You may wish to see a page on ancient Sutri first.
The history of the Papal State began in Sutri in 728. At that time Italy was split between the Longobards (or Lombards), who had invaded the peninsula in the VIth century and the Byzantine Empire. The Longobards, who were ruled by an elected king, occupied most of Italy while the Byzantines retained control over Ravenna, Rome, Naples and a few other coastal areas. Liutprand, a Longobard king, conquered many Byzantine territories near Ravenna and in 728 he moved with his army towards Rome, but he desisted from conquering the city at the request of Pope Gregory II to whom he donated the town of Sutri, which thus became the first possession of the Roman Church: this explains why this part of the Papal State was called Patrimonium Petri (it included Viterbo).
Sutri retains a very rare memento of that period consisting of a large crypt under the cathedral. It was built by using ancient columns, but apparently the Longobards did not find enough capitals for them and they therefore used new capitals which they decorated with roughly cut motifs. You may wish to see a large Xth century crypt at Acquapendente, north of Sutri.
S. Maria del Parto (Our Lady of Deliverance): frescoes in the vestibule one of which depicts a bull, unscathed by the arrows thrown by its master and indicating the site of a cave sacred to St. Michael the Archangel on Mount Gargano in Southern Italy; (inset) enlargement of the bull
The walls of the vestibule and the ceiling of the church retain traces of frescoes of the thirteenth or fourteenth century.
George Dennis - The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria - 1878
Dennis was right in dating the frescoes, but the legend of the apparition of St. Michael the Archangel was already popular in the VIIth century when Romuald I, Longobard Duke of Benevento in 662-687, encouraged pilgrims to visit the site.
The altar-piece was an old fresco of the Madonna and Child, which was under repair by a young artist of Sutri. (..) The young artist threw down his brush and palette, and insisted politely on doing the honours of his native town. It is called La Madonna del Parto. Dennis
The image on the altar was especially worshipped by pregnant women, who prayed for a safe delivery. You may wish to see Madonna del Parto, a fine statue by Jacopo Sansovino at S. Agostino in Rome which is associated with devotions related to pregnancy.
(left) Castello di Carlo Magno; (right) Torre degli Arraggiati
town is a sepulchral chamber with a
pillar in the centre, called the "Grotta
d' Orlando," in which tradition relates
that Charlemagne's celebrated Paladin
John Murray - Handbook for travellers in central Italy - 1843
Tradition represents that hero, while on his way to Rome in the army of Charlemagne, as having lured away some maid or matron of Sutri, and concealed her in this cave, which would scarcely tempt an Aeneas and Dido at present. On the same cliff with the Villa Savorelli is a ruin, pointed out as the house in which Charlemagne took up his abode, when on his way to Rome, to succour Adrian I., but it is evidently of much later date. Dennis
Sutri is located along Via Cassia, the ancient road linking Rome with northern Italy. During the Middle Ages it became known as Via Francigena because it was used by French pilgrims going to Rome. Its western approach to Sutri is linked with legends associated with Charlemagne who probably passed by Sutri on his way to Rome where he was crowned Imperator Romanorum on Christmas 800.
The ruins of a medieval castle on the hillock of S. Maria del Parto are named after him and a cave beneath it is called Grotta d'Orlando and believed to be the birthplace of Roland, the chief paladin of Charlemagne.
The picturesqueness of approaching Sutri by the restored path of Via Francigena is increased by the ruins of a medieval tower, which was eventually included in a Carmelite monastery. It was almost demolished in 1433 when Niccolò Fortebracci, a mercenary warlord, plundered Sutri.
(left) Torre Fortebracci; (centre) XVth century tower; (right) coat of arms of Pope Innocent VIII
The modern town has a population of
2000 souls, but, although several popes
in the eleventh (1046) and twelfth (1111) centuries
held councils there, it contains nothing
of remarkable interest; the views from
some of its old houses overlooking the
valley are very beautiful. Murray
Sutri was founded by the Etruscans on a narrow hill protected by ravines created by two small streams. The natural defences of the town were supplemented by walls and towers built at different periods. Only the western side of the walls was designed according to modern patterns in the late XVth century. These fortifications however compare unfavourably with those built at the same time at nearby Nepi, Ronciglione and Civita Castellana.
(left) Porta Vecchia or Franceta; (centre) coat of arms of Paolo Emilio Cesi, Governor of the town, who was made cardinal by Pope Leo X Medici, and coat of arms of Sutri portraying Saturn,
the mythical founder of the town, as a knight (a better relief is used as background image for this page); (right) coat of arms of
Pope Urban VIII which stood on Porta Romana, now in the courtyard of the Town Hall
Via Cassia passed at the foot of the hill and the ancient gate which gave access to the town is the only one which has not been demolished or enlarged/modified. In the XVIth century the route of Via Cassia was modified and it crossed the whole town from east to west. Pope Urban VIII built a new gate at the eastern entrance, which was eventually pulled down to enlarge the street.
