Fermo, the capital city of the province of Fermo, is an interesting town with splendid views from the top of the central hill. You can see over the fields to the mountains in one direction and as far as the ocean in the other.

 

Although there have been many  Piceni artefacts found in the area, numerous human remains found in  this area are funerary remains from the 9th–8th centuries BC, belonging to the Villanovan culture or the proto-Etruscan civilization.

 

The town itself became  an important Roman colony, founded with 6,000 men in 264 BC, as the centre of Roman control of the region. It was called Firmum Picenum, and was situated at the junction of four major trading and military thoroughfares. The town passed into the control of the Vatican in the 8th century and then it became a free city in 1199. After this time a long period of war and strife continued with numerous attacks and occupations, until it was taken again by the Holy See in 1520. In 1861 Fermo became part of the province of Ascoli Piceno. The present Province of Fermo, with Fermo as its capital, was only established in 2009.

There are many interesting buildings to visit, and Roman remains to be seen. There are some traces of a Roman amphitheater, but the most noteworthy Roman archaeological site is undoubtedly the Cisterns of Fermo. These consist of one of the most extensive and well-preserved examples of Roman cisterns in Italy. They consist of 30 underground rooms which provided water for the city, probably through public fountains. The underground pipe network above the cisterns was connected to a canal around the external walls. The cisterns are made of Opus Coementicium, which was a type of waterproofing concrete invented by Roman engineers.

 

There are, of course, many churches with interesting architecture and artworks to see. The first is the Cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta in Cielo in the Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the city. This Gothic façade also contains the historic library and the civic art gallery which holds The Adoration of the Shepherds by Pieter Paul Rubens (1608) among many other fine artworks.

A few steps away stands the Teatro dell’Aquila, one of the most beautiful among at least one hundred plus historical theatres in Le Marche.

 

The Cathedral has an interesting link with Britain. Among the possessions of the treasury is a chasuble said to have belonged to St. Thomas Becket, (often referred as Thomas à Beckett), who was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 and canonized by Pope Alexander II on 1173.

 

The famous verse drama by T.S. Eliot ‘ Murder in the Cathedral’ (1935), and the film ‘Beckett’ (1964)(written by Jean Anouilh) both deal with his important role in British history and the Catholic church in England.

 

The chasuble of Thomas Becket, made in 1116

 

Aged 10, Becket was sent as a student to Merton Priory, and at 20 he spent a year in Paris; then he was sent to the university of Bologna to study canon law. In Bologna Becket shared a residence with a student named Presbitero, who later became archbishop of Fermo. The two young men became close friends, and probably carried on a correspondence, as, after Becket's murder, his mother sent Presbitero a keepsake, in the form of a precious cloak which had been embroidered in 1116 in the then Moorish Almeria, Spain. It was later given to the Diocese of Fermo by the Pope. The cloak, which had probably originally been a regal cape, is now stored in the Diocesan Museum of Fermo, located next to the cathedral.

St. Thomas Becket is very popular in the south of Le Marche: in Fermo a parish church is dedicated to him, and it was in this church that the cloak was found, after centuries lying undiscovered in a closed chest. A shrine, dedicated to St. Thomas Becket and located in the village of Montedinove (in the province of Ascoli Piceno) hosts relics of this English Saint, and he is solemnly celebrated every year on the date of his murder, 29th December.

 

The Adoration of the Shepherds, Pieter Paul Rubens.

Oil on canvas - Fermo, Pinacoteca Civica (Municipal art-gallery)

Fermo offers visitors a unique attraction, namely the magnificent oil painting 'The Adoration of the Shepherds' by Rubens, currently exhibited in the Municipal Art Gallery of Fermo.This painting was commissioned for the church of St. Philip Neri in Fermo in 1608 by Father Flaminio Ricci in Rome, native of Fermo, Superior of the Oratorian order of Friars, and a great admirer of the young Flemish artist. This was Rubens’ final year in Italy.

On March the 9th, 1608, Rubens received a down-payment of 25 scudi and agreed to deliver the work within six months. He completed the painting before this time, and, on receiving a letter informing him of the serious illness of his mother, he left Italy, never to return.

The large canvas celebrates one of the most intimate and emotional moments of the Nativity, according to the Gospel of St Luke, with a composition showing a night time scene featuring glimmers of reflected light which subtly highlight the major figures, such as the holy Virgin, tenderly inclined over the Baby to whom she turns her loving gaze.

 

But a significant protagonist in the painting is the young shepherd in the foreground, in a reverential kneeling position and wearing a rich red garment.

 

It is clear from the magnificence of his limbs and the beauty of his countenance that he is inspired by classical heroic figures.

 

Knowledge of the existence of this artwork was handed down through the centuries only by local residents and it was unknown to major art critics, mainly due to its secluded location. Then, in the 1950’s, the contract with which it had been commissioned was discovered in Rome and this established official recognition of the work.

 

However, as early as 1927 the great Italian art critic Roberto Longhi, on seeing the painting during a visit to Fermo, unequivocally identified the hand of Rubens, and was thrilled by the unexpected encounter. The original sketch, probably used to obtain the commission, is now housed at the Hermitage museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

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