Impressions of the Cities of Umbria
Foligno and Montefalco
Trevi and the Temple of Clitumnus
On the way to Narni
Città della Pieve
Gubbio, Fabriano, Cagli, and the Furlo Pass
The Umbrian School of Painting
Piero della Francesca
Melozzo da Forli
Luca Signorelli at Orvieto
Fiorenzo di Lorenzo
Pietro Vannucci: Il Perugino
Joachim di Flore
St. Francis of Assisi
List of Illustrations
In colour by A. Pisa
Porta Augusta, Perugia
Piazza S. Lorenzo, Perugia
Piazza del Mercato, Perugia
Vicolo S. Agnese, Perugia
Cappella dei Pellegrini, Assisi
Nave of the Lower Church of S. Francesco, Assisi
S. Francesco, Assisi
Cloisters, S. Francesco, Assisi
Porta Veneris, Spello
Porta Veneris, Spello
Near the Temple of Clitumnus
Palazzo Pubblico, Todi
S. Giovanni Battista, Gubbio
Via delle Occhi, Gubbio
Palazzo Pubblico, Gubbio
Pulpit, Lower Church of S. Francesco, Assisi
Chapel in S. Francesco, Assisi
From Photographs by Messrs. Alinari
The Sacrifice of Isaac – Roman School
Madonna and Child – Ottaviano Nelli
Adoration of the Magi – Gentile da Fabriano
The Resurrection – Piero della Francesca
The Antichrist – Luca Signorelli
The Adoration of the Magi – Benedetto Bonfigli
Gonfalone di S. Bernardino – Benedetto Bonfigli
Madonna And Child With Saints – Fiorenzo di Lorenzo
Adoration of the Shepherds – Fiorenzo di Lorenzo
The Presepio – Pietro Perugino
Adoration of the Magi – Pietro Perugino
The Madonna – Bernardino Pintoricchio
As you come to Perugia from Florence and Terontola, past the mystical lake of Trasimeno, where, on an island surrounded by whispering rushes that seem ever to be commanding silence, St. Francis spent the Lent of which the author of the Fioretti tells us, you might think the city that reveals herself so fantastically, first on the right hand and then on the left between the low Umbrian Hills, only a great fortress, the castle of some belated tyrant. On a nearer view there is something of a great dignity in her isolation on her hill-top, which is, after all, not the last low spur of the indestructible Apennine but the deposits, age after age, of the Tiber flowing towards Rome and the sea. And even as long and long ago the Tiber left her, so that now even after the fiercest storms or the deepest snows she hears nothing of his terrible song, so at last the world too has fallen away from her, leaving her alone on her beautiful hill, surrounded only by elemental things – the sun, the moon, the stars, and the unchanging mountains. More than a mile away the railway slinks towards Rome and the south, fearful of her aspect, since it may never approach her, and has only dared to come so far by devious ways, and with many hesitations. She is so proud on her mountain, over-topping the soft green hills of her Umbria, for within her immense horizon no other city, ruddy or white, is like to her. Her brows are still pale in the morning, and golden with the setting sun; the sky is still above her serene and beautiful; her eyes, which are perhaps tired with waiting for the sunrise, may still rest themselves on her own green fields and many gardens of olives. It is only at evening sometimes that you may surprise a kind of fear in her eyes, when suddenly above the Vesper bells at sunset she hears the electric tram, that has so lately been thrust upon her, rush without ceremony or weariness up her hillside, and with clanging iron and all the noise of modernity hurry through her ancient Corso, past the Palazzo Municipio, which in its beautiful old age it threatens to destroy, and has already brutally shaken; past the Duomo, which it ignores, into the Piazza Danti, whence it has already expelled the beautiful bronze statue of Pope Julius III. But after all, this modern contrivance, with its network of wires, its noise, and its convenience, is the one modern thing that has invaded her. The great beautiful oxen still stand patiently in her market-place, or draw the plough over her fields; her sons still sow broadcast, over the land they tread with their bare feet, the corn and the maize; the priest still blesses her fields; the tiny cross of bamboo with a branch of olive, silver in the wind, still marks her fields as the gifts of God to her who still remembers Him. In her cathedral the wedding-ring of the Blessed Virgin, mystic, wonderful, is safe in its many caskets. Her beautiful miracle-picture of Madonnina draws its crowd of pilgrims, and she herself, the queen of hill cities, is still beautiful within and without her Etruscan walls, on which Rome and the Middle Age and the Renaissance have not forgotten to leave their marks as beautiful and as indestructible. Her streets are even yet named nobly – Via della Cupa, Via della Conca, Via dei Priori, Via