Special Subject ME4807 The Early Mendicants: Francis, Clare and Dominic, c.1180-1270 recently visited Italy with their module tutor, Prof. Frances Andrews. Lucy Donnelly, Abi Leonard, Scarlett Cookson, Jamie Marshall and Charlie Broughton reflect on their five days away from St Andrews:
“This year we studied the Mendicants (Francis, Clare and Dominic) and we wanted to see where they lived so we went to Italy!”
“After a quick airport croissant we found our way into Rome and went straight to the Porte Maggiore to see the ancient entrance to the city complete with a baker’s tomb shaped like an oven and cart tracks. Then we walked down to St John Lateran (the old papal palace) where Francis of Assisi met Innocent III. There we saw Innocent III’s tomb and outside Leo III’s amazing triclinium mosaic showcasing the Donation of Constantine. From there, we went on a route march through ancient and medieval Rome seeing the Trinitarian Order’s house; the home of the hermit John of Matha (he lived in an old aqueduct!!); SS. Giovanni e Paulo with the big tower built on old Roman foundations; the Palatine and Coliseum; and then we walked through the Circus Maximus. Finally we arrived at Santa Sabina, the Dominican church. There we had a lovely time meeting a real Dominican nun, Sister Josiphé. She gave us a special VIP tour of the Dominican archives. We saw lots of papal bulls (we touched them!) with wax and lead seals; Catherine of Siena’s dialogue and Vita which unexpectedly included Thomas Aquinas’ Process of Canonisation; and also chapter acts of the Dominican Order. It was wonderful and inspiring to be so close to our subject. We also saw the 5th-century wooden door panels of the basilica with biblical scenes as well as the alleged room of Saint Dominic. From Santa Sabina we had a lovely view over the Tiber where we could see St Bartholomew’s Island, the site of an early medieval hospital. We ended the day with a brisk stroll to San Clemente and the Baptistry at the Lateran where we saw some beautiful mosaics and some musical doors.
We woke up early because we were desperate to see the unmissable frescoes at SS Quattro Coronati. The San Silvestro Chapel was beautiful, covered in frescoes depicting the life cycle of Saint Sylvester and the donation of Constantine to stress papal power. We were timed and watched in this chapel which was fitting as we were following tradition with the hidden medieval listening tubes still there used to spy on guests! Then from the Coliseum, we went on a tour of Mussolini’s Rome. We walked down the via dei fori imperiale where we saw the surviving towers of the Innocentian tower wars as well as the 9th-century houses built into the Roman ruins of the forum. We visited Trajan’s market and then walked to San Marco (opposite the Wedding Cake). Then we went to the 13th-century gothic Dominican Church Santa Maria Sopra Minerva which houses the tombs of Catherine of Siena and several Medici Popes. Afterwards we went to see the Pantheon with the tomb of Raphael. Then we set off to visit the Franciscan church, Santa Maria dei Aracoeli, walking past the Crypta Balbi on the way. Once there, 4 of us hiked up the front steps to the top and were rewarded with beautiful cosmatesque floors and more tombs (those of the humanist Biondi and notaries). We then spent the afternoon in the Capitoline Museum where we saw lots of amazing things! We relived the Grand Tour seeing the Capitoline Venus, and also saw the statue of Marcus Aurelius, the thorn picker, the statue of Charles of Anjou, the globe where it was thought that Caesar’s ashes were kept, as well as the gigantic head and hand of Constantine. Three of us then continued to Santa Maria Maggiore which had a 9th century beautiful gold mosaic and a relic of the supposed Crib of Jesus! Then we went to Santa Prassede which also had a beautiful 9th-century mosaic of Pope Pascal (who had a square halo!) and his mother Theodora. Finally, we departed for Assisi – the home of Francis and Clare.
