At home with the Langobards!

Abbey of San Pietro in Valle

Last week, while discussing Faroald II, we highlighted this duke’s relatedness to the Abbey of San Pietro in Valle, not far away from the duchy’s capital city. Let us dig it.

The information on the abbey’s origin is contradictory and shrouded in legend. In its present form, the abbey is the result of repeated interventions. It seems certain that it was built on the remains of a previous building near an older Roman villa or pagan sanctuary founded in the sixth century by two Syrian hermits, John and Lazarus.

They arrived in Italy along with three hundred other countrymen from the East following the Acacian schism, to place themselves under the protection of the Pope.

Legend has it that the two lived in a cave, following the rules of St. Basil and that, on the death of John, Lazarus begged God to relieve his sadness. That was when Faroald reigned over Spoleto. St. Peter appeared to the Duke in a dream and invited him to build a monastery in the place where he had met a hermit named Lazarus. And one day, during a hunting trip in Valnerina, Faroald came across the hermit and, as he had promised in a dream, had the church dedicated to St. Peter and the adjacent monastery built on that spot.

Not only did Faroald build the abbey, he also spent the last eight years of his life there (not as a Duke but as a monk) and was finally buried there in a Roman sarcophagus of great value found nearby and still present inside the abbey church.

Since then the small church has hosted the tombs of other dukes. Although poor, the documentation allows to suppose that Trasimund II, who died in 765, was also deposed there, like probably Ilderic Dagileopa, killed by Trasimund himself after he was named duke in his place by Liutprand.

In the church, in fact, there are two splendid altar slabs from the Longobard period carved in low relief. The caption running along the upper and left margins is as follows:

+ HILDERICVS DAGILEOPA + IN HONORE(m) / S(an)C(t)I PETRI ET AMORE S(an)C(t)I LEO(nis) / ET S(an)C(t)I GRIGORII / PRO REMEDIO A(ni)M(ae)

Ilderico Dagileopa in honour of St. Peter and for the sake of St. Leo and St. Gregory for the salvation of (his) soul.

It is therefore the pluteus commissioned by Duke Ilderico Dagileopa, who ruled the Duchy of Spoleto between 739 and 742 about.

According to some scholars, the slab, adorned with two figures with folded arms raised upwards and surrounded by stylised plant trunks culminating in discs with inscribed crosses, depicts the dukes’ ritual of passage from military life to monastic life in the abbey.

Ratchis’ altar, Aurisina marble, unknown author – Museo cristiano e tesoro del duomo, Cividale del Friuli 737-747

This is one of the very rare cases in medieval art where the patron can easily be distinguished from the artist.
We conclude by pointing out that the many decorative elements are convincingly reminiscent of the valuable Altar of Ratchis in Cividale del Friuli.
Happy Monday with the Longobards!

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