di San Francesco, Via delle Stalle. She has not stooped to flatter the new Royal House, as Rome and Florence and Naples have done. Her gates, many and splendid, have too in their very names a suggestion of her inviolable beauty – Porta Eburnea, Porta Augusta, Porta Sant Angelo, Porta Sole, Porta Marzia. Within her palaces is some of the sweetest work of Perugino, and Bonfigli, and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo; and her prospect is of a thousand hills and valleys. Far, oh, far away to the north and west, lie the bare mountains above Siena; while to the south the hills are crowned with famous and lovely cities – Assisi, Spello, Trevi, Spoleto; and, like a rosy flower in the green valley of Spoleto, you see Foligno, the strange city of Blessed Angela; while beyond, Monte Subasio looks towards Rome with the city of St. Francis kneeling on its skirts a religious, in the homely brown habit, vowed to God. Like a lily at her right hand towers St. Mary of the Angels, delicate with the colour of the day – white, or almost rosy, or sombre, under her sky. And far away to the west rise the mountains above Orvieto and little Todi on her hill, and, all between, the sweet Umbrian plain and the valley of the Tiber. And though in early morning this exquisite landscape is delicate and fragile and half-hidden in mist; at sunset it has something of the 'largeness of the evening earth,' and a majesty of silence and repose, that is as it were suggested by the beautiful gesture of the mountains. It is above all this perfection, absolute queen from horizon to horizon, that Perugia stands, ever at attention on her hills, terrible of aspect with all her beauty, and with great angry eyes as of old searching out her enemies.
Of Etruscan origin, being indeed one of the principal cities of that strange, unknown people, we know nothing of Perugia till she submitted herself to Rome in B.C. 309. That is but the first of numberless surrenders – to the Popes, to many tyrants, to her own terrible sons, to the brutality of the mob, to Italy, and the modern world. The hand of the Emperor Augustus has rested on her throat as certainly as that of the latest tyrant, Baglioni or Pope. It was Augustus who in B.C. 38 rebuilt the city, which one of the citizens, Caius Macedonicus, in order to save her from the great emperor, burnt to the ground, so that she is now Augusta Perugia, and Perusia Etrusca no longer. Yet, in spite of capitulation and outward obedience, she has ever nursed in her soul a fierce spirit of liberty, which has made her story one of the bloodiest in the history of Italy.
It was in the sixth century that Justinian, desiring to drive the Goths out of Italy, sent the general Constantine to Umbria, a vastly larger country then than now. Constantine seems to have made Perugia his headquarters, and to have been left unmolested till, in the year 545, Totila, that terrible and magnificent figure, appeared, and having obtained possession of Assisi, prepared to drive Constantine from Perugia; but he found her, as ever, not easy of conquest; to be overcome rather by treachery than by fighting. The siege which followed is said to have lasted for seven years, but at last Perugia fell before the fury of the Goth, 'upheld to the last by a new power, namely, that of her faith.' It was the first of her patron saints, S. Ercolano, who upheld her, and, as it were, in those early years of terror and fight, formed her character there in the midst of mystical Italy, making her for ever after not unmindful of those mysterious powers which in all ages men have been anxious to win to their cause, since it would seem to be fatal to permit them to be unfriendly. So to the starving city S. Ercolano, its bishop, comes with wise counsels; and as in ancient Rome, so in Perugia, in spite of the scarcity, food is thrown from the walls, and the Goths discouraged. Bonfigli has painted the story with all his simplicity and sweetness in the Cappella dei Priori, now Sala Numero Due of the Pinacoteca. It would seem that an ox having been fed with what corn remained to the city was thrown over the walls, when the Goths, finding it, supposed the Perugians to have so much to eat that they fed even their beasts with corn. 'But by chance,' says Ciatti, whose history of the city is full of an old-world sweetness, 'But by chance a young priest spoke from the walls with some Goths, and all unknowing revealed the terror and death reigning in the city.' And so the stratagem of the good bishop failed; yet on that day Perugia fell not without honour, and in all her future has never forgotten S. Ercolano, who was martyred in her cause, seeing she chose him for her patron saint.
