January 22, 2021
Two events – a FB posting and an old old photograph – stirred memories of that long ago.
One – Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo
Between April and August of 1972, I lived in Perugia attending the Universita per Stranieri – Italian University for Foreigners. It was a program similar to what today may be called Junior-year Abroad; in other words, my course-work was pre-approved by Manhattan College and I received credit for my Italian classwork.
- In the late 20th century, Perugia was still a hilltop town. And the main street – Corso Vannucci – was the center of life for us stranieri.
- One of our favorites was the fancy espresso bar that was presided over by a most masculine woman. (In the early 70s, masculine women were a novelty; and we would gawk every time we walked by. But prices were way beyond our student budgets, so we ventured in maybe once a month.)
- I lived in rooms that a nice woman rented out to students. There were 3 of us. I shared a room with a young-man from Georgia, and the other was a single.
- The young-man from Georgia, had begun his time in England where he bought a Triumph and then drove it down to Perugia.
- There I was, studying Italian but on weekends, the young-man from Georgia and the transplant Calabrian, via Canada and New York City, headed out into the Umbrian countryside.
- Assisi, from down in the valley, from the back of a motorcycle, was a fairy-tale landscape.
One afternoon, I was exploring the area north of the university and I saw this round structure at the end of stone-paved alley. It turned out to be a beautiful Medieval chapel.
I saw no signage, so had no idea what it was. I went inside to discover a chapel of sorts. The place was empty, but around the altar, on a raised dais were sheaves of wheat – which the sun, from windows up in the dome, bathed in golden light.
Even now that sweet memory lingers.
For some fifty years, I’ve been trying to figure where that chapel was. But memory is fickle, it’s elusive, it’s unreliable and I never figured out what I had stumbled on, all those years ago.
Until today. There on Facebook was my chapel from memory. I recognized it from the one pic in the post. And that led me to Google Maps. It’s the Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo.
Here’s the Wikipedia entry for the small church.
San Michele Arcangelo, also known as Sant’Angelo, is a paleo-Christian temple in the city of Perugia in Umbria. The circular building dates to the 5th to 6th century and it incorporates Corinthian capped columns from a prior pagan temple. It is dedicated to the Archangel Michael, whose churches were often located in elevated spots. The small round church is also often called Tempio or Tempietto, and is located in the neighborhood Borgo Sant’Angelo, near the ancient northern gate (Porta Sant’Angelo) of the city.
The structure of the church has been altered across the centuries; in 1479, it was converted into a small fort. A major restoration occurred in 1948 that revealed ancient frescoes and sealed windows. The architecture is an early Romanesque with Byzantine influences in the chapel placement, but the circular temple is something seen in other ancient churches in central Italy.
The interior has a circumferential ambulatory delimited by sixteen columns with Corinthian capitals. The interior has some notable early Christian symbolism, including a pentagram at the entrance and some crosses belonging to Knights Templar order.