German historian Ferdinand Gregorovius spent the summer of 1856 at Genazzano; on September 23, accompanied by a local peasant, he rode to Anagni via Paliano; Gregorovius was interested in seeing Anagni for the events which occurred there during the Middle Ages because he was working at a history of Rome during that period, which he eventually published in 1872.
Cathedral: (left) Fašade and bell tower; (centre) steps linking the southern to the eastern side; (right) statue of Pope Boniface VIII
In the rose red sunset rays (..) behind Paliano the last rays flicker still on the casements of a dark town, which may now be discovered miles away on its hill, and which from the mass of its buildings looks greater than any other town in the Campagna. So it seemed to me the first evening I ever saw it, and then I knew from the character of its surroundings it must be Anagni, the native town of Boniface VIII. I hailed the long-wished for sight in these words by Dante:
|veggio in Alagna intrar lo fiordaliso,|
e nel vicario suo Cristo esser catto.
(Dante, Purgatorio, Canto XX vv. 86-87)
|I see the flower-de-luce Alagna enter,|
And Christ in his own Vicar captive made.
Translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It is only to the Middle Ages that Anagni owes its historical fame. Although capital of the Hernici, a powerful race in Latium, it was of no significance during the Roman epoch. After being conquered it remained merely a subject town. Very few fragments of old Roman work remain to recall the past, only some portions of walls, and, on the north side of the town, a row of colossal arches supporting the steep hillside. Yet these - the most conspicuous monuments of her older epoch - lend a great charm to the place. Gregorovius
The Romans did not hesitate to build massive walls to prevent landslides, a real danger for Anagni which is located between two ravines.
Anagni surprised me, accustomed as I had been to the dark streets and shabby houses of other Campagna towns. Here I rode in between rows of important-looking buildings and palaces which gave a certain well-to do air to the whole town. Its modern aspect set me wondering; I failed to understand it until I had made myself better acquainted with the history of the place. (..) I realised the position of Anagni: the hill on the outer edge of which it is built joins on to Monte Serra, or springs out from that range, in the form of a sickle. The brown rocks lie bare and rugged all around as you look out. (..) Seeing what its position is, it is no wonder that Anagni became the favourite place of retreat, or summer abode, of so many Popes during the Middle Ages - a country town raised above the Campagna, its air so health-giving, while it is sheltered and protected by those rocks and walls. (..) Anagni became an important place for the first time at the end of the thirteenth century. Then it had the unusual good fortune of seeing four of its citizens raised to the Papal Chair within one century. Gregorovius
Similar to Avignon and Viterbo, Anagni is called the City of the Popes because several of them resided there in addition to those who were born within its walls; Pope Adrian IV, the only English pope (Nicholas Breakspeare), died at Anagni in 1159.
Medieval buildings: (left) Palazzo di Bonifacio VIII; (centre) bell tower of S. Andrea; (right) Casa Gigli
The fact of her having been the nursing mother of no less than four Popes tended to enrich Anagni, and have been immensely to her advantage. She adorned herself with palaces and other great structures built in the Romano-Gothic style of architecture which prevailed so largely in many parts of Italy up to the fifteenth century. (..) Anagni has not many to boast of now, however, besides the cathedral, her most remarkable Town Hall, and the Gigli Palace. (..) The house of the Gigli family, a small structure probably of the fourteenth century, reminded me of the houses in Palermo. It is built round a quadrangle, with a flat roof and an outer court. This latter consists of two round arches, resting where they join on a single pillar. A flight of stone steps leads up from these to the doorway, which is also circular. This architectural style is finely reproduced in the one window of this vestibule, with its round arches resting on pillars. (..) When I had discovered this Casa Gigli, I sat down on a stone to make a sketch of it in my notebook. Straightway a crowd of townsfolk gathered round me. While they watched my attempt to depict this monument of their palmy days, I could see how proud they were of their past. Gregorovius
Palazzo del Comune (Town Hall): (left) vaults supporting the building; (right-above) coat of arms of Anagni between those of the Orsini
(left) and of another family (right); (right-below) coat of arms of a bishop
The Communal Palace possesses a great arcade, over which one storey is built. The street runs under this arcade, as through a long gateway. On its fašade the stone is sculptured and adorned with many coats of arms of mediaeval days. Gregorovius
The medieval aspect of Anagni was damaged in 1556, when the Spanish troops of the Duke of Alba plundered the town during Guerra di Campagna, a veritable war between Pope Paul IV and the Colonna (who were supported by the King of Spain) for the control of the Roman Campagna, the region surrounding the city.