In 592 Perugia, on her high hill, became a Lombard duchy, but was soon restored to the Byzantine Empire. Through all that mysterious Middle Age she grew stronger and more fierce. Her invaders were many, she suffered many violations. In the year 726 we find her, together with many another Italian city, siding with the Pope against the Emperor Leo III., the Iconoclast, when he published his edict against images in churches. It was about this time that Rome became practically independent under the Popes, and it will be in the memory of the reader that the controversy with Leo led to the separation of the Greek and Latin Churches in 729; to be united again at the Council of Lyons in 1274, only to be separated finally in 1277. Certainly, during those years of fierce and brutal energy, Perugia owed much to the Papacy. Thus, in 744, when King Rachis of the Lombards besieged Perugia, Pope Zacharias came to plead with him not unsuccessfully, and it is certainly true to the spirit of that romantic age that the king became a monk after listening to the Pope, retiring to the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino.
A time of some confusion follows. As ever in Italy, the aim of the statesmen was the balance of power, at that time between the Emperor and the Pope, as later between the great cities and provinces. By this means a certain communal liberty was attained.
In the year 800, however, Charlemagne having invaded Italy in 774, overcome the Lombards, and been crowned as Emperor of the West by Pope Leo III., Perugia came under the dominion of the Pope as a gift from the Emperor. From this time Perugia remained under the Papacy save for a short period in 1375, when, the Pope being in Avignon, a Republic was declared. The history of the city during those years is one of continual warfare with her neighbours – Assisi, Siena, Arezzo, Città di Castello, Gubbio, Foligno, Spoleto. In 1358 Perugia won her greatest victory over Siena. Having succeeded in defeating almost all her rivals she laid upon them heavy burdens: thus Foligno was forbidden to rebuild her walls, Città della Pieve was compelled to provide bricks to pave her streets, Arezzo to yield her marble to decorate the cathedral of San Lorenzo. Yet in spite of her fierceness, her strength, and her pride, she was ever unable to master herself, falling always a prey to her own passions, consuming her energy not in wars with her rivals alone, but also in massacre and havoc among her own citizens. Thus she wasted herself, turning her fierceness against herself at last till her streets ran with blood, her cathedral was defiled, her greatest sons assassinated, and she herself a mere beautiful bastion on a bleak hillside.
To describe the quarrels of the Baglioni and Oddi would serve no useful purpose. Their names are known for every kind of brutality and murder to every traveller in Italy from the sketch of Perugia which the late J. A. Symonds published in his Sketches in Italy, Matarazzo too, to whom of course Mr. Symonds was indebted, in a masterpiece of simple narrative – if indeed that naive chronicle be the work of the distinguished humanist – is full of the dramatic story of their hatred, their glory, and their despair. I am content to refer the reader to those pages. It is, however, worthy of notice that it was during the years of internal revolution, when every sort of crime was rampant, when murder and destruction went barefaced up and down the streets, that Perugino and Fiorenzo di Lorenzo were painting their quiet and lovely pictures of the birth and death of Christ, while the young Raphael was at work in the studio of his master Perugino. It has been said that in the St. George of the Louvre, and perhaps in the horseman trampling upon Heliodorus in the stanze of the Vatican, we have a picture of Astorre Baglioni, that terrible and yet beautiful figure, now immortal since Raphael's eyes once rested upon him. It was to one of these figures – terrible, and yet not without a certain beauty too – that Perugia owed the opportunity of a new, and not altogether unnecessary, despotism. In 1535, Ridolfo Baglioni having murdered the Pope's Legate, Paul III. determined to send troops to drive Ridolfo out of Perugia. In this he was successful, and became himself ruler of the city. But in 1538 the Perugians revolted, the Pope having raised the price of salt. Paul III. promptly defeated them, and two years later laid the foundation, upon a ruined palace of the Baglioni, of the Rocca Paolina, which bore the legend 'ad coercendam Perusinorum audaciam.' [†] Thus began a rule in Perugia strong and steadfast and despotic, which, save for the incident of Napoleon, was not to pass away till our own time, when, on the 14th September 1860, the city was taken by the troops of Victor Emmanuel, and became an integral part of United Italy.
