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Montegiorgio, Saint Francis' Church

Immersed among the gentle hills of the hinterland of Fermo, the town of Montegiorgio stands on a hill from which we can see Monte Conero to the north, the massif of Gran Sasso along the southern horizon, the Adriatic Sea to the east and the famous Azure Mountains of Giacomo Leopardi to the west. At the highest point of the town, on the summit of an outcrop which in old times was called Cafagnano stands a church which was originally named Saint Mary in George, joined to quite a large monastery of the Benedictine monks of Farfa. Built around the early 13th century, it was donated in 1263 to Cardinal Gaetani who gave it to the Order of Friars Minor. Following the gift the church was reconsecrated to Saint Francis of Assisi and the hill on which it stands out like a beacon of divine providence assimilated the name. In 1585 the sacred building underwent a significant number of restorations which modified the original appearance of the entire complex. The façade is adorned with a splendid portal of Istrian stone which according to the travertine panel nearby was made in 1325 by a magister gallus. Of particular interest are the asp, the basilisk and the lion decorating the capitals of the jambs, which in the medieval Christian tradition symbolize respectively desperation, presumption and excessive pride. Fixed above the wooden portal, is the coat of arms of Pope Sixtus V, under whom the great work of transformation of the church was carried out. Crossing the threshold, we get the impression that divine grandeur is expressed by the monumentality of the entire internal structure, consisting of a single barrel-vaulted nave and a series of majestic Doric columns. On the north side of the church is an opening leading into a small Farfense chapel, the only part of the 13th-century monastic complex that has survived the various transformations. It houses the funerary monuments of eminent families with names such as Patti, Alaleona and Zenobi, but what people usually find most interesting are above all the marvellous frescoes adorning it. The eight sections of the vault, divided into two different parts, narrate with masterly expressive skill the various moments of a story much loved by the Franciscans, that of Adam and the True Cross.

  1. Pope Sixtus V was born in Grottammare in 1521 with the name of Felice Peretti. Up to the age of twelve he lived with his poor family, then joined the Order of Minors Conventual. In 1544 in Rimini he obtained a bachelor's degree in theology and only four years later a doctorate in the city of Fermo. He was ordained a priest in 1547 and twenty-three years later, thanks also to his rare ability as a preacher, he was appointed a cardinal. While some people called him the “Cardinal from Montalto”, others could not resist the temptation to remind this preacher with an irritable temperament of his humble origins with an uncomplimentary nickname, “the swineherd”. In 1585, on the death of Pope Gregory XIII, wholly unexpectedly he was elected pope and soon showed a singular organizational ability which enabled him to manage resolutely both domestic and foreign questions. He introduced new financial reforms, concerned himself with repressing the rampant scourge of banditry, set up a committee of experts for a systematic revision of the Bible, ordered rapid completion of the dome of Saint Peter's and supported a general renewal of the planning of the eternal city. However on the day of his death, from malaria in 1590, the people heard the news with great relief.