Autumn, however mild and bright, can be a melancholy season here in Le Marche, especially in an ex-casa colonica (farmhouse) like ours, with small windows and thick walls. How much more so in Urbino, high up, inland and chilly as it is – and prone to rain. I remember the Festa del Duca in the middle of summer and how it rained.
These reflections were prompted by a visit to the church of San Bernadino degli Zoccolanti, commissioned by Duke Federigo of Urbino as his family mausoleum. He is buried there,
as is his son Guidobaldo and Guidobaldo’s wife, Elisabetta Gonzaga.
And that’s it – the end of the line. Guidobaldo’s nephew Francesco Maria della Rovere inherited the duchy in 1508 when Guidobaldo died childless. (See the Blue Guide to The Marche and San Marino for an excellent, clear account of the Montefeltro/della Rovere line.)
The church itself is a simple and beautiful brick building about 2 km from Urbino in a peaceful rural setting.
It is thought to have been designed, at the end of the C15, by my good friend Francesco di Giorgio Martini, architect to the Montefeltro family and a busy bee if ever there was one. He created San Leo, the Rocca of Mondavio and the fortifications of Cagli, of which only the Torrione remains, to name but a few. The interior of the church is simple renaissance white and grey, perfectly proportioned but a bit woebegone with crumbling plaster, cracked marble and inappropriate but much-loved plaster figurines.
The saddest item in the church is the faded colour photograph of the Pala di San Bernadino
by Piero della Francesca, which Napoleon took from here to the Brera gallery in Milan. He had a grand plan to make the Brera a national gallery and move pictures there from the rest of Italy. So zealous were his lieutenants that there was no room for all the pictures in the Brera, and they had to be stored in nearby parish churches.Anyway, they did find room for the Piero, and it’s still there. Napoleon also stole lots of books and manuscripts from Italian libraries and took them to France. The French were forced to give some of them back, but some are still in the Bibliothèque Nationale. By the way, Napoleon and Hitler both ordered copies of the Bodleian library catalogue, and of the other British deposit libraries too, no doubt. I wonder why?
Similarly, the Madonna di Senigallia, from Santa Maria delle Grazie near Senigallia, is now in the Ducal Palace (Galleria Nazionale delle Marche) in Urbino. It was moved for safe-keeping during the war, and never found its way back.
I actually felt a much deeper sense of holiness in San Bernadino than in many better-kept churches, such as San Domenico in Urbino itself. Perhaps this is because it is next door to the cemetery and many bereaved people have prayed for their loved ones here.
The convent of the Franciscan Frati Minori appears to be uninhabited, and the place is being kept up by the comune of Urbino.
To get there from Urbino you can walk, if it isn’t pouring with rain as it was when we were there, or take the car. If you are parked in the big car park in Borgo Mercatale, leave it and follow the signs to Roma. At the first roundabout follow the sign to Roma; at the second roundabout look out for a teeny turn-off signed to Torre San Tomaso, with a small brown tourist sign to the Mausoleo. Follow the signs to the Mausoleo along a pleasant tree-lined country road. The entrance to the site is clearly signed; it is also the entrance to the cemetery; you go right and park under the walls of the convent. The church seems to be open all day.
- Out of Marche! Gubbio, former part of Montefeltro (marcheatopictour.wordpress.com)
- Mondavio: who won here in 1462, the Malatesta or the Montefeltro? The Vatican! (marcheatopictour.wordpress.com)