Along the Esino River, a fascinating itinerary will lead you to discover magnificent medieval churches

Among the first areas of Italy to witness the development of monasticism, the Marche Region is among the ones that host the largest number of abbeys. We invite you to visit them, starting from the heart of the Region and then proceeding down along the Esino River, in a fascinating itinerary that will lead you to discover magnificent medieval churches, nestled in a rural landscape reflecting the most authentic nature of the Marche’s hinterland.

Abbey of Santa Maria in Castagnola Chiaravalle (AN) - Via Abbazia, 30

It is located in the centre of Chiaravalle and it is the first Gothic monument built in the Marche Region.
It was founded in 1172 by Cistercian monks in the midst of a forest of holm oaks (in Italian querce castagnole), from which it takes its name. Its estate, which was partly donated by the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick Barbarossa, stretched all the way
to the mouth of the Esino River. This made it appealing to both the municipalities of Jesi and Ancona, which fought over this extended area for centuries in vain.
The façade of the abbey is composed of a narthex and an elegant rose window featuring a white marble frame and twelve small radial columns. The interior has a Latin cross floor plan divided into three naves. Visitors should notice the brick-red colour of the columns supporting the ogival arches that stand out against the white walls, as well as the numerous.

Church of San Marco Jesi (AN) - Costa San Marco, 11

It stands on a little hill at only a short distance from the historical centre of Jesi.
It is thought to have originally been a Benedictine abbey later donated to the Franciscan monks in the second half of the 1200s, who modified both its architectural and decorative design.
The church is structured into 3 naves, with the side aisles lower than the central nave, which is not typical of Franciscan architecture and in fact stands to indicate that the church pre-existed the arrival of the Franciscans.
As for the interior decorations, the church was enriched in the first half of the 1200s with a pictorial cycle of which the only remaining element today is the Crucifixion in the apse, which was painted by the School of Rimini. The rest of the present-day
decorations is consequent to restoration works carried out in the mid-1800s by Architect Angelo Angelucci.
Lastly, on the external left-side wall, there is a curious little window and a blind arch indicating the existence of a bell tower in the past.

Church of San Nicolò Jesi (AN) - Corso Matteotti

It is one of the oldest buildings in Jesi.
The oldest part is the apse, which dates back to the end of the 12th century, while the rest of the church is in the Gothic style and dates from the beginning of the
14th century.
For at least a century, the church was a knights Templar Commanderie where the pilgrims headed to Rome or Ancona would lodge. The presence of the Templars is
testified by two crosses sculpted at the jamb of the entrance door and by the six-pointed star – the emblem of the Virgin Mary – engraved on the wall of the left-side
The façade is topped by two sloping roofs and decorated with a Lombard band. The interior has three naves with apses and mainly features cross vaults supported
by composite columns; instead, the side aisles are Romanesque in style. The few existing frescoes, presumably datable between 1000 and 1200 AD, are all that remains of the old interior decorations side altars mainly dating from the Baroque period.

Abbey of Santa Maria del Piano Jesi (AN) - Via Santa Maria, 9

It stands in the area between the historical centre of Jesi and the Esino River and is among the city’s oldest landmarks.
The church, founded in the 5th century, is the only abbey in the province of Jesi that has survived through the Middle Ages. Its architecture is neoclassical, with a single nave, which however was created in a restoration project begun in the mid-1700s that completely transformed it.
In the course of its history, the building underwent several changes that are particularly visible in the crypt, which conserves artefacts dating from different historical periods.
Among these, there is a sarcophagus which is the oldest testimony of Christian sculpture in the Vallesina valley; three tombs, datable from between the 3rd and 4th century AD, which is conducive to thinking that the church was originally a funerary basilica; and the fresco featuring the face of an angel dating from the 10th-11th century, probably what remains of an Annunciation.
In 1300 AD, the church was restyled in the Gothic vogue.
It was originally built with three naves and an elevated altar and the floor was lower than in the modern-day building.
The restoration work carried out in the 18th century completely changed its architecture. Still now, it is possible to see the old arches along the nave – subsequently closed – embedded inside the right-hand wall.
Lastly, inside the church there is a granite column portraying a Christ at the column painted in the 17th century but that also reveals traces of an older painting.

