Church of Santa Maria Maggiore
According to tradition, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore was built on the pagan temple dedicated to Juno and Vesta. The first records of the church date back to 1025, when it was part of the Camaldolese abbey of S. Silvestro di Collepino.
In 1187, Emperor Henry VI placed the church under his protection. In the following centuries, it became the wealthiest in the city and only second – in terms of share of accounting records – to the church of San Lorenzo, with which it developed a centuries-old ‘rivalry’ attested by several documents. The Romanesque church was completed in 1238.
From the second half of the 15th century, the church experienced a new, long period of independence and prosperity, which, among other things, led to the consecration of the high altar (1513), the establishment of new canonries (1535, 1580, 1649 and 1669), the re-establishment of the common refectory and the collegial care of souls (1562), as well as complete renovation of the building (1644).
Belardino da Como
In the early 1500s, the church became the jewel in the crown of the Baglioni family, who summoned the best artists of the time here.
Compared to the original layout, the current facade has been moved about six metres forward. The work is by Belardino da Como (1644).
The church features groin vaulting and a Latin cross plan, with a single nave and a polygonal apse at the end. The single nave is fairly large and the whole interior conveys a sense of vastness and grandeur.
The Beautiful Chapel
In addition to the existing ones, the building originally had other chapels, which were closed or walled up over the years.
Still visible today are: the Chapel of the Sacrament, better known as “Cappella Bella del Pinturicchio”, and in the left transept the current Chapel of the Sacrament (1478); on the right, the Chapel of the Crucifix, leading to the Chapel of St. Joseph through a beautiful 16th-century portal.
In the 1800s, a visit to the church was mandatory for many travellers whose goal was seeing primitive and Renaissance art. Edward Hutton visited Spello: “It was not, however, to find Roman things that I came to Spello on her little hill, but to see
the work of the great and exquisite sentimentalist, Pintoricchio”. This interest is also due to the discovery of primitive art by the Nazarene painters, who worked in Assisi and in the Spoleto Valley.
The Beautiful Chapel
Celebrated due to the presence of a cycle of frescoes by Pinturicchio dating from around 1500 and 1501. After his appointment as prior of the Collegiate Church of Saint Mary, Troilo Baglioni summoned the artist from Rome to celebrated the renewed rule of the Baglioni family over the region.
The stucco fastigium at the entrance is by Agostino Silva (1670). The chapel has a four-sided base with a groin vault. The frescoes depict three evangelical themes related to Jesus’ childhood.
The left wall portrays the Annunciation, set in front of a magnificent Renaissance portico.
Adoration of the shepherds
The central wall shows the Adoration of the shepherds, with the procession of the Three Kings arriving on the left. The scene is set in the meadow in front of a realistic hut.
Jesus among the Doctors
The wall on the right portrays Jesus among the Doctors. The Infant Jesus is in the middle, between two groups of philosophers of the Jerusalem temple, which towers in the background with its looming dome.
This is a layout already used by Pinturicchio in the Bufalini chapel, in turn derived from the example of Perugino in The Delivery of the Keys in the Sistine Chapel.