Santa Giuliana (mid-13th century)
Pope Gregory IX wrote two letters on consecutive days in January 1235 that seem to relate to the foundation of this nunnery:
- The first referred to a number of men from Perugia who had recently entered the monastery of San Salvatore on Monte Acuto and who wished to use their possessions to build a nunnery in Perugia for their female relations and other women who wanted to escape from the vanities of the world. [Pope Gregory IX had transferred San Salvatore from the Camaldolesians to the Cistercians in 1234 in order to effect its reform.]
- The second was addressed to a group of noble ladies in Perugia who wished to build a Cistercian nunnery in Perugia "in loco qui dicitur Sancta Maria" in honour of St Elizabeth of Hungary, whom he had canonised in the previous year at San Domenico (later San Domenico Vecchio).
A third letter that Pope Gregory IX wrote six months later, this time to a group of 11 ladies from Perugia, noted that the monks of San Salvatore had given them the church of Santa Giuliana on Monte Acuto and confirmed the transfer.
It is not possible to construct the early history of the nunnery from these sketchy references. One possibility is that the nunnery dedicated to St Elizabeth, which was presumably in Perugia and perhaps on the present site of Santa Giuliana, did not immediately succeed. The nuns might therefore have moved to Santa Giuliana on Monte Acuto.
In 1248, a lady called Benvenuta di Cilino di Assisi made a bequest to the nuns of Santa Giuliana that was embedded among others to a number of nunneries in Perugia:
- Santa Caterina (later Santa Caterina Vecchia);
- Sant’ Angelo di Arenaria (or del Renaio), near Cenerente (some 4 km outside Porta Sant' Angelo), which later transferred to San Francesco delle Donne;
This suggests that Santa Giuliana was also, by that time, in Perugia, presumably on the present site.
The existence of this nunnery comes sharply into focus in 1253, when Pope Innocent IV wrote a series of letters taking it under papal protection. This seems to have been at the instigation of John of Toledo, the Cardinal Protector of the Cistercians, whom Pope Innocent IV names as the founder of the nunnery. From these, it is clear that their church was dedicated to the Virgin as well as to St Juliana, suggesting that it had indeed been built "in loco qui dicitur Sancta Maria". In 1254, the nunnery was accepted as subject to the Cistercian monastery of San Galgano, near Siena.
Santa Giuliana attracted the patronage of the nobles of Perugia (who appreciated it as a home for their daughters) and it became one of the richest and most powerful nunneries in Umbria. In 1376, the Abbess, Gabriella Bontempi secured the relic of a fragment of the head of St Juliana of Nicomedia from San Domenico. (She might well have used the influence of her brother, Bishop Andrea Bontempi.)
Santa Giuliana became notorious from the 15th century for the scandalous behaviour of its nuns, many of whom were placed there by their families and lacked a religious vocation. The community inevitably attracted the attention of the Counter Reformation papacy. In 1567, Pope Pius V severed its connections with the Cistercians and placed it under the jurisdiction of the bishops of Perugia.
The church was subsequently re-modeled and re-consecrated on two occasions:
- in 1595, by Bishop Napoleone Comitoli; and
- in 1750, by Bishop Francesco Riccardo Ferniani.
The nunnery was suppressed in the Napoleonic period, when the church was used as a granary. It was subsequently re-opened until ca. 1862, when the nuns moved to Santa Maria di Monteluce. The convent then became a military hospital, and it remains in military ownership.
Grave goods from a number of Etruscan tombs (4th century BC) that were excavated here in 1932-5 are exhibited in the Museo Archeologico.
The church was re-opened in 1937 and is now open for Mass each Sunday morning. Its lovely 14th century façade (14th century) and Gothic campanile have been well restored.
The interior is in the form of a rectangular room with a tie-beamed ceiling. A large triumphal arch and a double altar separated the nuns’ choir from the space for the congregation.
Frescoes of the back wall of the choir (late 14th century)
The upper part of this wall in the nuns’ choir seems to have hosted a large composition, but only traces remain. There are however more substantial remains of later votive frescoes below, including one (to the right) of the Madonna del Latte, St John the Baptist and a Cistercian saint.
Frescoes of the triumphal (early 14th century)
the Evangelists, the Lamb of God and twelve angels in tondi above;
St Juliana on the left; and
- St Bernard of Chiaravalle (the founder of the Cistercians) holding the Rule of the Order.
Frescoes from the Refectory
Guides often refer to two detached frescoes from the refectory in the church, but these seem to have been removed:
the Last Supper (ca. 1270); and
the Coronation of the Virgin (late 13th century), which is attributed to the Maestro del Trittico Marzolini.
Unfortunately, it is rarely possible to visit the two cloisters:
The small cloister is reached from a door to the left of the nuns’ choir; and
The large cloister (ca. 1375), which is attributed to Matteo Gattapone, is beyond it.
