Not far from Porta S. Maria gateway, just outside the walled town, lies the St Augustine monument complex— popularly referred to as Sant’Agostino (‘St Augustine’) by the townsfolk—consisting of a large friary and the imposing Church of St Mary, which gives its name to the gateway.The church must have already existed in the late 13th century, when the Augustine friars arrived in Mondolfo, presumably from their hermit community located in the nearby village of Piaggiolino, in the territory of Trecastelli. Or perhaps it was the municipal authorities who granted the place of worship to the friars, given that is has always been considered the representation church of Mondolfo’s community. After all, the church’s location just outside the walls—beyond the cramped spaces of the walled town—was attuned to the spirit of the mendicant order, which aimed to erect a facility capable of housing the entire townsfolk, with adjoining cloisters and vegetable gardens: in this way, the friars could maintain close ties with the territory’s inhabitants while improving the hospitality facilities for wayfarers and pilgrims. Unsurprisingly therefore, records dating from 1427 mention a chapel inside the church dedicated to St Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of wayfarers. Meanwhile, during the 14th century the friary had already acquired its first plots of land, in Mondolfo and San Costanzo. Generous private commissions, which would always characterise the Friary of St Augustine alongside the numerous bequests, denote the strong attachment felt towards this site by Mondolfo’s townsfolk. This also explains why in 1466 the municipal authorities decided to reconstruct the church, which had been damaged the many wars of that era. The works were assigned to master mason Antonio di Pietro da Vercelli, a Mondolfo townsman who had previously been entrusted by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta with reconstruction works in Senigallia. The friary went through a period of great splendour, marked by the provincial chapters of the Augustinians, held in 1490 and 1530 on the premises, and by the decision to enlarge the structure.The authorisation granted by Francesco Maria I Della Rovere is dated 1528, through the works only began much later. Master Domenico, the son of the late Giacomo da Como, was entrusted with the works, which began on 2 June 1586 and ended in 1593, when Monsignor Angelo Peruzzi, the Bishop of Sarsina and a native of Mondolfo, consecrated the church by dedicating it to Our Lady of Help. The municipality donated 100,000 bricks for enlarging the religious building, while the town’s most prominent noble families competed in adorning their altars in the church with works by the most renowned master craftsmen of the time. A thriving era of construction works thus began and lasted until the late 18th century, during which several buildings were enlarged, restored and decorated. With the dawn of the new century, however, the friary entered a period of decline due to the repeated suppressions perpetrated by the various governments succeeding the Papal State, ending with the friary’s closure in 1861. The friary buildings—accessed through the Maggiore and Napoleonico entrances (the first belongs to the monument’s original layout while the second dates from the Napoleonic era, when the suppressed friary was converted to other uses)— include two large courtyards: the 17thcentury cloister, with frescoed lunettes on two sides depicting the Stories of St Augustine (17th century), inspired by the illustrations of Flemish artist Schelte Adamsz Bolswert (1586-1659), and the work courtyard, which included the warehouses. Nowadays, several areas of the friary complex are used for cultural events, including the Aurora Room and St Augustine Room (the latter housed in the ancient refectory). The structure also houses the Civic Museum and other spaces reserved for conventions, exhibitions and meetings.The monumental Church of St Augustine, part of the namesake friary complex, currently appears in its late 16th-century design which was altered during the 18th century. It constitutes a fine example of provincial architecture, in which the only decorations embellishing the imposing red brick structure are the small pointed pre-Renaissance hanging arches lining the outer cornice on all four sides, in defiance of the prevailing trends of other important artistic centres of the time. The church is accessed through three elegant and finely sculpted sandstone portals. Upon entering, one is immediately struck by the majesty of the single barrel-vaulted room, which reflects the building’s imposing exterior. The walls are lined by twelve finely sculpted and gilded altars, enriched by remains of mural paintings on the pilasters, which add rhythm to the nave. The counter-facade contains an imposing choir loft and organ. Starting from the left, we encounter the Adoration of the Shepherds, a 16th-century oil on canvas painting. In this nocturnal crib scene copied from a Titian work, the striking luministic effect endowing the scene is accompanied by accurately depicted architectural details. The second altar contains a painting of St Charles Borromeo, by Flemish artist Ernest De Scaechis, dated 1615. Particularly noteworthy are the anatomical details such as the hands, which reveal the painter’s fine artistic talent.Above it, amid the altar’s carved decorations, lies a small painting with the portrait of Our Lady of Sorrows, widely venerated by the townsfolk. Ascribable to the workshop of Claudio Ridolfi, it dates from the first-half of the 17th century. The third altar contains the polychrome statue of a Crucifix reminiscent of Giambologna’s style, while beyond the pulpit—an important finely-carved work containing the carved image of Bishop Augustine of Hippo in the centre—lies the fourth altar. It contains the Crucifixion, an oil on canvas painting by Giuliano Presutti (1531), commissioned by Mondolfo’s town council and originally located in the community church. The work is noteworthy for the strong dynamism of the images and their chromatic intensity. The fifth altar on the left contains the altarpiece with the Virgin with St Lawrence and St Stephen, a 17th-century work attributed to Girolamo Cialdieri, in which the musical angels are particularly interesting. In the last altar on the left hangs the painting of Our Lady of the Belt with St Monica and St Augustine. This 17th-century work, ascribable to the maturity of Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri, once concealed an altar