Abbey of Santa Maria delle Moje Maiolati Spontini (AN) - Piazza Santa Maria delle Moie

It stands near the left bank of the Esino River, in the centre of the town of Moie (a borough of Maiolati Spontini), in an area originally rich in shrubby vegetation (called molliam in Latin and moje in the local jargon).
The shrub also gives its name to the church and to the town.
It is thought to have been founded at the beginning of the 11th century by the Attoni family. Over the centuries, the Abbey came to possess several properties and owned 400 hectares of land in the 14th century. It suffered a crisis in the following century and was sold to the dioceses of Jesi in 1456. It was later elevated to the status of parish church and endowed a baptismal font.
The church is Romanesque in style and is divided into two sections: the forepart, featuring a square atrium and the doorway, with archivolts decorated with Gothic-style plant-inspired elements; the church proper has a crossed-dome floor plan and three naves, with three apses at the back and two on the sides of the church.

Abbey of Sant’Elena Serra San Quirico (AN) - Via Sant’Elena, 34

Located in the borough of Sasso (in the municipality of Serra San Quirico), it is immersed in a hilly landscape scattered with medieval villages. It was once the religiously, politically and socially most important abbey in the Vallesina valley. Founded by Saint Romuald around 1010, by the 12th century it owned sixty estates, including churches, castles and villas.
The large Romanesque-Baroque building is designed as a fortress church. Outside, it has an interesting Romanesque portal featuring a lunette with a sculpted Greek
cross between two lion-like imaginary beasts representing the force of evil being scared off by the cross. The inside of the church has a basilica plan with three
naves divided by composite columns with decorated capitals. Another interesting feature is the raised presbytery characterised by a large semi-circular apse, and the crypt below, divided into seven aisles.
Lastly, for the joy of the youngest, you cannot avoid stopping to watch the group of deer kept in the enclosure next to the abbey!

Abbey of San Vittore delle Chiuse Genga (AN) - Via San Vittore, 5

Situated at the mouth of the Gola della Rossa gorge and set in a magnificent landscape, it was founded by one of the local families at the beginning of the 10th century.
Over the years, thanks to the donation of land, castles and churches, it acquired great economic and political power.
It suffered a crisis in the 15th century and was eventually even converted into a farm. With the closure of monastic orders by Napoleon in 1810, the Abbey was handed over to the Diocesan curia of Fabriano.
Its present structure probably dates back to the end of the 11th century. The forepart is made up of two towers and the narthex. The church’s floor plan is almost square, featuring a crossed dome and five apses, three of which are at the end of the naves and two along the sides of the cross, and a dome that receives light through four single-lancet windows.
Next to the entrance to the Abbey you will find the entrance to the Speleo Paleontological and Archaeological Museum displaying the artefacts found in the Municipality of Genga.

Hermitage of Santa Maria Infra Saxa Genga (AN) - Località Gola di Frasassi

It is located in the Municipality of Genga, near the famous Frasassi Caves. You reach it after a 700-meter walk uphill, enabling visitors to have an amazing panoramic view of the Gola della Rossa gorge.
The Hermitage was partially hewn out of a rock wall at the entrance of a cave, giving a special appeal to a structure that is simple in its essence. The building was first mentioned in 1029 as belonging to the Abbey of San Vittore and was also used as a cloistered convent.
Next to Santa Maria Infra Saxa stands the Valadier Temple, commissioned by Pope Leo XII, who was born in Genga, and whose uniqueness lies in the fact that it is
embedded in a cave. Inside the Temple was a statue of the Madonna with Child by Canova, at present conserved at the Museum of Sacred Art of Genga and replaced by a copy.

