Exploring Orvieto and its cathedral. 12/14/18

Orvieto is an excellent example of an Italian hill town being built on the flat top of a volcanic plug with almost vertical sides which are topped by defensive walls. People have lived here since Etruscan times and the name Orivieto comes from the Latin meaning “ancient city.” At the highest point is Orvieto Cathedral whose first stone was laid in 1290.

When you are in the town the cathedral is almost hidden to you as you walk along narrow, cobbled streets which makes its reveal even more spectacular. It is a gem set in a large piazza. Having taken a look from the outside last night, today we explore the interior.

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Looking towards the altar

Although most of the walls are stripped of their original frescoes there are some still at least partially saved. Here is a beautiful Madonna by Gentile da Fabriano who was active in the early 1400’s.

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Madonna and Child

You have to use your imagination to see this huge space covered with all these brightly colored frescoes. On the other side of the church another fresco erupts from the wall almost completely intact.

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St. Anthony the Abbot (with his little devil-pig at his feet) and St. James, the traveler

In fact at one time there were so many frescoes that the artists started laying one on top of the other!

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Mixed up media

Up at the altar the frescoes are basically intact and have a cohesive theme, the Life of the Virgin by Ugolino.

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Altar area
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Side frescoes depicting the life of Mary

The last chapel we visit is the New Chapel. It was frescoed by Fra Angelico and later by Luca Signorelli. There is a stark contrast between the two styles. Signorelli’s figures are full of movement and vigor plus they are mostly naked which is kind of strange in a church.

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Signorelli’s Hell on left and Redempton of the Bodies on the right
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The Prediction of the Anti-Christ (l.) and The Glorification of the Chosen (r.)
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The Deposition by L. Signorelli – This painting is made to fit in under the existing three brackets of the sarcophagus of Saint Pietro Parenzo

There is another chapel, the Corporal, dedicated to the Miracle of Bolsena and the reason this cathedral was built. It seems that a priest was carrying a consecrated host wrapped in a white cloth. As he was doing this he was having an inner struggle about the existence of God within the host. This doubting caused the host to weep blood and stain the cloth. The cloth is now displayed in a beautiful chapel in the cathedral. Last time we were here you could go in but now it is restricted to praying people and no pictures are allowed. Luckily I have saved a few from our first visit in 2016.

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Fresco of Pope St. Gregory holding venerated host
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The actual cloth with stains

Our combination ticket allows us access to the Museum of the Cathedral where older or less loved pieces of art are displayed for the few who want to see them. Today we are apparently the only people so inclined since they have forgotten to man the desk or turn on the lights. Sarah runs back to the main entrance to get someone to help us. The admissions lady comes up the long staircase and claps her hands sharply to make the lights come on. It is a surreal scene of infomercial meets ancient art!

We are left entirely alone in this museum. I am very good and manage to squelch my impulse to touch something really old. John manages to set off an alarm by leaning in too close but no one comes running. It is raining and cold and there is a giant outdoor staircase to climb to come and admonish us so they give us a pass. Here are some art pieces we enjoy.

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A primitive 14th century Madonna and a Chikd with Saints fresco done in the style of Orvieto
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15th century Annunciation
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Madonna and Child from the 1200’s
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A whimsical monkey in glasses drawn into a window alcove, 15th century

We have covered a lot of ground this morning. Time for lunch! We have lunch at La Pergola, a restaurant that was recommended to us the last time we were here. No other diners are here when we come in at 12:45. By 1:15 every table is full. This happened at lunch in Viterbo as well. I guess only tourist rubes do not realize that the proper time for lunch is at 1 PM. Duly noted.

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Clockwise from left ombrichelli in Amatriciana sauce, gnocchi with bacon, spinach and truffle sauce, and papardelle with wild boar sauce

By the end of lunch we can barely keep our eyes open.  Hello, jet lag! We decide to take a siesta and venture out again later in the afternoon. We all sleep deeply not even moving until alarms jangle us awake.

We visit the Church of St. Dominic which is a weird church older than the 13th century cathedral. In the mid 20th century the government wanted to build a girls’ school so they cut off the whole nave and left only the transept. Then they reoriented the direction of the church. The whole thing seems out of whack. We go outside and do a little exploring. You can see where the whole back of the church has been cut off and bricked over. The girls’ school has morphed into a museum of finance. It seems like a desecration.

The streets are pretty lively with shoppers and workmen putting up Christmas decorations. Don’t they know that Christmas officially starts the day after a Halloween!! It’s December 14th! All that hyped up retail activity missed! Sights along the streets –

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Fresh truffles for sale (no touching!)
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All things pork!
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A main shopping street in Orvieto, the bucket truck at the end is putting up Christmas decorations

We decide to try out a nearby wine bar for dinner and we end up having a wonderful meal.

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Bruschetti of newly pressed olive oil, tomatoes, and truffles
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Sarah and I have strezzopreti made from chestnut flour in a porcini and sausage sauce, John has beans and wine soaked sausages, and we add a chickpea side

This dinner of humble ingredients is so good that it is hard to not let out little “yums” as we eat. Amazing! Away from the big tourist centers there is so much fabulous food!

Well, here it is 4:30 AM and I have been up since 3AM. John has been up even longer. The third night is usually the worst from our experience and now sleep should start to improve. Damn you, jet lag!!!

 

3 thoughts on “Exploring Orvieto and its cathedral. 12/14/18

  1. The picture of Sarah is gorgeous! Catching that sunbeam aimed right at her was amazing! Meant to tell you we saw Sarah’s twin on our cruise, just with long hair. I did a double take and even followed her to look again. Yup! Tall, beautiful Sarah!

    Like

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