[† To curb the audacity of the Perugians]
So the splendour and the terror of the past interwoven with the thunder of innumerable banners has sunk into the mediocrity of to-day, when even silence is denied her lest she should recollect herself and remember her victories. Beauty such as once belonged to Florence or Venice or Rome was perhaps never hers. She was a scarped crag of the mountains, burnt with fire, beaten by the wind, splendid with the sun. Even her cathedral was as relentless as a fortress, at least in appearance. But the destroying centuries have perhaps lent it something of their tolerance, giving the clinkered brick the surface and the colour almost of a precious stone. It is not beauty but strength and passion that you find in its brown walls that have been splashed with blood and washed with wine. Inside there is scarcely beauty at all, only silence and space and a softer and more sombre light than is usual in an Italian church. And yet in its homely, country aspect it might attract where a more splendid church would leave you cold, but that its painted stucco pillars, fantastic and incredible, seem to impress upon you the fact that Perugino was right: religion, even in mystical Italy, was for the mass of the people a kind of sentimental emotion entirely without intellectuality, ready at any moment to fall into sensual or frenzied desire, as with the Battuti, the Flagellants, who from Perugia and Assisi spread over Italy in the fourteenth century. And it is not altogether strange that this people for whom Perugino painted – often, we may think, with such contempt – held as their most precious possession the wedding or betrothal ring of the Blessed Virgin. It is kept under many locks in many caskets in the little chapel to the left of the west door of the Duomo, and may be seen five times during the year: to wit, on March the 19th, which is the Festa dello Sposalizio, on March the 25th, which is Our Lady's Day, on the second Sunday in July, on July the 30th, and on August the 2nd. Made from some agate stone, it is popularly believed to change colour according to the hearts of those who look on it. It was brought to Perugia in 1472 by Fra Vinterio di Magonza, who had 'piously' stolen it from the Franciscans at Chiusi. In this chapel too till 1797, when Napoleon took it to France, whence it has never returned, hung the Sposalizio, once supposed to be by Perugino, but by later criticism given to Lo Spagna.[†] A copy now fills the place of the original picture.
[† See The Study and Criticism of Italian Art, vol. ii., by Bernhard Berenson]
On the other side of the church is the Chapel of S. Bernardino, which belonged to the merchants' guild. A Deposition by Baroccio is over the altar; the window, perhaps the best in the church, is of the sixteenth century. A very delightful picture, attributed to Manni, of Madonna, hangs over the little altar against the third pillar on the right. It is the famous Madonna delle Grazie, the most splendid miracle-picture in Umbria. With hands raised she seems to deprecate our prayers and to bless us. Innumerable trifles, silver hearts, and invisible thankfulness surround the altar of a 'miracle' picture in which even the unbending Protestant cannot but find at least a miracle of beauty. It is to this altar that the mother always brings her child, to lay him for a moment at the feet of Madonna after his christening in the Baptistery close by. Apart from these wonders there is but little to be seen in the cathedral. A fine altarpiece, however, in the winter choir, by Luca Signorelli, is one of the noblest pictures in Perugia: Madonna sits with her Child between St. John Baptist, S. Onofrio, St. Lawrence, and S. Ercolano, while beneath are two beautiful angels, one of whom tunes his lute.
Outside the cathedral are the Piazza Municipio and the Piazza Danti. In the latter, the bronze statue of Pope Julius III., by Vincenzo Danti, used to stand, but it has now been moved to the steps of the cathedral facing the Piazza Municipio, where it is entirely out of place, in order to make room for the new electric tramway which ought never to have been brought up the Corso at all. This vile modern contrivance has almost spoiled Perugia, and has turned it from a City of Silence to a Pandemonium. It has also done, and is still doing, grave injury to the Palazzo Pubblico.
