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Wednesday 24 April 2024
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Ancient documents and illuminated manuscripts

Umbria, with its history stretching back over thousands of years into its golden age during the Middle Ages, is simply a goldmine for those who have a passion for ancient documents and manuscripts. Possibly the region’s best known written artefact are the Iguvine Tables, in the second room of Gubbio’s Palazzo Dei Consoli. The Iguvine Tables are a series of seven bronze slabs dating from between the 2nd and 1st century BC, inscribed in ancient Umbrian using both the Etruscan and Latin alphabets. Many regard these slabs as the most important example of ancient writing in the western world, on a par with the Rosetta Stone that was instrumental for deciphering the Egyptian hieroglyphs. The texts on the Tables offer a detailed description of the main religious ceremonies of Ikuvium (the ancient name for Gubbio) and were unearthed near a Roman amphitheatre in 1456 by Paolo di Gregorio, who that same year gave them to the City of Gubbio in exchange for grazing land.

The reliquary chapel of the Duomo of Spoleto contains a signed letter by St Francis to Brother Leone, in which the saint attempts to allay Leone’s anguish and doubts with words whose humanity and sincere tenderness will surprise even the contemporary reader. In true Franciscan spirit, the text is a manifesto of freedom of thought: "in whatever manner it will please thee to please the Lord our God, to follow His example and poverty, do so with the blessing of the Lord and my obedience".

The twenty-one Matricole delle Arti e dei Mestieri di Perugia, kept in the Augusta library, are certainly also worth a note. These manuscripts, many of which are beautifully illuminated, were written between the 14th and 19th century and are transcriptions of the lists of members of Perugia’s city guilds and corporations.

Umbria is also a region of historic importance in terms of printing: on April 11th 1472, in Foligno, Giovanni Numeister issued the first printed copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy, an even that is commemorated each year in Foligno with a series of interesting initiatives.

In the Terni area, visitors should pay a visit to the 13th century Palazzo Comunale of Stroncone, which has a series of illuminated 15th century manuscripts along with a collection of beautifully crafted coins, medals and seals dating from different periods.

Umbria...Cuore verde d’Italia. Percorsi d'arte, Agenzia di Promozione turistica dell'Umbria, Perugia, pg. 60, with thanks.

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