Panicale is an Italian town of 5.483 inhabitants in the province of Perugia. It stands on a hill at the foot of Mount Petrarvella (641 m a.s.l.) in the Roman Val di Chiana, located between the valley of Lake Trasimeno and the valley of the Nestòre river.
A place of great charm and magic, Panicale owes a lot to its historic center, still immersed in a medieval atmosphere.
The village is located a few kilometers from Perugia, on top of a hill overlooking the valley of the Nestore river and the plain of Lake Trasimeno. Its strategic position, in ancient times, made it of fundamental importance both for the supply of food and water, and for preparing the first line of defence against the city of Perugia.
With reference to the etymology of the name “Panicale” , there are several hypotheses: one derives it from pan colis, that is “place where panìco is grown” (a cereal similar to millet), hypothesis also reported in the coat of arms of the municipality; another, the most probable, from Pani calet that is “place where the god Pan burns”. Another etymology hypothesized by the historian Corintio Corsetti in the seventeenth century. is Pan Kalon, from the Greek “where everything is beautiful”.
It is hypothesized that the origin of Panicale is very ancient, even if there are no certain sources that testify it. In the Middle Ages, the history of the castle of Panicale is linked to that of Perugia, both economically and militarily: in fact, Panicale is both an important center for the supply of food (bread and meat), and an outpost of Perugia to the west and the Val di Chiana. In the thirteenth century it submitted to the Lordship of Perugia, even if it had a fair amount of autonomy. An important fact dates back to 1316: in fact, the first draft of the compilation of a Statute written in Latin by the notary Pietro di Vannuccio Vannucci, which will be elaborated and modified in the years 1356 and 1386, is testified. Subsequently, in 1484, the document will be translated into the vernacular to make it easier for citizens to understand. The city of Perugia, from 1416 to 1424, is dominated by the mercenary captain Braccio da Montone, who will also exercise his power over Panicale, which will see the town at the center of a series of Lordships, which will subdue it for many years. During the Renaissance period, Panicale experienced a period of economic development, territorial expansion and general well-being, which allowed the creation of various works of art by famous artists such as Il Perugino.
In 1540, Perugia was conquered by the Papal State which would maintain control over the area – therefore Panicale included – until the unification of Italy, except for the years of the Napoleonic occupation. Thus new laws, rules and regulations are introduced which will replace the old Statute of 1316.
The seventeenth century was a century of slow decline for Panicale: in the days of 11 and 12 May 1798, the Napoleonic army entered Panicale and decreed the suspension of papal power, and in 1860 we witness its annexation to the Kingdom of ‘Italy.
Panicale is part of the circuit of the most beautiful villages in Italy and has been awarded the orange flag by the Italian Touring Club.
Let’s begin our tour in this amazing medieval village!
Museum of Tulle “Anita Belleschi Grifoni”
Inaugurated in 2001, the museum is housed in the sixteenth-century church of Sant’Agostino, recovered to preserve and exhibit the numerous embroidered tulle artefacts previously located in private and city churches.
Needle embroidery performed directly on cotton or silk tulle spread already in the early decades of the 19th century thanks to the perfecting, by the English Heathcoat and Lurdley in 1809, of a loom to mechanically produce tulle, a very light, fluffy but at the same time resistant, characterized by hexagonal holes.
This embroidery technique, created to offer a production similar to that of bobbin and needle lace, was practiced by the nuns of the college of the Virgins of Panicale and taught to the students who attended it at least until 1872, the year of its closure.
Starting from the thirties, the tradition was revived by the Panicalese Anita Belleschi Grifoni, who perfected the processing, reworked the designs and simplified the points.
Convinced of the economic and social potential associated with this traditional female activity, Belleschi Grifoni founded a school and established the “Ars Panicalensis” brand.
Since 1936, the company entered into collaboration with ENAPI (National Body for Crafts and Small Industries), also creating contacts with many contemporary artists, who produced designs and models to be embroidered. Thanks to the resourcefulness of Mrs. Anita and her numerous social relations, but also for the low cost of the artifacts, the embroidery of “Ars Panicalensis” became famous among the nobles and families of the middle and upper class, so much so that its examples were also sold to the House of Savoy and the Torlonia princes.
The school, like previous and similar experiences in the region, also had the aim of guaranteeing women their own economic independence and personal fulfillment through the production and marketing of their products. After the death of Anita Belleschi Grifoni and the closure of the school, some embroiderers continued to keep the traditional technique alive.
Collegiate Church of San Michele Arcangelo
The Collegiate Church of San Michele Arcangelo Commonly known as the church of Sant’Angelo, is of probable Lombard origins even if the first document in which it is mentioned is from 1159 (it is the bull of Pope Adrian IV preserved in the Bishop’s archive of Montepulciano).
