Church of Santa Maria Foris Portas

The oldest building
in Castelseprio

As its old name indicates, the church of Santa Maria foris portas is located outside of the Castrum; it is an integral part of the archaeological park.
The church has a central apse that contains an important group of Early Medieval paintings, and two side apses. The latter were demolished in the past, but were rebuilt after the discovery of the frescoes in 1944.
Archaeological investigations have shown that the church, perhaps built as a nobles’ chapel, had no buildings nearby except for a small rectangular structure that may have been a sacristy, of which remains survive between the central and southern apses.
There are also numerous tombs, some quite substantial (one featured the large slab with a cross kept in the Antiquarium portico), which have been found both inside and outside the church.

Central apse frescoes

In the central apse there is a cycle of frescoes with episodes from the childhood of Jesus inspired by both the canonical and apocryphal gospels, in particular the Gospel of James and the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew.
The lower part of the wall was decorated with a painted curtain (velarium) and birds; the narrative cycle, arranged in two registers, begins at the top left with the Angel’s Annunciation to Mary and Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth.
After a large lacuna, in which there was probably a circular image (clypeus), the narration continues with the apocryphal episode of the ordeal of the bitter water, which Mary is forced to drink to prove her virginity. At the centre of the apse, a clypeus with Christ pantocrator (“Ruler of all”) may be seen. The narrative continues with the appearance of an angel to Joseph who reassures him of Mary’s divine motherhood.

Arch frescoes

After another clypeus (of which traces remain) Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem is depicted and, at the right end of the lower register, the birth of Jesus and the announcement to the shepherds.
The next episode, ire. the adoration of the magi, is on the adjacent wall, while the last of the preserved episodes, the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, is again on the curved wall, after the window. On the inner wall of the arch that separates the apse from the nave is depicted, in the centre, the Etoimasia (Greek for “preparation”), which consists of a throne ready to welcome Christ when he returns. Two angels fly towards the throne, on which rest a crown and a cross.
The date of the church and the frescoes is still much debated: today the church is usually dated to the 7th or 8th century and the frescoes to the 7th/8th – early 10th century.


Info and contacts

Church of Santa Maria Foris Portas
Via Castelvecchio, 1513 – Castelseprio VA
phone 0331 820438


Free Entry

Opening Times

Monday closed
Tuesday closed
Wednesday 09.00 – 13.30
Thursday 13.30 – 17.30
Friday 13.30 – 17.30
Saturday 13.30 – 17.30
Sunday 09.30 – 17.30