Close to the statue of Pope Julius, where it now stands against the cathedral wall, is the little pulpit from which S. Bernardino of Siena used to preach so passionately. It was while preaching here that it is said he heard his favourite bell, called Viola, which hung in the Campanile of the Convent of S. Francesco al Prato, now a ruin, fall to the ground, and, stopping his sermon, said to the people, 'My children, Viola is fallen, but she is not hurt.' But S. Bernardino with all his eloquence preached in vain. The people wept to hear him, burnt their books and pictures and finery on the stones beside the beautiful fountain, and then in a few days cheerfully cut each other's throats in the very place where they had listened to the good saint, and even in the Duomo itself. And was it not here, too, that the dead body of the beautiful Astorre Baglioni lay in state during two days, together with that of his murderer and cousin, Grifonetto?
The beautiful fountain which stands in the midst of the square was built in 1277 from designs by a Perugian artist, Fra Bevignate, a Silvestrian. The lovely statuettes and bas-reliefs which adorn it were designed by Niccolò Pisano, and sculptured by his son Giovanni.
The splendid and picturesque palace, the Palazzo Pubblico, which closes the Piazza opposite the cathedral, is one of the finest Gothic buildings in all Italy, and is the glory of Perugia. Built at the end of the twelfth century by Giacomo di Servadio and Giovanni di Benvenuto of Perugia, it was finished in the fifteenth century. The great entrance in the Corso is still guarded by S. Ercolano, S. Costanzo, and St. Louis of Toulouse, the three patron saints of Perugia. St. Louis of Toulouse was the great-grandson of St. Louis of France. He was therefore the brother of Robert, King of Naples, who beat the Ghibellines at Genoa. It was on this occasion that the Perugians chose St. Louis for one of their patrons. Thus we find also over the great door of their Palazzo Pubblico the two lions of the Guelfs, together with the griffins of Perugia. On the side of the Palazzo, towards the Duomo, are the lean lion of the Guelf cause again, in bronze, and the griffin of Perugia, while beneath is the Scala della Vaccara, a very beautiful flight of steps lately restored to its original design.
You enter the Palazzo Pubblico by the great entrance in the Corso; here all the business of Perugia would seem to be conducted. Groups of men stand talking, talking, and even their uncouth dialect cannot spoil the majesty of the Latin tongue. It is a picturesque sight, these bronzed contadini in their sheepskins and their great furred coats doing their business in the beautiful old portico of their Municipio. Though all things pass away, in Italy at least there is always left the shadow of former greatness – some suggestion on a fortunate day of all the tragedy of the centuries, in a great ruined gateway or the cold broken limbs of a forgotten god.
The churches of Perugia are many, and for the most part of little interest. S. Pietro dei Cassinesi, whose beautiful tower can be seen from the Piazza della Prefettura, is really the only church in the city which has not been emptied of its treasures. S. Pietro, it is said, enjoys this privilege because the monks befriended the army of Vittorio Emanuele in 1860, when that king took the city. As the traveller walks to S. Pietro down the Via Marzia and the Via Floramonti he will pass down the steps of S. Ercolano, and come upon that tiny octagonal Gothic church, built against the Etruscan walls in 1200 in the place where Totila is said to have martyred S. Ercolano himself. Beyond the beauty of its architecture there is nothing of interest in the church. Passing down the Via Cavour, you come on the left to the gaunt unfinished church of S. Domenico. The strange broken tower is beautiful from the Piazza della Prefettura, especially at night, when its wounds are hidden and it remembers perhaps its many prayers. Giovanni Pisano is said to have made designs for the church, which was begun early in the fourteenth century; but in the innumerable wars of that period the church he built was destroyed, and so in the middle of the seventeenth century it was rebuilt from the designs of Carlo Maderno. The interior is terrible in its dilapidated mediocrity. In the left transept is a fine tomb of Pope Benedict XI., 1303, by Giovanni Pisano. The Pope lies behind curtains which two angels are drawing close. The two spiral columns which support the canopy were inlaid with mosaic – stolen, it is said, by the soldiers of Napoleon; beautiful figures of children are sculptured on the pillars. This lovely Gothic tomb is one of the most interesting things in Perugia. The fourth chapel, too, on the south side, has an altar with some terra-cotta statues and other decorations by Agostino Ducci. The gaunt tower was lowered by Paul III. since. it interrupted his view from the Rocca, and indeed overlooked the fortress.