The Collegiate Church of San Michele Arcangelo foundation dates to the period between the 10th and 11th centuries, which was followed by an expansion in 1546; further works at the end of the 17th century gave it its present form. It has a Renaissance-style facade, while its interior is typically Baroque and full of works of art.
In the apse, you can admire the Annunciation, a fresco attributed to Masolino da Panicale. The altar preserves a wooden crucifix of the sixteenth century with articulated arms, used in ancient times for the processions of the Holy Week. At the top there are six 17th century frescoed medallions depicting a cycleof Stories of Mary.
In the third altar on the left is the altarpiece of the Nativity, The adoration of the shepherds (1519) by Giovanni Battista Caporali, a pupil of Perugino.
The Panicale altar is a typical example of Perugian “mannerism”: the invention of the Nativity scene follows to the letter a fresco by Pietro Perugino, teacher of Giovanni Battista Caporali, in the Collegio del Cambio in Perugia, except for the insertion by force of the saint patron Michele and the eccentric landscape in the background; while the figure of the Eternal in the lunette is taken from an invention by Raphael for the Transport of Christ to the sepulcher of the Galleria Borghese in Rome.
Scarpellini defined the painting as a masterpiece not only of the author, but of sixteenth-century Umbrian painting.
There are also other paintings: The Last Supper, datable around the end of the 18th century, by an unknown artist; the Crucifixion between Sant’Ignazio di Lojola, San Filippo Apostolo, San Francesco Saverio and San Girolamo, attributed to Bartolomeo Barbiani (around 1640); the San Pellegrino by Tommaso Conca.
Also the Morettini organ, dating back to 1835 and restored thanks to the Pan Kalon Free Association, is worth it.
The beautiful instrument was restored in 2000 and in recent years it is used, as well as for the liturgy, for concerts and recordings.
The polychrome stained-glass windows of the church of Sant’Angelo were made by the Caselli Moretti workshop in 1900.
Church of San Sebastiano
The Church of San Sebastiano is located about 250 meters from the walls of Panicale, at the end of the Borgo Regio that comes out of the Porta Perugina and stretches along the eastern crest of Mount Petralvella.
It is a brick building of modest size, with a square façade covered with plaster that confuses it with the wing façade of the Educational Institute Opere Pie San Sebastiano.
The primitive church was built at the end of the fifteenth century by the community of the Panicale castle: on the architrave of the portal we read the sentence: “ETC (injured) A S (anc) TI SEBAST (ian) I C (ast) RI PANICALIS”.
Next to it, there was a hospital for the treatment of plague victims.
This prophylactic norm found a general adoption in the second half of the fifteenth century, when the phenomenon of the plague reached an endemic diffusion in Europe.
To limit the infection, the populations defended themselves by building a network of hospitals at a safe distance from the inhabited centers, intended to isolate those at risk or to treat the sick.
Originally, the church was preceded by a portico, perhaps part of the cloister that bordered the cemetery, of which two arches remain left free from plaster.
The interior was covered by a gabled roof, with wooden trusses in sight, and was decorated on the back wall by a large fresco depicting the story of the Martyrdom of San Sebastian (1505).
In the early seventeenth century, what remained of the hospital was granted to the Jesuit order, who built a summer colony there.
With the suppression of the Compagnia del Gesù, in 1790 the entire complex was purchased by the college of the Virgins of Mary at the church of Santa Lucia, a pious work aimed at educating girls.
The Church of San Sebastiano preserves inside the famous fresco of the Martyrdom of San Sebastiano painted by Pietro Perugino (Città della Pieve 1450 c.a. – Fontignano 1523), the greatest Umbrian painter of the Renaissance.
Sebastian was a Roman soldier who lived in the time of Emperor Diocletian (284-305), who converted to Christianity and was led to martyrdom.
But he survived the arrows that were shot at him by his fellow soldiers, was treated by a widow named Irene and, once again captured, was sentenced to death by scourging.
While the Black Plague was raging in 1348, Sebastiano was invoked as “depulsor pestilentiae” following a miraculous episode that took place in Avignon.
The reputation of a prophylactic saint was increased by the symbolic value assigned to arrows in the Middle Ages: three arrows in Christ’s hand meant the scourges of plague, hunger, and war.
In Panicale, the saint’s torture is set in the scenography of a monumental square, closed at the bottom by a grandiose portico overlooking a luminous landscape.
Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grondici
The Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grondici rises in a very suggestive panoramic position near the hamlet of Tavernelle, in the municipality of Panicale.
It was built in the 15th century to protect a Madonna painted on an aedicule, which legend has it that a child was resurrected.
