Did St Francis actually stop in Mondolfo? It’s not altogether improbable, given that the saint from Assisi journeyed through the Marches several times between 1208 and 1224. Furthermore, according past research conducted by father G. Parisciani, a renowned Franciscan historian, we can ‘reasonably assume that the saint preached in the ancient country church dedicated to St Gervasius of the Bulgarians before arriving in the walled town of Monteoffo (as Mondolfo was known at the time), where he preached and prayed in the Church of St Michael, the archangel to whom he was strongly devoted’. The records nonetheless mention that the Conventual Franciscans—the branch of the Franciscan order presiding over the saint’s tomb in Assisi—had been present in Mondolfo ever since 1579, in the beautiful friary dedicated to the martyr St Sebastian.In fact, in 1479 Mondolfo’s noblemen and common people had vowed to build a shrine dedicated to this saint, protector against contagious diseases, if the town survived the plague infesting the region. Once the threat was over, the townsfolk fulfilled their vow and in 1529 the small church was completed, though the Franciscans only took possession of it later on. The initiative was led by Baldassarre Savolini, a native of Mondolfo, who had promised to build a larger and more beautiful church in place of the existing one, including an adjacent friary for housing three friars. The municipal authorities gave the go-ahead on 6th July 1578, provided that the new church maintained its former name. After obtaining further necessary authorisations, in 1579—exactly 100 years from the end of the plague—the Conventual Franciscans were in Mondolfo. Work soon began on the new church and friary. Whereas the latter was already completed in 1584, the church was only consecrated the following year by Angelo Peruzzi, the Bishop of Sarsina, also a native of Mondolfo. The event is commemorated by the memorial slab located at the entrance to the nave. After escaping the suppression of the Conventual Franciscans enacted in 1631 by Pope Urban VIII, the Friary of St Sebastian did not survive the reforms willed by Pope Innocent X in 1652: the friars were forced to leave, and the church and friary were handed over to the bishop of Senigallia. Notwithstanding these unfavourable circumstances, Mondolfo’s townsfolk continued to cherish the Franciscans and—thanks to several bequests—the friary was reopened in 1680, after permission was granted from Rome. With the return of the friars, renovation works immediately began on the buildings: the friary was restructured first, followed by the present-day church in the Vanvitellian style, inaugurated on 4th October 1760. In the apse hangs the altarpiece painted by Sebastiano Ceccarini, commissioned by the Municipality of Mondolfo. It depicts the Madonna and Child with St Francis and St Sebastian and features an interesting view of Mondolfo, as it appeared in the 18th century, between the two saints. Barely 50 years later, the Napoleonic fury swept through Mondolfo’s religious buildings. By agreeing to pay the rent, however, the Franciscans were allowed to remain in their friary. With the restoration of the Papal State, the Conventual Franciscans regained possession of the Friary of St Sebastian. In 1836, a new organ was built by the Martinelli brothers from Umbertide, while in 1850 construction of the bell tower began (it was only completed much later, in the mid-20th century). In 1852, however, on request of the bishop of Senigallia, the friary was transferred to the Franciscan Order and later converted into a summer home for the diocese’s seminarians: the friars were thus forced to leave once again. Subsequently, the friary was occupied in 1862—and for the successive ten years— by the Benedictine nuns, who had been expelled from the Monastery of St Christine in Senigallia following the subversive Savoy laws. They were followed by the friars of the Order of Penance, who presided over the Friary of St Sebastian from 1904 to 1916. When they left, the friary was sold to a new owner who regretfully demolished most of the building, until the Franciscans eventually purchased the friary back. They returned on 1st August 1936 and stayed until 2005, when they once again left.
Did you know that … Mondolfo is the home of graphology
Among the famous friars who lived in the Friary of St Sebastian, we cannot fail to mention father Alessandro Borroni (1820-1896), a renowned composer of sacred music and chapel master of the Basilica of St Francis in Assisi, father Oscar Serfilippi (1929-2006), the Bishop of Jesi, and father Girolamo Maria Moretti (1879-1963), the founder of modern graphology. The International Chair in Graphological Studies, in Mondolfo, is dedicated to him.