Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Felice Peretti of Montalto, who became Pope in April 1585 adopting the name of Sistus V, in November 1586 elevated the city of Montalto to a Diocese and declared the Collegiate Church of S. Maria intus Civitatem to be a Cathedral. To build the new Cathedral, he had a hill levelled and the foundations were filled with stone quarried from the mountain. On 29 May 1589, a cross was planted on the site where the High Altar was to be sited risen. The Cathedral was the representation of the ideal connection point between the old village and the new town designed by the architect Girolamo Rainaldi, assisted by Pompeo Floriani from Macerata, as the epitome of the pastoral centre of the Diocese, and as a monumental symbol of the vast territory that extended from the Sibillini Mountains towards the Adriatic coast. The foundation stone was laid on the festival of S. Felice and name day of Sistus V: 30 May 1589. At the time of the Pope’s death, the evening of 27 August 1590, the construction had already reached the level of the square with the completion of the vaults. Then the works proceeded with difficulty. The contribution of Girolamo Codebò from Modena, fifth Bishop of Montalto, was decisive. Considerable contributions to the continuation of the works came from the other Prelates of the Diocese, until Eleonoro Aronne, Bishop from 1847 to 1887, entrusted the project of the dome, tower and portico to the architect Luigi Polettifrom Modena, known for having overseen the rebuilding of the Basilica of S. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. Conceived of considerable proportions covering an area of almost 1800 square meters, the Cathedral had to rise above the current four main streets. The portico, designed by the architect Luigi Poletti from Modena and completed at the end of the 19th century, partially modified the original appearance. The church was built on a steep slope. The lower church was designed as a Greek Cross plan, supporting the upper church, which had Latin cross plan. The tower hosts a peal of six bells: the oldest dates back to 1263 and comes from the Monastery of San Francesco delle Fratte; the biggest, the so-called ‘big bell’, weighing about 10 quintals (100kg), comes from the ancient cathedral of S. Maria ad collem. The internal decoration is the work of Luigi Fontana from Monte San Pietrangeli, painter, sculptor, architect, academician of S. Luca and keen observer of the great masters of the Italian 16th century. Cardinal Carlo Sacconi funded much of the work. Sacconi was Apostolic Nuncio in Paris since 1853, and enriched the Cathedral with some precious sacred vases in gilded silver, a gift from Napoleon III. The pictorial content celebrates the Virgin; and the entire Canticle of the Magnificatis shown along the base of the vaults. In the tambour of the dome, there are four biblical scenes from the Old Testament and in the curved triangles of vaulting formed by intersection of a dome with its supporting arches (pendentives) the four Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. In the vault of the central nave, the scenes of the Annunciation, the Immaculate Conception and the Visit to St. Elizabeth are represented among the coats of arms of Cardinal Carlo Sacconi, Bishop Aronne and the lion of the Sistine coat of arms in memory of the Founder. In the arched windows in the domed ceiling(lunettes) on the sides of the High Altar, there are on the left St. Luke and on the right St. John.St. Luke is depictedwith the ox, animal of the sacrifice that alludes to the Passion of Christ and, according to tradition, the image he painted of the Virgin Mary with the Child. St. John, who came out unharmed from the cauldron of boiling oil during the persecution of Domitian, is shown with the eagle flying higher than the other birds, just as the Evangelist stands out theologically and mystically, symbolizing the Ascension of the Lord. Between the two pillars in front of the current Chapel of the Holy Family, there were the seats of the magistrates, reserved for them when they attended the sacred liturgy. The magistrates were entitled to special honours and distinctions, celebrated by a special ceremony. In the transept on the left, there is the Chapel of S. Vito martyr, Protector of  Montalto since 26 august 1646, and in the right transept, there is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament with a valuable painting depicting the Last Supper. In the lower church, it is possible to admire an artistic permanent nativity scene; the reproduction of the Lourdes Grotto and the sculpture plaster group of the Deposition of Christ by Giorgio Paci, an artist of Ascoli, located in the place that Sistus V had allocated for the transfer the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.