You pass now on the way to S. Pietro under the Porta Romana, built by Agostino Ducci in 1476, and come upon the first Cathedral of Perugia, the monastic Church of S. Pietro dei Cassinesi, the most interesting church left in the city. It was built in 963 by S. Pietro Vincioli, of the Benedictine Order of Monte Cassino, but was redecorated in the fifteenth century. The beautiful courtyard and monastery, now secularised and turned into an agricultural school, have perhaps spoiled the original façade of the church, but in the quietness and loneliness which seem to have fallen upon it, it retains much of the spirit of its founder, the Benedictine monk of that lonely monastery in Southern Italy. Only three monks remain to guard the church, and as you pass with one of them between the many columns of marble and stone, taken so long ago from the Temple of Venus which stood where now a temple of Christ stands – how soon to be quite spoiled like that of the goddess! – it is as though Time himself had with a certain irony allowed you to look for a moment on his mysterious vengeance, his destructive justice. Humanism, the belief that 'nothing which has ever interested living men and women can wholly lose its vitality – no language they have spoken, nor oracle beside which they have hushed their voices; no dream which has once been entertained by actual human minds, nothing about which they have ever been passionate or expended time and zeal,' seems to have come to pass under our very eyes at last, and to suggest to us a tolerance even for those who have destroyed – yes, here in Perugia, too – so much that was fair. How if, after all, these soldiers from the North were but the unconscious agents of a profound Humanism, to which the dead seem as passionate, as insistent, as the living, in whose hearts even to-day Paganism is not more uncertain than Christianity, since the saints are only gods whose spirits have awakened, withering their beauty and their comeliness in a world that has seen a star!
Well, it is not such thoughts, be sure, you will hear from the kindly monks of S. Pietro. The church is a basilica with nave and aisles and small transepts. Benedetto da Montepulciano made the roof, which is gaudy and not worthy of notice; and for the most part the pictures are feeble and bad.
Over the high altar of S. Pietro dei Cassinesi Perugino's Assumption used to stand, but it is gone to the North together with Raphael's 'Ansidei' Madonna, now in the National Gallery, which used to hang in S. Fiorenzo, and the Sposalizio by Lo Spagna, which was in the Cappella del S. Anello in the cathedral. The monks tell you that the choir stalls are decorated from Raphael's designs; it is hard to believe it. The view from the gallery at the end of the choir is very lovely, embracing as it does the whole valley of Spoleto. In the north aisle is a Pietà by Bonfigli, of a curious beauty; and a lovely altar-piece by Mino da Fiesole, over which is a circular Madonna and Child by Pintoricchio, now ruined. The sacristy holds five panels by Perugino of SS. Scholastica, Ercolano, Pietro Vincioli, the founder of the monastery, Costanzo, and Mauro, which are part of Perugino's Resurrection, now in Lyons. These lovely panels and the Bonfigli are surely sufficient excuse for a visit to S. Pietro. But in reality it is the quiet church itself that attracts us most. Built on the last spur of the hills it overlooks the immense valleys of the Tiber, and seems to command silence. Beyond, the vineyards and the olives sweep away to St. Mary of the Angels and the numberless cities, ruddy and white, of the valley of Spoleto; while across the unshadowed fields where the sun marches in glory and splendour, S. Pietro speaks to S. Francesco, and S. Francesco to S. Feliciano, and S. Feliciano to S. Maria Assunta, and so on to Rome where, over the sadness of the Campagna, St. Peter broods on the fortunes of the world and the death of gods.
It is in quite another part of the city that you find the only other church of any artistic interest – the Oratory of S. Bernardino, and that is but a shell like S. Ercolano. Passing under the Municipio, down the picturesque and almost mediaeval Via dei Priori, where one turns back many times to see the roofs piled up into heaven and the arches of many a shadowy street; after passing the Torre degli Scirri, a thirteenth-century tower left alone of all those belonging to the private families of the city; past more than one church, too, of little or no interest, you come out at last into the Piazza di San Francesco, where stands in ruined splendour the façade of S. Bernardino, perhaps the masterpiece of Agostino Ducci the Florentine. Built in 1461 by the magistrates of Perugia in gratitude to S. Bernardino for his efforts for peace and brotherly love among a people so disposed the other way, it is certainly one of the most charming of the coloured architectural works of Italy. Above, God the Father in glory, with two kneeling angels and eight cherubim; beneath, two griffins; and there in a flaming mandorla, surrounded by angels, is S. Bernardino, together with scenes in relief from the saint's life, one of which represents him preaching at Aquila while a star shines over him at midday. Many angels and virtues and arabesques, exquisite in their perfect style and beauty, finish the work.