Abbey of Sant’Urbano Apiro (MC) - Contrada Sant’Urbano, 5

It is located in the municipality of Apiro (Macerata), in the San Clemente Valley.
Built around the year 1000 AD, it exercised great power, both religious and political, over the whole valley, which is the reason why it came into conflict with the municipality of Apiro, which partially destroyed it in the 1200s. It was later rebuilt in the 13th century and in the 15th century it was joined to the Abbey of Valdicastro, was expropriated by the State during the Napoleonic period and was subsequently
owned by several families.
The interior structure of the Abbey is particularly original, especially due to the presence of a diagonal wall dividing the nave – created to host the worshippers – from the raised presbytery – the space reserved for the monks – which almost turns it into a separate church. The church also has a crypt whose right-hand aisle was closed off to be used as a cellar when it was under tenant farming. Another interesting feature of the church are its capitals and its cornice, which are sculpted with medieval symbols that constituted the only possible way of transmitting Christian values to illiterate people.
Another element of the church’s originality is light: not only the light passing through the three single-lancet windows in the presbytery which are positioned in such a manner as to cast light on the altar in any season of the year, but especially the rays of light that produce Saint Urban’s “luminous eye phenomenon”. Every year at 7:40 a.m. on 25th May, the day celebrating the patron saint, and at 7:50 a.m.
on 19th July, a beam of light enters the church from an hole above the apse and falls exactly on a circle carved on a pillar in the nave. Simultaneously, in the crypt, a beam of sunlight passes through the window behind the altar and hits a circle carved at the base of a column.


Church of Santa Maria degli Aroli (Monsano)

The church, in the Romanesque-Gothic style, is very
small. The interior walls are plastered and are covered
by a roof truss and the apse hosts fresco decorations
dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The tripartite
façade is dominated by a narthex featuring small columns
and lightly sculpted sections.

Abbey of Sant’Appollinare (Monte Roberto)

It is most likely to be the oldest abbey of the Vallesina valley.
It is dedicated to Saint Apollinaris, the bishop of Ravenna, and in fact makes reference to the domination of Byzantine Ravenna in the 6th-7th century over a territory that marked the border between the Byzantines and the Lombards. The Abbey has recovered its authentic Romanesque-Gothic architecture thanks to recent restoration works and hosts a 1508 fresco in the apse, attributed to Arcangelo di Andrea di Bartolo da Jesi.

Hermitage of the White Friars (Cupramontana)

Situated in the Gola del Corvo gorge, between Cupramontana and Poggio Cupro, it is also called “delle Grotte” (“of the Caves”) because the monks originally inhabited
the natural tuff caves converted into places of prayer, whose construction traditionally dates back to the early 11th century. The building is immersed in a forest that visitors are advised to stroll through, both to capture the atmosphere loaded with spirituality and to see rare botanical species.

Church of Santa Maria del Mercato (Serra San Quirico)

Built in 1289 in a location called “fondo del Mercato” (“bottom of the Market”), it underwent several restoration works and, having been deconsecrated, it now hosts a theatre. The magnificent Romanesque bell tower, one of the most impressive of the whole Vallesina valley, is still perfectly conserved. The church presents a square
floor plan featuring two rows of single-lancet arched windows and one row of mullioned windows, with little travertine columns topped by capitals in between.

Church of San Paterniano (Serra San Quirico)

The present-day structure dates back to 1473 although a church by the same name was already mentioned at the end of the 13th century. A feature of particular interest is the Renaissance portal, whose architrave bears the symbol of the Camaldolese Order of monks (two doves drinking out of the same chalice), of the bishop Saint Paternianus and the pontifical coat of arms. Inside the church, there is a triptych on wood dating from the end of the 15th century and portraying the Madonna of Loretto, Saint Paternianus and Saint Lucy attributed to the Master of Domo.

Abbey of San Salvatore in Valdicastro (Poggio San Romualdo)

This is the only abbey in the Vallesina valley that conserves the layout of a typical Benedictine building: the church, the chapter room, the study and work halls, the
infirmary, the guest quarters, the dormitory, the storage rooms, etc. It was founded between 1005 and 1009 by St. Romuald, who also died there. The crypt hosts a
sarcophagus of the Roman period that once contained the remains of the saint, which are now conserved in the Church of San Biagio in Fabriano. The building was restructured several times and restyled in its present Gothic style. Unfortunately it cannot be visited at present because of the damage it suffered in the last earthquake.

Church of San Francesco (Staffolo)

This Franciscan convent was originally in the Romanesque style but was later often restyled although it conserves the original design of the façade, with its impressive
stone portal. Another interesting feature is the bell tower, which rests directly on the escarpment of the walls and was probably built on a pre-existing defensive tower.

Church of Sant’Egidio (Staffolo)

Dedicated to Saint Aegidius, the patron saint of Staffolo, the building is Romanesque in style and was restructured between the 16th and 17th centuries. The entrance is decorated with a beautiful 13th century white stone portal with concentric arches engraved with plant patterns. Inside, it hosts a polyptych attributed to the Master of Staffolo, a late Gothic painter active in the Marche Region between the 1420s and 1460s.