Suggestive is the origin of the word “gutter”, deriving from the term “suggrunda” which identifies the part of the roof that protrudes from the outer wall of a building, precisely the eaves. Medieval theology believed that children who died without having received baptism were destined for limbo and, consequently, did not allow their burial in a consecrated place.
The parents, therefore, took the dying children not yet baptized to the Shrine, in the hope that they could still give some sign of life and receive the sacrament of baptism and a just burial. If this did not happen, the child was buried under the eaves (sub grunda) of the birthplace; from here the name of Madonna delle Grondici has developed over time.
The temple, completely renovated in recent years, was ruled by hermits until the early twentieth century. Inside it is possible to admire “Virgin on the throne between Sts. Sebastiano and Rocco”, the work of Gregorio Gregori, the Teutonic (1295), who resided in Castel della Pieve.
The name “Grondici” given to the Marian shrine of Tavernelle derives from “suggrunda”: eaves or canopy that the Romans indicated as the sepulcher of children under 40 days old. This sanctuary was connected to this burial function and for this reason it was called “à répit”, that is, of the breath, where children who died without baptism were brought to obtain a temporary resurrection in order to administer the sacrament to them.
According to medieval theology, children who died without baptism were destined for limbo and did not have the right to be buried in a consecrated place, but their little bodies were placed next to the house where they were born, precisely “sub grunda”.
Like many other shrines, this one of the Grondici, too, was erected, with the offerings of the devotees and the faithful, on a Marian shrine, where two parents had brought their own son, who died suffocated immediately after birth, to obtain the miracle of resurrection.
A chapel was built next to the Majesty whose management was entrusted to a hermit.
In 1495, a hermit named Fra Matteo had the picture painted with the story of the miracle that is venerated inside the sanctuary.
The painting is a processional gonfalon in tempera on canvas, dated January 31, 1495 by a German painter, Gregorio Gregori “Theotonicus”, residing in the then Castel della Pieve, who merged the Germanic style with the Umbrian school.
The canvas represents a Madonna enthroned with blessing Child, between Saints Sebastian and Rocco, in the lower band of the predella the miraculous resurrection of a newborn is depicted, so as to summarize iconographically the devotional events of the Sanctuary.
Church of Sant’Agostino
Leaving Porta Fiorentina, you reach piazzale Regina Margherita where the church of Sant’Agostino is located.
Built in the fourteenth century by eremitan friars, it was finished in 1502 as the date engraved on the door lintel shows.
The church, which has a rectangular shape and a gabled roof, supported by five trusses and originally had three altars inside.
In one of the side altars, there was the fresco of the Perugino school “Madonna in Trono” which due to humidity was carried to the left altar. Around the end of the 19th century, the fresco was detached and definitively moved to the church of San Sebastiano near Vannucci’s masterpiece “The martyrdom of San Sebastiano”.
Sant’Agostino today used as an exhibition hall and houses the “Anita Belleschi Grifoni” tulle museum.
During the summer also a splendid setting for concerts and cultural meetings.
The various religious Congregations, which were remaking and practicing the Rule of St. Augustine, were unified, by decree of Pope Alexander IV, in 1256, and the only Congregation was called “Fraternita degli Eremitani di Sant’Agostino”.
In the 14th century, a Fraternity of the Eremitani already existed in Panicale, in a small convent and, in 1489, as shown by the State Archives of Perugia, it was called “Fraternitas S. Augustini sive S. Marie (sic!)”, With the estimate of 25 pounds (cadastre II, reg. 33 cc. 420r-421r.).
Perhaps, it was in the second half of the fifteenth century that today’s Church of S. Agostino began to be built, which, in 1502, had to be finished as the date engraved in the architrave of the access portal attests.
In this church, the Confraternity of the Disciplinati or della Frusta was established, due to the influence of the Disciplinati movement, which arose in Perugia, in the second half of the 13th century.
The Confraternita dei Disciplinati or della Frusta was aggregated, in 1672, to the Archconfraternity of the Blessed Virgin of Confalone in the Church of Santa Lucia in Rome, to take advantage of indulgences and other spiritual benefits.
In 1652, Pope Innocent X issued a Constitution, with which he suppressed all small convents of any religious order. Five were suppressed in the Diocese of Citt della Pieve, including that of the Eremitani di Sant’Agostino in Panicale. Only the Confraternity of Disciplinati or della Frusta remained with the church of S. Agostino.
The church has a rectangular plan, a presbytery and a gabled roof supported by five wooden trusses. Originally it had three altars, one of which was enriched by the fresco of the Blessed Virgin with Child, St. Augustine, Mary Magdalene, and the musician angels.
The fresco, attributed to the school of Perugino (probably by the hand of “Spagna”, one of the master’s students) was torn from the right wall to save it from humidity, in 1796, transported to the left altar, and later revived in the colors by Pietro Appiani. In 1884, Tommaso Fata di Gubbio had it detached again and transported to the church of S. Sebastiano, where it still stands today.