S. Bernardino of Siena, whom this splendid monument commemorates, is one of the most pathetic figures of the fifteenth century. He was a true disciple of St. Francis. Born at Massa in 1380 of a noble family of Siena, he was an orphan before he was seven years old. He seems to have been brought up by his aunt Diana. The usual rather disagreeable stories are told of his childhood – stories common to all the saints, so that you wonder, hearing them, that those who in their earliest years were so commonplace and pious attained to such strength and sweetness in age. At eleven years old he was sent to Siena to school, where even then he seems to have attracted people by reason of a certain dignity in him. Yet he did not escape from the touch of the brutality of his day, though he shamed that man who would have injured him. At the age of seventeen, after a study of civil and canon law, he enrolled himself in the confraternity of Our Lady in the hospital of S. Maria della Scala to serve the sick: and it was here, after some years of discipline in the sorrows of the world, that he too heard the implacable voice calling him to the difficult way of service. Service for man, for this our world, it is the inspiration of S. Bernardino's life as it was of the lives of St. Francis and St. Catherine of Genoa. In the year 1400 a frightful pestilence, that had already wasted many another city of Italy, fell on Siena. These pestilences were no uncommon thing in that age of brilliant genius and bloodshed. It was from such a plague that Boccaccio, in the Decameron withdraws his knights and ladies in order that they may live and tell many lovely tales full of piteous and laughing words. But for S. Bernardino there was no such escape. He had heard some voice, and seen the dying and the dead too often to look perhaps at the sun again without a kind of shame. So, together with twelve young men, he served the sick, expecting heaven. During four months he seems to have managed the hospital with great skill, and to have shown a practical ability not rare in the lives of the saints. For it is the mistake of much popular criticism to think of the saints as dreamers almost incapable of action. The lives of St. Francis, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa, and St. Dominic seem to have been forgotten, or remembered only for a certain mysticism which, of course, the mass of men fails to understand. But these great saints were in reality as great in action as in thought; they accomplished many marvellous things – as St. Catherine the return of the Pope to Rome from Avignon, or St. Teresa the reconstruction of an entire Order.
And so shortly we find S. Bernardino, having done much for Siena, retiring to a little house without the city, where the walls of his garden shut out the world. It was after this that he took the habit of the Order of St. Francis at a convent of Observants not far from the city. He made his profession, September 8, 1404, on his birthday, which was the birthday also of Madonna Mary, whom he served so eagerly. In ragged garments he went through the streets while the crowd laughed at him, and, seeing one whom they knew to be of noble family in the same condition with themselves, threw stones at him; while his friends, in shame at the figure he cut, pressed him to return with them. But he had heard the very voice of Christ whispering in the sunshine and the heat: 'My son, behold Me hanging upon the cross: if thou lovest Me and art desirous to imitate Me, thou also must be fastened to thy cross; thou also must follow Me, and surely thou shalt find Me.' Gradually he came to understand his true vocation as the orator of God. He too practised an art, the art of preaching and affecting the hearts of men, the secret of which he, as St. John of the Cross, that insatiable Spaniard, found was just an ardent love. For a single word spoken by love was, he knew, more powerful than any eloquence, the profound longing of the heart speaking to the heart with a kind of irresistible sincerity. And those who heard him loved him.
