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Fermo, Saint Augustine's Church

A few representatives of the Augustinian Order reached the Fermo area around 1240 and quickly managed to obtain from Pope Innocent IV the permission to grant indulgences to anyone who would contribute to the creation of the entire sacred complex. After the work had been completed around 1250, Saint Augustine's Church needed a first restoration little more than a century later, when changes were made to the surrounding walls and the Augustinians were forced to raise the floor by three metres. The building was renovated again in 1738, this time much more drastically, and nothing was saved from the previous period except the right side which since 1560 has hosted the main entrance. Worthy of particular attention is the line of eaves finely adorned with a series of small trilobate arches containing minute majolica bowls dating back to the second half of the 14th century. The finely-made portal features a terracotta archivolt, divided into squares decorated with various zoomorphic figures which seem embedded in convoluted racemes, created according to the canons of Flowered Gothic. The interior of the church was instead restored around the first half of the 18th century in accordance with baroque tastes. This renewal almost certainly caused the loss of a number of 14th-15th century frescoes which were rediscovered in 1932 thanks to another significant restoration. The Chapel of the Holy Thorn has always been of great interest as it houses a thorn of the crown of Christ, protected by a very fine 15th-century reliquary. According to studies carried out recently, the urn of the Holy Thorn was commissioned to a Venetian goldsmith who after making it, sent it to Fermo without the translucent enamel platelets, which were made and then fixed in the local workshop of Marino da Siena. In the Christian tradition, as well as transmitting exceptional social and religious prestige to anyone who came into possession of them, relics were considered to have a strong thaumaturgical power. Not for nothing were the sacred fragments protected in cases which, with their shiny surfaces, exalted their value and which were usually exhibited in the most visible part of the entire building.

  1. According to the sacred tradition the Holy Thorn was initially exhibited in the Augustinian Church of Sant’Elpidio a Mare, where it remained until 8 September 1377, when the town was plundered by order of the tyrant of Fermo and the relic looted from its original location. Donated to the Augustinian Order, the holy fragment triggered off a long dispute between the believers of Fermo. Indeed, in the same period Saint Dominic's Church held another Holy Thorn and the arrival of the relic from Sant’Elpidio a Mare caused a dispute between those who considered the one in Saint Dominic's to be true and those who instead believed that the other one was genuine. To settle the dispute the bishop Antonio de Vetulis decided to use the trial by fire in the presence of the entire community of believers. It is told that the thorns were thrown onto the burning coals of a brazier and while the one from Saint Dominic's burnt up in an instant, the one from Saint Augustine's rose up into the air completely immune to the heat.