You may wish to see an introductory page on this section first.
(left) Porta Marina; (right) a section of the walls with a round tower
At the point where the Chienti or rather the valley through
which it runs, finally opens out into a broader basin,
and the shallow bed of the river becomes a world too
wide for its scanty stream, except at times of floods,
stands the city of Tolentino (..). The old Gothic gateway by which Tolentino is
entered is picturesque, and there is still something of
Italian medieval character about the group of public
buildings in the Piazza.
Thomas Adolphus Trollope - A Lenten Journey in Umbria and the Marches - 1862
Tolentino retains a section of its XIIIth century walls and some of the gates which gave access to the town (two other gates can be seen in the introductory page).
Cathedral: (left) Carcere (prison) di S. Catervo: XIVth century fresco portraying one of the Wise Virgins; (right) Cappella di S. Catervo: IVth century sarcophagus of Sts. Catervo and Settimia which has been placed above medieval lions
We know that Tolentino was a Roman town mainly because it was mentioned by Pliny the Elder in a description of the region, but it does not retain monuments of that period. After the devastation of the region caused by the wars of the VIth century, a limited population continued to inhabit a section of the town around a small mausoleum dedicated to Flavius Julius Catervus. According to tradition he was a Roman of senatorial rank who was martyred at Tolentino in the early IInd century. The mausoleum included the prison where the saint and his wife were detained.
Cathedral - Cappella di S. Catervo: (left) medallion portrait of Sts. Catervo and Settimia on the rear side of the sarcophagus; (right) detail of a fresco by Francesco da Tolentino (early XVIth century)
The relief shows aspects of a traditional Roman wedding ceremony: the couple join their right hands (Dextrarum Iunctio), the bride has lifted the veil which covered her head and the groom holds the document stating the union. The inscriptions on the sarcophagus do not contain references to the martyrdom of Catervo and his wife, but they say he died at the age of 56, which in those times was regarded an "old age death".
A church dedicated to St. Catervo was built around the mausoleum in the IXth century. It was replaced by a larger building in the XIIIth century and the latter was entirely redesigned in the XIXth century, with the exception of the chapel housing the sarcophagus and of the prison. Tolentino was made a bishopric see in 1586 and the church became its Cathedral.
S. Francesco: early XIVth century frescoes: (left) Crucifixion; (right) a warrior saint holding the model of the church and a flag with the colours of the Tolentino coat of arms
Many Franciscan convents were built in the Marches in the XIIIth century, because St. Francis of Assisi captured the imagination of his contemporaries by his life of poverty and love.
His teachings played down the importance of the Church in non religious matters*. This made his Order popular in towns which, similar to Tolentino, fought to establish their own self-government institutions against the rights claimed by bishops and abbots to their territories.
The church of the Franciscan convent at Tolentino was built in the late XIIIth century, but it was redesigned in 1875. It retains some interesting frescoes in a side chapel which was not affected by the changes.
* "We should regard all clerics and all religious as our lord in those things which pertain to the salvation of the soul." 1221 Rule of St. Francis - Chapter XIX - 3.
Former church of S. Maria della CaritÓ: (left) bell tower; (centre) fašade; (right) details of the Romanesque portal with (perhaps) portraits of kings/emperors
S. Maria della CaritÓ is the church of Tolentino which best retains its medieval character. It was built in 1233 and it was dedicated to St. James. In the early XIXth century it was given to ConfraternitÓ della CaritÓ, a brotherhood. It is now deconsecrated and used as an auditorium.
In the XIIIth century Tolentino was involved in the conflicts between the German Emperors and the Popes, especially after the death of Emperor Frederick II in 1250. In 1296 Tolentino came to possess Urbisaglia, a fortress in the southern part of the River Chienti valley and therefore it acquired control of the road between Camerino and the Adriatic Sea. This caused the reaction of the Varano, de-facto rulers of Camerino, who managed to be appointed Vicars of the Popes at Tolentino between 1355 and 1434.
The Augustinian Order was founded in the XIIIth century. In 1275 Brother Nicholas joined the Augustinian convent of Tolentino from a nearby small town. He died there in 1305. His ascetic life, his mystic visions and a number of miracles attributed to him led his fellow brothers to dedicate the church of their convent to him and to promote his canonization in 1325.