Bishop's Palace and Cathedral
The main families of medieval Sutri built their houses on the site of the ancient acropolis; they were built using the local volcanic stone which has yellowish tones. The medieval aspect of the town was in part modified by the redesign of the Cathedral and of the Bishop's Palace.
Cathedral: (left) main portal with the coat of arms of Pope Julius III; (centre) Cosmati work on the portal and on the floor of the interior;
(right) one of the ancient Corinthian columns which were incorporated into XVIIIth century pillars
The earliest records indicate that Sutri was a diocese at the beginning of the Vth century. Being a bishopric see was very important for a town of the Papal State, because the jurisdiction of bishops was not limited to religious matters, but included the administration of the territory of the diocese. Sutri had to accept a downgrading of its role in 1435 when its diocese was united with that of Nepi; this decision by Pope Eugenius IV was probably a consequence of the plundering of Sutri in 1433 by Niccolo Fortebracci which impoverished the town and caused its decline.
Paintings: (left) Cathedral: Christ Blessing, a XIIIth century panel painting; (centre) crypt of the Cathedral:
XVth century fresco (Umbrian school); (right) S. Silvestro: XVIth century fresco
The interior of the Cathedral was entirely redesigned in the XVIIIth century, but it retains some interesting paintings preceding the renovation; other interesting paintings can be seen in minor churches of the town.
Museo del Patrimonium (Petri) - from S. Francesco: (left) Renaissance cupboard for the Holy Oil for the Sick with traces of gilding (similar to those at Capranica and S. Maria in Trastevere); (right) detail of a 1590 painting depicting an allegory of the Cord of St. Francis
Pope Sixtus V promoted the worship of St. Francis by declaring the sacredness of the thin white cord which fastened the simple tunic of the Franciscan habit. The 1590 painting by Angelo da Vallerano shows how the Cord saved the faithful from Hell, similar to the Holy Rosary (of the Dominicans).
Joseph Bernard Doebbing, Bishop of Sutri and Nepi in 1900-1916, promoted a redesign of his medieval palace, by creating a terrace overlooking Via Cassia, adding battlements and erecting a clock tower. Today the building houses a museum with a permanent collection of paintings and the Efebo di Sutri, in addition to temporary exhibitions.
(left) Window of the house of Giovanni Andrea dell'Anguillara; (centre) coats of arms of the Anguillara;
(right) XVIIth century balcony decorated with the dove of the Pamphilj
Sutri was a direct possession of the Papal State yet in the XIIIth century the Vico and the Anguillara families fought for its control. The Vico were based on Mount Cimino, north of Sutri and the Anguillara around Lake Bracciano, where a town is named after them. Eventually the Anguillara ousted the Vico and became the most influential family of Sutri, although the town did not become one of their fiefdoms.
In the XVIIth century the Pamphilj acquired great importance in the region. Olimpia Maidalchini, sister-in-law of Pope Innocent X, set her countryside residence at S. Martino al Cimino, not far from Sutri.
The Town Hall of Sutri is situated in the main square in the former palace of the Muti Papazzurri. This family had a palace in Rome and in 1674 they acquired the fiefdom of Filacciano; they inherited several properties at Sutri, thus becoming the wealthiest family of the town.
In 1720 the inhabitants of Sutri made a request for a new fountain. Cardinal Giuseppe Renato Imperiali, a very influential member of the Papal Court, endorsed it and commissioned Filippo Barigioni the design of a new fountain which was installed in 1722 (you may wish to see other fountains by Barigioni at Corneto and Nepi). The fountain was dismantled in 1908 and replaced by a modern one with distinctive Baroque features (see the dolphins of Fontana del Tritone by Gian Lorenzo Bernini). The old fountain was eventually sold to James Deering, an American businessman, who moved it to Villa Vizcaya in Miami, Florida.
(left) Villa Savorelli; (right) details of its decoration and inscriptions: a) Portio Mea Domine Sit in Terra Viventium (my portion in the
land of the living - Psalm 142); b) Virtute Praevia (origin of virtue, an epithet of the Virgin Mary)
The Muti Papazzurri inherited "Castello di Carlo Magno" and they built a villa there; it is rather small but it has a well designed garden, some ancient stones and in addition evocative views over Sutri and the amphitheatre. The villa is generally known as Villa Savorelli, the heirs of the Muti Papazzurri who had a fine villa on the Janiculum which had belonged to the Farnese.
Madonna del Monte
At the beginning of the XVIIIth century the Muti Papazzurri asked permission to build a church on the site of the former medieval castle.
Permission was granted by the bishop on the condition that the inhabitants of Sutri had access to the new church which bears the coat of
arms of the Muti Papazzurri (a crescent moon).
During WWII Villa Savorelli was requisitioned by German troops. Today it belongs to the City of Sutri.
Return to Ancient Sutri.
From Civitavecchia to Civita Castellana - other pages:
Civitavecchia, Allumiere and Tolfa
Archaeological Museum of Civitavecchia
Oriolo Romano and Capranica
Bassano, Monterosi and Campagnano
Nepi and Castel Sant'Elia
Museum of Agro Falisco at Civita Castellana