The curious circular church of Sant’Angelo in Perugia, dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, has often been compared to the Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome. It should be noted that the Sant’Angelo is a couple of decades younger. It probably dates from the end of the fifth or first half of the sixth century. Visitors enter the church through a fourteenth-century Gothic portal, which by the way once embellished another church in Perugia. The portal was placed here around the year 1547. The interior of the church consists of two rings, an inner and an outer one, which are separated by sixteen columns from Antiquity. The low dome of the building presumably dates from the fourteenth century. Visitors will no longer find any Baroque decorations in the Sant’Angelo. These were all removed during a large renovation in 1948.
With great fanfare, my travel guide informed me that I could expect “splendid frescoes” on the walls of the church. That is surely an exaggeration. The frescoes are not bad, but they are certainly not exceptional either. The most interesting fresco, which dates from the fourteenth century, can be found on the wall directly to the right of the entrance. It features three saints: Agatha, Lawrence and Veronica. Saint Agatha of Sicily was a virgin who was martyred in the third century. According to tradition her breasts were amputated with a pair of pincers. The amputation seems to have taken place on the fresco as well, judging by the two rather bloody spots where once breasts may have been attached to the body. Saint Lawrence was martyred on 10 August of the year 258 after he had refused to tell the authorities where the treasures of the Church had been hidden. The Sant’Angelo was administered by canons of San Lorenzo, which might explain the presence of this particular saint. The cathedral of Perugia is, by the way, also dedicated to Saint Lawrence.
Lastly, Veronica is holding the piece of cloth that Jesus Christ is said to have used prior to his Crucifixion to wipe the sweat off his face. That is how an image of his face ended up on the cloth (sudario in Italian). The name Veronica derives from Graeco-Macedonian Berenike, which means ‘bearer of victory’ (the name should actually be Pherenike, but the Macedonians pronounced the ‘f’ as a ‘b’; it follows that they were ruled by one king Bilippos). The theory that the name derives from Graeco-Latin vera icon – ‘true image’, after the imprint on the cloth – makes little sense linguistically. The combination of the two words is basically neither Latin nor Greek, and the theory fails to explain how the letters miraculously changed places.
- Capitool travel guide Umbria 2016, p. 95;
- Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo (Perugia) – Wikipedia
- Key to Umbria: Perugia