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San Pietro in Valle


Visiting this beautiful abbey and church last month wasn't in my original plans, but as always happens in travel, plans can change. And usually, for the better!

St. Peter in the Valley is in a wonderful, isolated position in a wooded area not too far from Spoleto in southern Umbria. The Benedictine abbey has been turned into a very private hotel (which seemed to have few guests when I was there) but the adjacent 8th century church is open a few hours daily to the public.

Its frescos are damaged but still quite beautiful and to me, it's always a marvel to find even fragmented frescos in exactly the location where they were originally painted so many hundreds of years ago. Who else had stood in the same spot as me, centuries ago, and marvelled and prayed? St. Francis or St. Clare, perhaps? Michelangelo or Raphael? Sophia Loren? Over 1,200 years, anything is possible!




It really was happenstance that I found my way to this sanctuary which is a bit off the beaten path. A few days into my trip, I met Mary (a fellow Slow Traveler and blogger) at her family's beautiful agriturismo, Genius Loci. I had just picked up my rental car a few hours earlier, had settled into my beautiful hotel in Bevagna, and had driven up to Genius Loci for a glass of wine (made on the premises) with Mary.

Sharing my love for art, and frescos in particular, Mary encouraged me to try to expand my plans to include some of the churches that are a bit more difficult to reach than those I had originally planned to see in Spello and Montefalco. And since I had a car for 3 days, I had a good deal of freedom.

Before I arrived in Bevagna, I hadn't quite grasped just how close all of these towns are to each other. From Genius Loci's hillside position, Mary pointed to Assisi, visible in the distance, nearby Bevagna, Spello and Montefalco. I realized that I really would have ample time to see all these towns and still drive to San Pietro in Valle.

The final push came the following day when, right after lunch, I was forced to flee Montefalco under a cloud of shame. What better time to drive the hour or so to San Pietro and see some of the mountainous Valnerina region where it is located? Despite Mary's directions, I still took a wrong turn and wasted about 90 minutes driving all the way to Norcia! Since this was at least one valley away from San Pietro, II turned around pretty fast. The drive was very beautiful, but I was on the run (and needed to pee after a while) so I was very glad to reach San Pietro.



Its roots are the stuff of legend. Apparently, its foundation dates from the 5th century when a Lombard duke of Spoleto Faroaldo II met the Syrian hermit Lazarus. St. Peter had suggested to Duke Faroaldo in a dream that he should transform the hermit's small chapel into a rich and powerful abbey, and thus San Pietro in Valle was built and completed in the 700s. In the centuries that followed, turmoil and a partial destruction of the abbey led to rebuilding in the 10th century.

The abbey church, now owned by the state, was completed in two different periods: during the Longobard (8th century) and the Romanic periods (12th century). Still, the two styles blend together very well. Inside, there are wonderful Romanesque frescos of Old and New Testament scenes facing one another on opposite walls; and in the nave are two Roman sarcofagi.



Comments (8)

Great pictures and a beautiful post. :)

What a magical place! Those frescoes are very special. You really went off the beaten path on this trip and it's amazing the things you found! I love the facade of that church - simple and unadorned but so attractive.

I am delighted to see this entry...and what a coincidence: Maurizio and I JUST got back from a GREAT day in the Valnerina, visiting two NEW TO US churches, stopping at our favorite Saint Eutizio Abbey, in Norcia for lunch and to stock up on our favorite pecorino and liver salamis. It was a magical day with the blazing fall colors under a cobalt blue sky with glorious temps of 82° F.
I will blog soon about the two "new" churches with lots of photos of the area. My mind went to my idea for sharing this area with guests next October! It would be wonderful!

Wonderful photos!
I also love frescoes, so I'm a little green with envy that you are looking at them in reality today!
What a treat to read along with you, on this glorious trip...


Thanks Leslie!

Annie, it really is a fascinating spot and such beautiful scenery all around. I wish I had had more time to see some of the other abbeys (with frescos) in the area that Mary had told me about (such as St. Eutizio which she refered to in her comment.) Next time!

Mary, that sounds like a wonderful day! Next time I visit, I will set aside at least one full day for fresco hunting (and lunch in Norcia!) I love pecorino, I envy your shopping trip. And that does sound like a wonderfu expedition for your Week With Mary plan for next fall.

I'll be watching your blog for your post on the two new churches that you've found. What a fascinating subject!

Thanks, Brenda -- Umbria is so full of treasures, I hope you get a chance to visit there some time.

Beautiful valley! Beautiful abbey! I love your story on how you ended up going there (including the reason you had time and the need to pee). Again, I have to say how brave you are driving to all of these out of the way locations.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Sandra, this is a fabulous post! I love your photos of the beautiful frescos that you were so lucky to see in that wonderful off the beaten path little church. It's so great how everything in Italy is so rich in history and art.

I think I really need to visit Umbria soon, I love how green and beautiful it is there. Sounds like you had a great time.

I'm sure that everyone gets lost every now and then...:) I do think that driving does have it's advantages and seeing this beautiful church is one example. Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences.


Hi Girasoli, I have to say that renting the car and driving in Italy was much easier than I expected. Of course, I wasn't driving in big centres or on any major freeways -- Umbrian highways and rural roads were fine by me! But really, the cost was the only scary part!

Thanks Kathy, Italy really is so rich in every kind of beauty and having a car really got me off the beaten path a bit. Still, I only saw one rural church out of so many (Mary knows most of these, I believe!) which means I'll have to return soon to see more.

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