The church of San Giovanni Battista has one of the best locations in all of Gubbio. The town is built on a series of terraces against the slope of Monte Ingino. From the square in front of the San Giovanni Battista one has a nice view of the first terrace, with the famous Palazzo dei Consoli on the left and the less spectacular Palazzo Pretorio on the right. If you take a look at the picture below, you will also be able to see the church of Sant’Ubaldo higher up the mountain, just above the Palazzo Pretorio. The picture I included in this post basically reproduces the image on the cover of one of my travel guides for Umbria. The fact that the editors chose this image is quite telling.
Now over to the church of San Giovanni Battista. The early history of the church is not well documented. It was probably part of an enclosed complex that also included the old Duomo of Gubbio, which was dedicated to the third century Numidian martyrs Marianus and Jacobus (Mariano e Giacomo in Italian). The cathedral was moved to a terrace higher up the mountain at the end of the twelfth century and the church of San Giovanni seems to have been rebuilt about a century later. It is this late thirteenth, early fourteenth century church with Romanesque and Gothic elements that we can still admire today. It has to be said, though, that there is not that much to admire, both as regards the exterior and the interior of the building.
The facade of the church is quite simple, the rose window not even original: it was installed when the church was restored at the beginning of the twentieth century. The interior of the church is fairly plain as well. Like many other churches in Gubbio, the San Giovanni Battista has a single nave. The roof is open and the walls are mostly whitewashed, with a few largely uninteresting paintings here and there. Saint John the Baptist is of course closely connected with the sacrament of baptism, and on the right side of the church we find a large chapel with a baptismal font. The decorations in the chapel mostly date from the nineteenth century.
The oldest art in the church can be found just to the right of the main entrance. Here we see two damaged frescoes by an anonymous painter from the fourteenth or fifteenth century. The one on the left represents Saint Catherine of Alexandria, who is holding her familiar attribute of a breaking wheel. The text in the lower part of the fresco, barely legible, confirms that it is her. The fresco on the right features the Madonna and Child and a female saint, who is identified by a usually reliable source as Saint Catherine again. Note that there is a fourth person above this female saint. He is probably Christ, which means that the fresco shows the so-called Mystical Marriage between the two (see Rome: Santa Maria della Consolazione for another example). It is not inconceivable that there are more Late Medieval frescoes hidden behind the white plaster of the walls. Given the poor condition of the two frescoes discussed in this post, I do not dare speculate about the state they are in…
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