Works Removed from Santa Giuliana
Santa Giuliana Dossal (1291)
This dossal, which is signed and dated, is the only known work by Vigoroso da Siena
and is the earliest surviving work in Perugia by a "foreign" artist. The main panel depicts the Madonna and Child with SS Mary Magdalene, John
the Baptist, John the Evangelist and Juliana (who is identified by
inscription). The dossal belonged to the Collegio della Mercanzia in 1879, the date at which it entered the Galleria Nazionale (Room 1), but the presence of St Juliana suggests that it came from Santa Giuliana.
Tabernacle for the reliquary of St Juliana (ca. 1376)
This gilded copper tabernacle , which was probably commissioned from a Sienese workshop, originally contained a reliquary that in turn contained a piece of the skull of St Juliana. The relics of this saint had been translated from Cuma to Naples in 1207, and this fragment subsequently passed into the possession of the friars of San Domenico. They enclosed it in a reliquary bust of the head of St Juliana, which was inscribed with the additional information that it had been made in Rome by Master William.
As noted above, the friars of San Domenico gave the relic and its reliquary to the nuns in 1376. They commissioned this tabernacle to enclose it. The inscription records that the friars had made this gift “of their own free will and with honour”. Another inscription records that Abbess Ermelinda Montesperelli commissioned the upper part of the tabernacle as a replacement in 1852, at which point the lower part seems to have been heavily restored.
The nuns removed the reliquary from the tabernacle in the Napoleonic period so that both could be hidden, and they subsequently accompanied them to Santa Maria di Monteluce.
The tabernacle was subsequently moved to the Galleria Nazionale (Room 17) and was included in an exhibition held in 1907.
The reliquary appeared on the market in 1933 and subsequently found its way to the Metropolitan Museum, New York.
Fresco from Santa Giuliana (1376)
This frescoed triptych, which is the autograph work of the Maestro di Santa Giuliana, was detached from the Chapter Room (which was at the base of the campanile) in the 1870s. The inscription
reveals that the Abbess Gabriella Bontempi commissioned it to
commemorate the donation of the relics of St Juliana to the nuns by the
monks of San Domenico. The fresco was displayed in the church in the
period 1941-54 and was subsequently moved to the Galleria Nazionale. It is now displayed in the conference room adjoining the Sala Podiani.
main scene depicts St Juliana protecting the nuns, who kneel under her
cloak, with a flying angel to each side. The nun immediately to the
left of St Juliana is presumably Gabriella Bontempi, and the smaller
kneeling male figure behind her might have been the nuns' chaplain.
The other compartments depict:
Christopher carrying the baby Jesus across a river (on the right); and
- Cardinal John of Toledo, the founder of the nunnery (on the left).
Martyrdom of St Juliana (late 14th century)
This fresco from a lunette in the nunnery was detached in 1862 and entered the Galleria Nazionale a year later. It is now in the deposit of the gallery.
In the fresco, St Juliana hangs by her hair and is comforted by an angel while three men inflict further tortures: one pours molten lead over her while the other two beat her with clubs.
Frescoes from Santa Giuliana (ca. 1380)
These two frescoes, which were detached before 1878 from a lunette in the nunnery, are now in the Galleria Nazionale (Room 1). They depict:
- the Nativity; and
- the adoration of the shepherds.
The inscription records that the Abbess Antonia di Francesco Buccoli commissioned this polyptych from Domenico di Bartolo in 1438. It was transferred from the choir to the Galleria Nazionale (Room 5) in 1863.
The altarpiece is in the form of a
conventional polyptych, but the use of triangular gables above the main
panels seems to pay homage to the format of work that it probably
replaced on the high altar: the dossal (1291) by Vigoroso da Siena (see above). The
central panel depicts the Madonna and Child, with Christ blessing in
the gable above. The Abbess Antonia di Francesco Buccoli is shown
kneeling before the Madonna and Child.
The iconography of the panel of St Juliana is striking: she is often depicted leading a winged demon by a chain, but in this case the chain seems to be attached to her navel through a hole in her gown.
St John the Evangelist Altarpiece (ca. 1518)
This altarpiece, which is attributed to Berto di Giovanni, was first recorded in 1683 on an altar on the left wall of Santa Giuliana. Agostino Tofanelli, the Director of the Musei Capitolini too the main panel to Rome in 1811. It remained there until ca. 1822, when it was reunited with the other
panels in the church. They entered the Galleria Nazionale (Room 27) in 1863.
The panels depict:
St John the Evangelist writing his gospel on the island of Patmos (the main panel)
- God the Father (the lunette panel); and
- scenes from the life of St John the Evangelist (the predella panels).
Madonna and Child with saints (1532)
This altarpiece is signed by Domenico Alfani and dated. Agostino Tofanelli, the Director of the Musei Capitolini took the altarpiece to Rome in 1811, and it was returned to the church in 1815. It was transferred to the Galleria Nazionale in 1863 and is now in the deposit there.
The main panel depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned with SS John the Baptist and Juliana.
The predella depicts scenes from the martyrdom of St Juliana.
Return to Walk VII.