Palazzo del Comune: windows on the rear fašade and a small loggia for announcements (coat of arms of the Caetani above the windows)
The back of the arcade is still more remarkable from the ornamentation of its plinth, and its row of little double-columned windows. Gregorovius
Three of the four popes who were born in Anagni belonged to the same family, the Conti (Counts) di Segni, a small town to the west of Anagni. The first one was Pope Innocent III who together with his relatives and successors Pope Gregory IX and Pope Alexander IV greatly lessened the power of the German emperors in Italian affairs.
The cathedral stands on the highest level in the town, by the Ferentino gate, but on a site rather enclosed by buildings, so that only its fašade and its bell-tower, which stands by itself, produce any effect. It is one of the oldest cathedrals in Latium, older than most those in the States of the Church. It dates from the First Crusade. Peter, the then Bishop of Anagni, of the family of the Lombard Prince of Salerno, built it in 1074. (..) Though frequently restored by the Bishops of Anagni and the Popes, it still retains its original Romano-Gothic style. Gregorovius
The cathedral orientation on an east-west axis could be reminiscent of an ancient temple; the construction began in the XIth century in Romanesque style, but Gothic elements were added in the XIIIth century.
The plan of a Greek church was completed
by three apses, which were concealed by the iconostasis
or screen with three gates in it. In the middle were the
holy gates, admitting to the principal apse, where was
the altar, and the two side gates admitted to the
lesser apses, where the elements
for the sacrament were prepared, and where the church vessels
Thomas Graham Jackson - Byzantine and Romanesque Architecture - 1920
The cathedral has three apses, a feature which indicates the influence of Byzantine architecture; the central apse was decorated with a gallery of ancient columns of granite and cipollino and it shows a rare feature in the sense that each column alternates with a sort of capital portraying an animal; the decorative effect of the gallery is increased by porphyry inlays.
(left) Lintel of the main portal; (right) reliefs of prior buildings on the walls of the fašade
The fašade is rude in character. (..) The doorway - it has only one - has a tasteless entablature, pieced together out of various blocks of stone, and adorned with roughly sculptured heads of oxen and lions, dating from the Middle Ages. Without any apparent object, two pilasters have been placed together, their capitals joining, on one side of this doorway. A round stone arch rises above the portal, ornamented with simple arabesques. The stone is, throughout, the dark limestone tufa found here to the present day. The fašade evidently belongs to its original period, but it has been restored hastily, as necessity may have dictated. Gregorovius
The cathedral provides very interesting evidence of the development of art in the XIIIth century; similar to many other medieval churches, the fašade was decorated with reliefs of prior buildings which were placed here and there on the wall; the decoration of the main portal however is an original work, probably by a member of one of the two families of sculptors and mosaicists who decorated the interior.
You may wish to see the bell Pope Boniface VIII donated to the cathedral.
(left) Cosmatesque floor; (right) bishop's throne by Pietro Vassalletto
Within it is spacious and beautiful, of the ancient basilica form, and of a mixed early Gothic style. (..) There are three large aisles, a lofty choir crossing them. The pavement, of fine mosaic, the work of the famous Cosmati brothers, dating from 1226, was placed there at the cost of the Canon Raimondo Conti, who became afterwards Pope Alexander IV. (..) In the lower church is the tomb of St. Magnus, the patron saint of the cathedral, and an old inscription tells us that in the year 1231 "the said Master Cosma was busied with the translocation" of the martyr and saint. Thus it would appear that this old family of artists, who enriched Rome with so many architectural gems, were then also busied in the embellishment of the towns of the Campagna. Gregorovius Cosmati and Vassalletto were two dynasties of mosaicists, sculptors and in some cases architects, whose works can be regarded as an innovative development of medieval patterns; the Cosmati are known in particular for their church floors; in their mosaics they employed coloured stones which decorated ancient Roman buildings, but the designs they created were entirely new.