Jamie and Lucy got up early to go to Mass at the Basilica of St. Francis, where the rest of the group headed shortly. First we explored the Lower Basilica where we saw examples of frescos by both Giotto and Cimabue including the portrait of Francis next to the virgin and child. We also looked at how the frescos on the vaults were used to pass on specific messages on obedience and other virtues to the friars. From there we went below to see the tomb of Francis; next came the Upper Basilica. Here we explored the chapel of St Martin and looked at the famous life-cycle of Francis often attributed to Giotto. We saw how this collection of 28 episodes from the life of Francis developed over time with potential artist changes and how it tied in with the Old Testament scenes above. We visited the museum where we saw a good quality example of an altar crucifix by the Master of the Blue crucifix and Byzantine styled dossal of Francis surrounded by healing miracles. We walked up a hill through the streets of Assisi to Santa Chiara, built in the 1260s, after Clare’s death. We saw the dossal of Clare, a blue crucifix with St. Francis and Abbess Benedicta at the bottom kissing Christ’s feet, frescoes of Clare’s life, including Clare’s corpse being carried that featured very expressive singing Friars, twisting columns and people climbing up, Clare’s tomb, and the reliquary of her hair. We also saw the Cross of San Damiano that spoke to Francis (Celano 2) and the nuns’ grille. We then visited three possible locations for Francis’ house. We also scared a Nun by hugging the columns of the Temple of Minerva! We had a lovely walk down to San Damiano. We learned that the building was originally a rural building of some form but had been rebuilt in part by Francis and now had a rose window, a refectory, and the dormitory where Clare died. We also saw the window where Celano tells us Francis threw his money, and later plague frescos showing Saints Sebastian and Roch. After a leisurely, endless hike back to Assisi we caught the bus to St Maria degli Angeli which houses the Portiuncula, one of the first churches rebuilt by Francis along with the cell in which he died. At the Portiuncula we saw later Frescos advertising the portiuncula indulgence and also the tombstone of Peter Catanii. At the neighbouring museum we saw the bed panel painted to become a relic and a Cimabue panel. Upstairs we saw the cell of Bernadino of Siena. We ended our time in Assisi by exploring Roman remains beneath Santa Maria Maggiore.
Today we arrived into the city of Perugia and saw the Benedictine fountain commissioned by fratre Bevignate and carved by Nicola Pisano as well as the cathedral and the town hall opposite. Then we met Giovanna Casagrande and were treated to a special tour of the Roman, Etruscan, and Byzantine ruins under the Cathedral. The museum there was amazing: we TOUCHED a thirteenth-century PAPAL THRONE and saw lots of plague banners and beautiful manuscripts! Then Prof. Andrews took us on a tour of the city to see the important mendicant houses which dominate the different sectors of the city. We saw the church of San Francesco with the confraternity’s oratory next door. Then we walked down the hill and saw a Roman mosaic, the Augustinian’s church as well as the houses and hospitals of the female monastic orders. Then we walked through the Etruscan gate back towards the centre of the city. We then went round the National Gallery of Art for Umbria where we saw lots of gigantic crosses and learnt to identify the different saints in the paintings. We saw lots of delicate secular ivory objects turned into reliquaries and altar pieces. Finally we went to the Dominican church, San Domenico. Here we saw the tomb of Benedict IX, the first Dominican Pope.
We woke up in Bologna and had a lovely walking tour through the streets. We went to San Martino, the Carmelite Church and then to San Petronio which is the church built by the city which rivalled the Cathedral. Then we went to Santo Stefano. We then raced up one of the medieval towers in the centre and saw the breathtaking view of Bologna. We went to San Domenico where we saw the tomb of Saint Dominic (including his skull in a reliquary case), decorated by artists including Nicola Pisano and Michelangelo, as well as the cloister and choir stalls. Finally we went to a the Bologna city art gallery where we saw lots of beautiful crosses and more paintings with saints including an amazing work by, the medieval master, Giotto!”
ME4807 The Early Mendicants is one of several honours-level modules offered at St Andrews on Italian history. Prof. Andrews also offers ME3103 Mediaeval Rome. Dr Emily Michelson offers MO3036 The Italian Renaissance, MO3044 Topics in Renaissance Venice and MO3043 Early Modern Rome. Dr Kate Ferris offers MO3328 Making Italians: Region, Nation and Empire in Italy from Unification to Fascism, and MO3423 Everyday Life in Fascist Italy.