The first church was redesigned and enlarged in the XVth century to cope with the growing number of pilgrims who visited it. The fašade was completed in the XVIIIth century and it was decorated with a radiating sun, a reference to St. Nicholas who in his lifetime was illuminated by a sort of "personal" sun. The image used as background for this page shows a painted sun in the cloister.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino: (left) portal; (right) relief above the portal showing the Virgin Mary between St. Augustine (left) and St. Nicholas (right) and St. George killing the dragon above them
The portal was made in 1432-1435 by Nanni di Bartolo, a Florentine sculptor. It was commissioned by Niccol˛ Mauruzi, aka Niccol˛ da Tolentino, a condottiere who fought for Pope Eugenius IV and for the Republic of Florence. He was portrayed by Paolo Uccello (Battaglia di S. Romano) and Andrea del Castagno (funerary monument in S. Maria del Fiore) (image opens in another window). He was defeated by Francesco Sforza, another condottiere, who in 1435 seized Tolentino and other towns of the region. The relief portraying St. George could be a reference to him.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino - Cappellone di S. Nicola: (left) south-eastern wall; (right) Crucifixion (north-eastern wall) with St. Catherine of the Wheel and St. Nicholas
In the early XIVth century a large hall between the church and the cloister which was used as a sacristy was turned into a mausoleum dedicated to St. Nicholas. The roof was modified and the entire chapel was decorated with frescoes: those on the walls depict events of the lives of Jesus (upper sections) and of St. Nicholas (lower sections) including some of the miracles they performed.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino - Cappellone di S. Nicola: (left) St. Nicholas saves passengers and crew of a ship (north-western wall); (right) death of St. Nicholas (south-western wall)
The frescoes are attributed to Pietro da Rimini, a painter who most likely worked on the decoration of the Refectory of Pomposa prior to coming to Tolentino. There is a link between St. Nicholas of Tolentino and the better known St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. According to tradition the parents of Nicholas/Tolentino made a pilgrimage to Bari to pray at the tomb of Nicholas/Myra where they were foretold the birth of a baby boy whom they called Nicholas. The capability of performing miracles was a "gift" from Nicholas/Myra. In this way a hierarchy was established between the two saints.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino: (left) interior of the church; (right) 1628 ceiling by Filippo da Firenze
In 1485 the Augustinians brothers of Tolentino were replaced by other Augustinian brothers from Lombardy. Giambattista Visconti, Archbishop of Teramo and former Prior of the Augustinian convent at Tolentino, financed the redesign of the interior of the church and the construction of a wooden ceiling which was decorated with the biscione (snake) of the Visconti, who ruled Milan from the XIIIth century to 1447.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino: Cappella delle Sante Braccia: (left) main altar; (right) detail of a painting by Matteo Strom depicting a major fire at Palazzo Ducale in Venice in December 1577 which was extinguished by the intervention of St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas of Tolentino, who lived, and worked
miracles, and died here, has achieved a very high
reputation among the peasantry of his own district,
and some degree of fame throughout Catholic
Christendom. And of course the local historians have
a great deal to say about his life and wonderful deeds.
Of these, that which is most celebrated among the
people of the district is a periodical miracle, which
the saint was in the habit of performing occasionally
for three centuries. It seems that in the year 1345 a certain monk attempted to steal the arms (It. braccia) of the
Saint, having for this purpose cut them from his
body. He was however miraculously stopped in his
flight, and rendered unable to move in the cloister of
the church, where the body was preserved; so that
in the morning he was detected, the arms were recovered, and restored to the body. But, wonderful
to relate, the dry arms on being brought back to the
body from which they had been sacrilegiously cut,
began to bleed. And more wonderful still, this
prodigy has again from time to time taken place. It
is recorded to have happened once in the fourteenth
century; once in the fifteenth; seven times in the sixteenth, and sixteen times in the seventeenth century;
the last occasion being in the year 1700. The varied
frequency of the miracle in the different centuries, is
not altogether unsuggestive of observation. Since
the year 1700, Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, setting
an example of discretion in this matter which might
be advantageously imitated by certain other saints,
has contented himself with his laurels won, and has
made no further sign. T. A. Trollope
The arms were kept in a separate chapel which is lavishly decorated and contains many golden and silver ex-votos, including two paintings sent by the Republic of Venice to thank St. Nicholas for his protection. In 1932 the arms were reunited with the body of the saint in a crypt built beneath Cappellone di S. Nicola.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino: (left) main cloister; (right) portal of the XIVth century Capitular Hall
The convent is a large complex which includes two cloisters. The main one is dated XIVth century; its upper part was added in the XVIth century.
The large sanctuary built in the XVth and XVIth centuries at Loreto did not impact on the popularity of the shrine at Tolentino. According to tradition in 1294 St. Nicholas saw the angels carrying the house of the Virgin Mary and advised them to relocate it at Loreto. The Popes opened Via Lauretana, a road which facilitated communication between Rome and Loreto and passed through Tolentino. Most pilgrims paid visits to both sanctuaries.
