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Sant’Elpidio a Mare, Old Saint Augustine's Church or Madonna dei Lumi &

New Saint Augustine's Church





On a gentle hill which is also an evocative panoramic terrace, rises Sant’Elpidio a Mare standing out proud between the valleys of the rivers Tenna and Chienti. As they had in many other towns of the Fermo area, the friars of the Order of Saint Augustine settled in the medieval San Lepidio, choosing as their base an area not far from the lively town centre. It was in the first years of the 13th century that the Augustinians first settled in the sacred building of which today unfortunately the only parts that remain are the severe but charming façade, the base of the perimeter wall and the bell tower. According to the sacred tradition the Augustinian church of Sant’Elpidio a Mare conserved a Holy Thorn of the Crown woven and placed on Christ's head during his Passion. Donated by Blessed Clemente Briotti who had received it from the King of France Philip III the Bold, the relic remained there until the night of 8 September 1377, when the town was plundered by order of the tyrant of Fermo and the Holy Thorn looted from its original location. In the small 18th-century oratory which has survived until the present time there is still an altar with a Gothic arch of the Venetian school in Istrian stone, built in 1371 to keep and exhibit the relic. Worthy of particular attention is the cabinet, magnificently decorated with sculptures in high relief. Saint Michael the Archangel is depicted in a central position, protected by heavy armour, crushing the devil in the form of a dragon and holding in his left hand scales in which he weighs souls. To his right are depicted the Archangel Gabriel and Saint John the Baptist, indicating the medallion with the symbol of the Agnus Dei clasped to his breast. On the right the Virgin Mary can be seen with Saint Anthony the Abbot, recognizable for the bell which in the Christian tradition drove away evil with its silvery sound. The lunette, decorated with a fine bas-relief, depicts a grandiose Saint Augustine distributing the rule. Also notable is the 15th-century fresco depicting the Madonna dei Lumi, the object of authentic devotion in the whole area of Sant'Elpidio. All the rest unfortunately was lost on the night in which Rinaldo da Monteverde decided to take revenge for the defeat suffered at the hands of the Guelph troops of Sant’Elpidio a Mare. The Augustinian monastery in which Saint James of the Marca and Saint Nicholas of Tolentino had studied was destroyed and stripped of its precious relic. After that terrible night, the friars were forced to move, with the entire town, to the Canario Hill. They made a number of changes to the 14th-century Church of Saint Anthony the Abbot which was promptly reconsecrated to Saint Augustine. The sacred building, located in what is now Corso Baccio, underwent significant restoration in 1762, but still today presents a splendid portal of 1505 which features abutments decorated with candelabra of a typically renaissance style. In the Christian iconographic tradition, the refined ornamental pattern alludes to the Passion of Christ and to his salvific sacrifice, as the agave flowers of which it is made up bloom only once in the life of the plant, which dies soon afterwards. The interior, currently not visitable, consists of three naves and contains several altars adorned with stuccoes and golden ornaments.


  1. Saint James of the Marca was born in 1393 in a small house, now used as an oratory, inside the walls of the Castle of Monteprandone. The eighteenth child in a family of modest economic conditions, the boy called Dominic had to work hard in the fields and, as he himself said more than once, he often had to play the role of “guardian of sheep and pigs”. It was while he was working as a shepherd, indeed, that a terrifying meeting with a wolf frightened him so much that he asked for hospitality from a relative who was a priest in Offida. This event changed his life, because the boy never went back to his family of origin but thanks to his evident intelligence was sent to Ascoli to begin his studies. He remained there until 1410, when the young Dominic set out for Perugia. At the age of only twenty-one he already had a degree in law, but his soul seemed far away from the goal just achieved. Seized by an insatiable inner emptiness which seemed to increase his existential uncertainties, he opened himself to Christ. In 1416 he joined the Order of Minor Observants with the name of James, while in 1420 he was ordained a priest and soon became known for his ability at preaching and persuading. His marked propensity for spreading the Word of God took him as far as Bosnia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Poland, Hungary and Northern Germany. In 1446 James even managed to obtain a peace treaty between Ascoli and Fermo and to advise them on a confederation which would guarantee to both cities equal rights and duties. He died in an odour of sanctity in 1476.