containing the church’s reliquary featuring superb finely-gilded 17th-century carved containers of different shapes. Adjacent to it lies the Charity of St Thomas of Villanova painted by Claudio Ridolfi (1570-1644) and, beneath it, a glass case enclosing a polychrome Pietà, a work of the German school datable to the early 15th century. The presbytery, containing the high altar decorated with polychrome marble, introduces into the apse. The space is entirely occupied by the large finely-worked 18th-century choir made of walnut briar, with a lectern in the centre. On the right and left walls hang two large 18th-century paintings by Sebastiano Ceccarini from Fano: the Male Saints of the Augustinian Order towards the bell tower and, towards the sacristy, the Female Saints of the Augustinian Order, in which the human figures such as the youth with a curved torso or the mother breastfeeding add naturalness to the scene’s mystical atmosphere.At the rear hangs the painting of Madonna of Help, attributed to Pesaro born painter Pietro Tedeschi. In this work, which reveals the influence of 18th-century Rome where the artist worked, the Madonna holding a stick comes to the aid of a mother by warding off the demon attempting to snatch her son. Back in the nave, we immediately encounter the Magistrate’s Bench, where the town’s magistrates once sat during official functions. Commissioned by Mondolfo’s town council, it was completed between 1595-1596 by local master woodworkers Camillo Carloni and Bernardino Moschetta. The moulding contains the carved coat of arms of Mondolfo. The sixth altar to the right houses the fifteen panels on canvas with the Mysteries of the Rosary, a 17th-century work of the Marches school, which surrounds an early 16th-century painting of Our Lady of Good Counsel. In the fifth altar to the right, inside a lavish carved frame, lies a painting of the Martyrdom of St Simon and St Judas, by Giovanni Francesco Guerrieri (1589-1657), in which the dramatic scene emerges from several closely related focal points. In the fourth altar to the right hangs the Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist and St John the Evangelist, painted by Veneto-born artist Claudio Ridolfi (1570- 1644) and dating from the artist’s maturity, similarly to the painting by the same artist located in the third altar, depiting St Anthony the Abbot and St Paul the Hermit. It lies in the altar formerly belonging to the Giraldi Della Rovere noble family, whose coat of arms is carved at the base of the left column. The Chapel of St Nicholas contains a niche with a large wooden statue of the namesake saint (18th century), while on the walls hang the Miracle of St Nicholas (18th century) on the left and the Virgin and Child with St Nicholas of Tolentino and St Anthony of Padua on the right, painted by Bolognese artist Alessandro Tiarino (1577-1668). The second altar contains a statue of St Joseph, while the first altar to the right houses two masterpieces: the lunette with the Madonna and Child with Two Adoring Angels, attributable to Iohannes Hispanus (16th century), formerly belonging to a large painting now dispersed and, on the bottom, the large altarpiece with Our Lady of the Cat, attributable to the workshop of Federico Barocci and datable to between 1588 and 1593. Before ending the visit, it is worthwhile stopping to admire the large sacristy, decorated on all four sides with 17th-century walnut furniture featuring ashlar pillars with Ionic capitals.
Reconstruction drawing of the St Augustine monument complex View
The Civic Museum of Mondolfo, housed in the northern wing of the cloister of the Friary of St Augustine, narrates the territory’s history in a space occupying various rooms on several floors. The artefacts housed in the display cases span various ages, and include prehistoric finds from Fonte Grande, stone and ceramic finds from the walled town, items of the Italian Risorgimento period—including the jacket worn by Gaetano Alegi, one of Garibaldi’s soldiers and a native of Mondolfo—and objects of the local artisan tradition. One of the major attractions, however, is the ancient hour machine. Designed in 1858 by Pietro Mei and Angelo Galli for the public clock of the Civic Tower (where it remained until the 1970s), it works according to the so-called ‘Gallican time-keeping’ system, similarly to present-day clocks. Finelyworked and equipped with a mechanism for ringing the hours, quarters and other occurrences, it comprises three wheels and has a small quadrant used by the public clock operator. It was rewound manually by means of a lever that raised appropriate weights. In 1926 Edoardo Marconi added the minute hand. The spiral stairway, at the base of which lies a Roman era find, allows for accessing the Memorial of the Accordion, containing several original instruments arranged to evoke a local accordion-artisan workshop, and the ‘Natale Patrizi’ Municipal Collection, with paintings by Agrà (the name with which Patrizi signs his works) that form a visual symphony of the beautiful territory of Valcesano.
Did you know that … the beautiful bells of Mondolfo
‘In Mondolfo the beautiful bells’, as the popular saying goes, which fills the inhabitants of this town overlooking the sea with pride. Large or small, numerous or few, bells feature on all of Mondolfo’s towers, including the Civic Tower at the Town Hall. The 17th-century bell tower of the Friary of St Augustine rings a grandiose, solemn concert with the socalled Cristo Re (‘Christ the King’) great bell dating from 1782, surrounded by four other large bells. The full concert can be heard in all its proverbial beauty only at midday on Sundays and on major religious feast days, while different bells ring the normal tunes during the day. The powerful sounding San Gervasio (‘St Gervasius’—its name derives from Mondolfo’s oldest patron saint) bell sits atop the embattled Civic Tower, where it rings the hours of the day—accompanied by tolls of a smaller bell—and announces the town council meetings by ringing in peal. The inhabitants are also well-accustomed to the sounds of the other bell towers, as their tolls guide the faithful to the sacred functions held in the various churches of the walled town and the territory. Particularly amusing and attractive to hear is the carillon bell sound, which can also be heard during the day from the walled town’s panoramic viewpoint (Belvedere). It rings from the pinnacle of Mondolfo’s old post office situated in Corso della Libertà, and evokes the departure and arrival of despatches in the olden days.