Basilica di S. Nicola da Tolentino: frescoes in the main cloister
In 1690-1695 the main cloister was decorated with frescoes. Agostino Orsoni from Bologna painted the architectural frames and Giovanni Anastasi from Senigallia the episodes depicting some of the over 300 visions and miracles attributed to St. Nicholas. The wealthiest families of Tolentino paid for the frescoes and had their coats of arms painted at the top.
(left) Torre dei Tre Orologi; (centre) astronomical hour (above) and day of the week and of the month (below); (right) moon phases (above) and Italian Hour (below)
The clock tower was built in the XVIth century in the main square of the town, but the mechanisms of its clocks were modified in the XIXth century. The Italian Hour was abolished in 1847, but because another clock indicated the "French" hour (i.e. the astronomical one) there was no need to modify the Italian Hour quadrant. Because the day ended at the evening Ave Maria prayers, these two words are shown below the VI of the quadrant.
The Ave Maria rings from the church steeples, and the Carnival is over in an instant - put out like a taper, with a breath!
Charles Dickens - Pictures from Italy - 1846.
Historical buildings: (left) house where Francesco Filelfo was born; (centre) Palazzo Pettoni Massi where Nicol˛ Mauruzi was born; (right) Renaissance portal of Palazzo Antici Mattei, where Queen Christina of Sweden stayed in 1655 on her way to Rome
Francesco Filelfo (1398-1481) acquired an in-depth knowledge of ancient Greek texts during the seven years he spent at
Constantinople as secretary of the Bailo, the Venetian ambassador. He married Teodora, niece of Manuel Chrysoloras, a Byzantine literate who had a major role in introducing works of Greek authors to Italy. Filelfo eventually became a teacher of philosophy in Venice, Milan, Florence and Siena.
A branch of the Antici Mattei family lived at Recanati and Adelaide Antici Mattei was the mother of Giacomo Leopardi, one of the greatest Italian poets of all times.
A carrier who was going to Tolentino took me with him for two paoli (a silver coin of the Papal State), and for six more I might have reached Foligno in a waggon, but unfortunately a wish for economy made me refuse the offer. (..) The next day, refreshed by a good night's rest, and ready to resume my journey, I wanted to pay the innkeeper, but, alas! a new misfortune was in store for me! Let the reader imagine my sad position! I recollected that I had forgotten my purse, containing seven sequins (a gold Venetian coin), on the table of the inn at Tolentino. What a thunderbolt! I was in despair, but I gave up the idea of going back, as it was very doubtful whether I would find my money. Yet it contained all I possessed, save a few copper coins I had in my pocket. I paid my small bill, and, deeply grieved at my loss, continued my journey towards Seraval (and Rome).
The Memoirs of Jacques Casanova de Seingalt - 1894 translation by Arthur Machen
Tolentino (Inn, La Corona, very tolerable and clean)
John Murray - A Handbook for Travellers in Central Italy - 1857.
The inn mentioned by Casanova was redesigned in the XIXth century and for many years it was the best hotel in town.
The fourteenth century inhabitants of Tolentino would have been astonished, could they have foreseen that the principal European reputation of their city in the time to come would arise from its having been a scene of, and giving its name to a treaty by which the Papal Government ceded to a lay conqueror a part of its dominions, and thus established a precedent fatal to the "non possumus" by which the still harder pressed successors of that unfortunate 6th Pius would one day vainly seek to protect the last shreds of their temporal power. T. A. Trollope.
Trollope wrote his book in 1862 when Pope Pius IX ruled over a Papal State which included only Rome and parts of Latium and was surrounded by the Kingdom of Italy. Non possumus (We cannot) was his answer to those who suggested to him to give up temporal power.
(During the drive from Tolentino to Macerata) the attention of
the traveller will be attracted by a large and imposing
looking castellated building on the right-hand of the
road called "Il Castello della Rancia". It has long
since been abandoned, and from its position in the
midst of the low ground of the wide basin of the Chienti, could never have been a military position of
much importance. It now serves to mark the site of
the great battle between Murat and his Neapolitans
with the Austrians under Bianchi, in May 1815. When night fell on the day's work, two thousand
men lay dead and dying on that fertile plain, now
once again green with the thick growing wheat-crops.
T. A. Trollope.
Joachim Murat, brother-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte and King of Naples declared war on Austria in March 1815 when he learnt that Napoleon had returned to France. He was defeated at Tolentino and eventually fled to Corsica. In October he made an unsuccessful attempt to reclaim his kingdom by landing in Calabria where he was executed.