This post is also available in: Italian

The Abbey of San Martino al Cimino of Viterbo, is the heart and the centre along the Via Francigena around which the centre of San Martino al Cimino was formed with a fascinating history. The centre was founded in the 9th century near a small Benedictine church, on land donated to the Abbey of Farfa in 838, which was later moved.

The construction of the abbey was favoured by Pope Eugene III who was a Cistercian and entrusted it to the monks of the order of French origin. A strong impulse was then given by Innocenzo III who was very active in the area of Viterbo to try to bring together the scattered monastic communities and to favour the rapprochement of the numerous hermits. Innocent III is the Pope who met Saint Francis and had to recreate a bond with all those who preached against the riches of the church.

The abbey of San Martino was consecrated in 1225 but already in 1300 the first problems began and the complex was partly abandoned partly due to the weather conditions of the place.

Its greatest splendour then came under Pope Innocent X Pamphilj who named his sister-in-law, Olimpia Maidalchini, princess of San Martino al Cimino. Olimpia gave life to an urban and architectural renewal of the whole village and to the construction of a magnificent palace where once the abbey convent was located.

The transition from the monks to the priests who still manage it dates back to this phase.

The façade of the church therefore has seventeenth-century features with two large bell towers, with clock and sundial, on the sides of the entrance in Gothic style. The two towers also had a certain static support function. Above the entrance door the coat of arms of Pope Innocent X immediately stands out.

The plan of the church is a Latin cross with three naves of which the central one is illuminated by a large central Gothic window carved and enriched by a precious rose window.

The church still shows the austere characters of the Cistercian monks united in some areas with some later styles. Inside there is the Jubilee Banner for the holy year 1650 made for Donna Olimpia by the artist Mattia Preti and here are buried Donna Olimpia and her nephew Gerolamo Pamphilj, the last descendant of the family who died in 1760.

Of the whole convent, largely transformed into the Doria Pamphilj palace, there remains the Chapter Room which still presents itself with the typical features of the Gothic ogival arches of Cistercian architecture, even if it has a black and white marble floor realized by Borromini and seventeenth century frescoes. This is the seat of the Confraternity of the SS. Sacrament and St. Rosary.

Top