(left) Cosmati Tomb in the Caetani chapel (the Caetani coat of arms is shown in the image used as background for this page); (centre) altar and canopy; (right) Easter chandelier by Pietro Vassalletto
Before we leave the cathedral, (..) let us recall some of the scenes which, occurring here, seriously affected the history of Germany, for this cathedral at Anagni was intimately connected with the dynasty of Hohenstaufen. From this very altar, on a Maundy Thursday, Pope Alexander III laid his anathema on the great Emperor Barbarossa, in 1160. From this spot was read out the Bull which excommunicated Frederick II, and here stood Pope Alexander IV when he placed the heroic young Manfred under his ban. (..)
The last of the Anagni Popes was Boniface, of the Gaetani family. Who is there who does not know the story of his imprisonment in his own palace here, of his release, and of his tragic death immediately afterwards? (..) Boniface did not forget that two Cardinals of the Colonna family had opposed his election as Pope, and he now considered in what manner he might best humiliate that powerful house. A war broke out between Boniface and the Colonna in 1297, under circumstances which I need not here detail. A regular crusade followed, when the Colonna Cardinals, unable to withstand his fury, repaired to (..) France, where they were gladly welcomed by Philip the Fair, also at war with Boniface, who had excommunicated him and pronounced his throne vacant. A plot was devised in 1303, by which the Pope was to be seized and made a prisoner when he retired to his palace at Anagni for the summer. With the assistance of William Nogaret, a confidant of Philip, they got together three hundred horse and a large body of foot soldiers; and, having stationed Nogaret at Ferentino, hard by, to be ready if needed, Sciarra Colonna, the leader of the family, fell upon Anagni on the night of the 7th September. Confederate Ghibellines within the walls opened the gates, Sciarra then stormed the Gaetani palace, and forced his way into the Pope's bedchamber. Boniface confronted him with dignified heroism. For three days they held him a prisoner, giving him his choice between death and his abdication of the Papacy. (..) Meantime, Cardinal Luca Fiesco had been stirring up the citizens to rescue their Pope, their own townsman, from these desecrating and infuriated hordes. The inhabitants seized their arms, and succeeded in expelling their invaders. The liberated prisoner was conveyed to Rome, where he died, raving mad, on the 11th of October - three days later. Gregorovius
Treasury of the Cathedral: details of XIIIth century church capes in "opus Cyprense" which were donated to the Cathedral by Pope Boniface VIII
In the sacristy are preserved some curious copes, and the croziers of Innocent III. and Boniface VIII.
Augustus J. C. Hare - Days near Rome - 1875
"Opus Cyprense" was a red samite (a rich heavy silk material) embroidered with gold stretch which was made on Cyprus or on Sicily.
Gregorovius was favourably impressed by the aspect of Anagni, where poverty was not as evident as in Genazzano; this limited prosperity was due to the fact that the town was not the fiefdom of a family, but a direct possession of the Church; its bishop still directly reports to the Holy See; after the disastrous effects of Guerra di Campagna Pope Pius IV built new walls and gates which resemble Porta Pertusa.
The Ernici Mountains: Ferentino, Frosinone and Alatri; Fiuggi (Anticoli di Campagna); Piglio and Acuto
The Volsci Mountains: Valmontone, Segni, Norma and Cori
On the Latin shores: Anzio and Nettuno and Torre Astura
Circe's Cape: Terracina and San Felice
The Orsini Castle in Bracciano
Subiaco, the oldest Benedictine monastery
Small towns near Subiaco: Cervara, Rocca Canterano, Trevi and Filettino.