In all that terrible age of slaughter and pestilence, and the awakening of the destructive intelligence of man, he was really a sort of peacemaker, pleading – at times not unsuccessfully – for love between men, seeing that He whom he served had spent so much love for them. So the word of God that he heard in the valleys silent and fair, or in the beautiful streets of the immaculate city, or in dreams and dawns while men slept, pale and lovely as the days that pass so quietly over little children, became for him a consuming fire, a flaming and lovely sword, a swift and terrible hammer, breaking the hardest rocks. And he was a very flame, consuming all that was not passion. Dullness of heart – it was his proclaimed enemy. One seems to hear him crying down the centuries from the passionate streets, now dying or dead, of Perugia or Siena: 'ye sons of men, how long will ye be dull of heart!' The name of Jesus was to him as marvellous as the name of our beloved, for when it was whispered to him, or he dared to utter it, a thousand little flames shook within him and he became almost beside himself. For this cause Pope Martin V. sent for him more than once to examine him, but dismissed him with a blessing, offering him also in 1427 the Bishopric of Siena, as did Pope Eugenius III. that of Ferrara, and later that of Urbino – all of which honours he refused, since his diocese was the world, his parish Italy. Being at Ancona and hearing that Perugia was in arms against herself, he did not hesitate to hasten thither and proclaim that God had sent him 'as His angel' to proclaim peace on earth to men of good will. Nor was he unsuccessful; for they 'forgave one another, desiring to live in peace and to pass to the Eight Hand.' Later, from that little pulpit on the wall of S. Lorenzo, he watched Perugia at his bidding burn her books, the false hair of the women, the beautiful pictures, full of desire and life, of the great lords. His influence, at least for a time, over the hearts of these fierce, strong men can scarcely be exaggerated; he ruled Perugia for a moment by love, being himself a very flame of love. In 1438 he was appointed vicar-general of the Observants in Italy, and during the five years he held that office set about a reformation. He then returned to Siena, and being on the road, ever preaching, came to Aquila in the Abruzzi, where he was taken ill of fever, dying on the 20th May 1444. He was buried there in that little far city, and was canonised by Nicholas V. in 1450. Thus ended a life as necessary, as typical of that strange fifteenth century, as that of any painter or tyrant. His art was Love, as theirs was Beauty or Power, nor was he less strict in his service. Perugia at least would be less passionate without him, for amid all the splendour and beauty, the blood and the pestilence, the passion of his century, there in the dust and dirt we find the lilies of his love.
It is difficult to tear oneself away from thoughts of S. Bernardino while looking at the beautiful monument that the Perugians built in memory of him. Close by is the ruined church of S. Francesco, where he lodged on his visits to Perugia, and where hung his favourite bell 'Viola.' Some ancient frescoes of the school of Giotto are all that remain of beauty to the old church.
Not far from S. Bernardino, towards the Via dei Priori, is the little church of S. Agata, memorable only for its doorway, which is the sole remnant of Lombard work in the city.
The little church of S. Martino, easily reached from the Piazza di San Francesco by the Via della Siepe, Via del Poggio, Via Francolina, Via Armonica, and Via Verzaro, has a beautiful altar-piece by Manni and a Crucifixion of the school of Perugino. Thence to the Via Appia is but a step. This picturesque street is one of the most curious in the city. Passing down it you come into the Piazza Ansidei on the right, and thus into the Via Vecchia, at the bottom of which is the magnificent Arch of Augustus, the lower part of which is undoubtedly Etruscan. Passing thence up the Corso Garibaldi, and turning to the right just before you come to the Porta Sant' Angelo, you find the church of S. Angelo, a little round Romanesque building of the earlier part of the thirteenth century. It stands on the supposed site of a Temple of Venus, whence were taken the pillars for S. Pietro. Behind the high altar is a great stone, itself an altar to Marcus Aurelius, while the curious fresco La Madonna del Verde is certainly one of the earliest in Perugia. The lovely gate Porta Sant' Angelo is well worth seeing, with its Ghibelline battlements; it was part of a castle of Fortebraccio. It is here that St. Francis and St. Dominic are said to have met on their way to Pope Honorius, then in Perugia.
In the convent of S. Agnese, till lately only open to women, but now, by special permission of the Pope, open to all, there are three frescoes attributed to Perugino. The delightful garden of the nuns, full of old-world flowers and herbs, is perhaps as charming as the frescoes. It is horrible to think that in a short time those poor old women, utterly ignorant of the ways of the world, will be turned into the streets. But modern Italy has no pity for Religious; and so with the rest those harmless souls, with their wondering, frightened eyes and confiding, loving ways, must be beggared to satisfy the lust for spoil of the new monarchy. It is the least admirable characteristic of a government which is certainly not beloved.
Through many delightful byways you may wander round the walls of Perugia, coming upon Etruscan boulders or Roman brick and stone, or later additions of the destroying centuries. And go where you will, always you will find something to delight you, something that is too simple or too beautiful for any land but this. For here is Italia Mystica, full of lovely and magical cities and the byways of the Saints.