In 1855 Professor Napoleone Verga, appreciated painter of the time, brought to light, above and beside the entrance portal, some figures of Saints and a Madonna enthroned with Child of fine workmanship. This last image reminds us of the compositions of Filippo Lippi, dell’Angelico and Giovanni Bellini. With the restoration of 1981, fragments of frescoes were discovered to be traced back to the 16th and 17th centuries, which testify how the church was originally completely frescoed.
Remarkable for the design, construction, carving, the stupendous central altar, in pietra serena, the work by Giambattista di Cristoforo da Cortona, as indicated by the date carved in the plinth of the right column, on March 18, 1513.
Madonna della Sbarra Church
The Church of Madonna della Sbarra or church of the Madonna delle snow, is located in Panicale.
Located at the top of a tree-lined avenue, the church was born in the point where the toll booth of the duty, from which it takes its name, was once located. The building, even if it has a facade in Tuscan Renaissance style, was only finished in 1625, at the behest of the municipality. The interior consists of three naves with five altars; the main altar, in marble, is dominated by the presence of four gilded angels at the sides that support a tympanum with shelves, and a baroque aedicule, with a fifteenth-century fresco of the Madonna and Child . The Via Crucis, on the other hand, dates to 1791, while the six saints are a sixteenth-seventeenth-century work.
On the upper floor, where the ancient hermitage is located, you can admire a valuable collection of sacred objects and vestments belonging to the period from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century, testifying to the various moments of faith and the liturgy. The church is located at the end of the village that comes out of the Porta Fiorentina and in view of the lake, where the toll booth from which it took its name was. At a crossroads of streets there was a newsstand with a Majesty, who began to perform miracles in 1599 after a young man freed the image from the thorns that covered it and sheltered it from the rain (Corsetti 1626).
The magistrates of Panicale then had a small chapel built, but without ceasing to increase the number of the faithful and multiplying the bequests by grace received, in the spring of 1600 the construction of a larger temple began, which was completed in 1625.
The brick facade follows models of the Tuscan Renaissance and is dated 1638 on the central portal. The interior is divided into three naves.
The central nave ends with a monumental altar dating back to the end of the seventeenth century, supported by four gigantic caryatids and with the miraculous icon depicting a Madonna and Child with angels, by an unknown early fifteenth century artist. The choir has the emblem of Panicale; the organ machine is by Adamo Rossi (1800).
Behind the main altar, there is a choir with wooden stalls. In the side aisles there are four stucco altars, dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, San Carlo Borromeo, San Francesco di Paola and San Francesco di Assisi.
The canvas by Simeone Ciburri (Perugia, news 1591-1624) of the altar of San Francesco presents a view of Assisi with the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli under construction.
On the altar of San Carlo, there is a painting dated 1600 by Benedetto Bandiera from Perugia.
The Panicalese on August 14, 1694 founded a society of young people, who “to escape idleness and unite souls” undertook to respect a statute that forced them to certain obligations, also subjecting them to financial penalties if they did not respect them. This company lived until the year 1786. In the same year, 12 Panicalese families, among the best known, also to become independent from the clergy at the time, founded a new company that was called the Theater Academy and had Francesco Tarducci built, above the warehouses Fabbri, a beautiful wooden theater, which due to its position was called Teatro del Sole.
The rectangular room was initially composed of a stage and a small balcony supported by columns based on the stalls. In a second time the big tower was transformed into 18 casinos distributed in two orders.
In 1856, the Teatrino was in a very precarious state and was enlarged and renovated by the heirs of the first partners, who joined others. Eng. Giovanni Caproni enlarged the stage, increased the number of boxes to 24, and above the boxes he made a beautiful gallery with cast iron railings.
The Perugian painter Alceste Ricci painted it all in white with colored and gilded decorations. The hall was so elegant, cheerful and harmonious. The cost was over a thousand Roman scudi.
The Teatrino was reopened to the public in the carnival of 1858 with the name of Theater “Cesare Caporali”, in honor of the playful poet born in Panicale in 1530 and died in Castiglione del Lago in 1601.
The theater was very much liked by the famous painter Mariano Piervittori (in at that time he was painting in Panicale, especially in the Villa dei Mancini in Lemura), who wanted to help embellish it by giving him in 1869 the main canvas representing the famous captain Boldrino Paneri di Panicale, while receiving the keys of the city of Perugia which he freed from siege of the Bretons commanded by Beltotto who had to subject it to the antipope Clement VII.
In 1921, some works were done in the theater and it was repainted by the talented Panicalese painter Ascanio Guglielmo.