the year of his death, took care with love of the church of Santo Stefano, providing among other things the creation of the entrance compass and the restoration of wooden artifacts, in particular the large crucifix arranged in the apse, of which he found some news.

The Crucifix was originally located in the Church of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Sorrows. A seventeenth-century artwork by Stefano da Massa di Carrara, it was made at the expense of the canon Ansideo Ansidei who had it blessed by the pontiff Paul V. It is not known when the crucifix, restored by the parish priest Monsignor Coli, was transferred to the Church of Santa Teresa degli Scalzi and from there to that of Santo Stefano, where it can still be admired.

Text source
Archivio Associazione Priori