The journey of Saint Francis and Friar Thomas

in the Count of Marsi’s land

Castelvecchio Subequo

At the foot of mount Sirente there is the residential area of Castelvecchio Subequo, the ancient roman Superequum. Already in the pre-roman period in the Macrano valley not far from the modern village there was an important centre later became a Roman city hall with Corfinium and Sulmo. The archaeological area of Macrano gave back important pre-roman and roman traces. An important archaeological site in this area is the fourth century catacomb in the Colle Morìa area. One of the few early Christian catacombs that shows a continuity of population even in the late roman age and high Middle Ages.

In the twelfth century, building began on the “castrum” in its current position and the centre was named Catelvecchio, which was added the name “Subequo” at the beginning of the eighteenth century. As the result of a feud between the Colonna and Piccolomini families, Castelvecchio Subequo thanks to its pastures became an important and prosperous city with the buildings in the historical centre and the numerous works of art can testify. After the earthquake at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Castelvecchio lived a new era in particular with the construction of the church of San Giovanni, commissioned by the Barberini family. The church of Saint Francis annexed with its convent preserves the relic containing the blood of Saint Francis of Assisi within it.
Surrounded by mount Sirente and crossed by the river Aterno, the Subequana valley is perfectly intact and demostrates its many thousand-years old beauty made up by its villages and green areas. A compulsory point of interest from ancient times, presenting antique ruins from its numerous archeological sites. With its constant richness, thanks to the development of the “tratturi” (ancient roads) and the pastures, preserves in its churches and historical centers, extremely precious works of art. Yet the most important jewel is the quality of life, allowing real contact with nature and traditions.
Saint Francis was much loved by the counts of Celano who invited him during one of his visits in Marsica, to visit their castle in Gagliano Aterno, in the Subequana valley. Saint Francis probably made the itinerary shorter in order to leave Celano and to head towards Gagliano, which is also evident in the “Journey of Francis and Thomas”. On the upland of Baullo, near Gagliano Aterno, friar Thomas of Celano, friend and first hagiographer of the Saint, writes:

“Gagliano is a populated and famous village in the church of Sulmona. There lived a woman named Maria who came to convert after feeling the problems of the world, completely dedicated her life to Saint Francis.

One day she climbed a mountain, scorched by its lack of water, with the intention to trim the green maples. Maria forgot to take water with her and due to the hot temperature; she began to fade into a burning thirst. While lying on the ground she was unable to do anything and so began to pray to her patron Saint Francis and tired she fell asleep. This is when Saint Francis arrived and called her by her name: “Get up and drink this water, a gift from God”. She briefly yawned and overcome with tiredness fell back to sleep. He called to her again but she remained on the ground. The third time he called her, comforted by his voice she got up. Grabbing a fern, she pulled it out of the ground and realized its root was full of water; she started to dig with a twig and her fingers. Immediately the pit was full of water and the little drop grew into a spring. The woman drank and also washed her eyes which were seriously weakened from her lengthy illness and could now see perfectly. Her eyes brightened and the fatigue disappeared, as they were full of light. The woman ran towards her home to tell everybody about this wonderful miracle performed by Saint Francis. The news of this miracle spread to everyone even other villages. A lot of sick and needy people arrived from everywhere who had taken confession for the salvation of their souls and were then freed from their illnesses. Then blind people began to see, the lame started to walk; even the obese became thin, and every illness was cured. Even today the spring water continues to flow from here and an oratory dedicated to Saint Francis was built.”

Trattato dei Miracoli, 838-16
Surrounded by mount Sirente and crossed by the river Aterno, the Subequana valley is perfectly intact and demonstrates its many thousand-years old beauty made up by its villages and green areas. A compulsory point of interest from ancient times, presenting antique ruins from its numerous archeological sites. With its constant richness, thanks to the development of the “tratturi” (ancient roads) and the pastures, preserves in its churches and historical centers, extremely precious works of art. Yet the most important jewel is the quality of life, allowing real contact with nature and traditions.

Places of interest

cappella di san francesco

The church and the convent of Saint Francis

According to tradition St Francis, a guest at the time of the counts of Celano in 1216, received as a donation the little church of Santa Maria in Castelvecchio to establish his convent. After expanding the ancient building, the church of St Francis was born and consecrated in 1288 by Cardinal Gerardo di Parma, close ally to the king of Naples Carlo d’Angiò.

In the middle of the sixteenth century the church was modified thus acquiring its current structure with three naves on a salient facade dating back to the 1647. Inside the church we can admire unique works, one of which being the refined principal altar in detailed sculptured wood. On the lateral altars, there are important paintings one of which is the enrapturing Madonna del Soccorso to the right of the main altar.
In 1294, Pietro da Morrone whilst travelling along the road from Sulmona to l’Aquila to become the Pope Celestino V, stopped in Castelvecchio Subequo especially to visit the church of Saint Francis. In the fifteenth century a prestigious philosophical and theological school was born within the convent. Beside the church is the cloister and the convent, whose structure was modified in 1530 and is the home of the museum of Sacred Art (arte Sacra) that holds prestigious works of art some of which hold the remains of Sulmonese workings and silvers works from Abruzzo and Naples.

catacomba paleocristiana

The early Christian catacombs

On the borders of the archaeological area of the ancient Superequum, in the locality of Macrano, there is the underground cemetery of “Colle Morìa”. Just by name it leaves you imagining the presence of a burial cemetery with tombs dating back to the fourth century A.D. Found unknowingly in 1943, the early Christian catacomb of Castelvecchio Subequo that was completely excavated from the rocks is almost 40 metres in length.

The sides of the central corridor are shaped like a barrel vault, and its tombs are indicated by markings on the plaster. The catacomb has three different kinds of tombs: graves, arcosolia, and burial recesses.

The villages of the Subequana valley

chiesa di san nicola con torre campanaria

Molina Aterno

The ancient Molina Aterno was according to testimony present even around the tenth century as reported by Antinori. Just by its name, we can imagine the presence of mills supplied with the water from the river Aterno that crosses the Subequana valley.

In the historical center of the village, you can admire the wonderful church of Santa Maria del Colle that possesses two gates from the Renaissance period ad a main baroque walnut altar sculpted in the seventeenth-eighteenth centuries with the church of San Nicola and its seventeenth-century bell tower. The Piccolomini-PietroPaoli baroque palace is of high value and previously the medieval castle of Molina it presents an elegant colonnade with a gate, a lodge and a courtyard with a water tank dating back to the fifteenth-sixteenth-seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

panorama di secinaro


According to tradition, the origin of the name Secinaro derives from the ancient local goddess Secina Ara but even more plausible is that it derives from the name of the ancient lord Sichenale, already attested in 1173. Secinaro is a wonderful village on the slopes of mount Sirente. It closes the valley towards the north presenting itself as an obligatory point of passage for its strategic accessibility.

This geographical particular has always guaranteed richness to its inhabitants thanks to the control of territorial resources and the transit of goods and travelers. Far from the historical center of the village, there is the church of Santa Maria della Consolazione built in the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries probably on the ruins of the ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Pelina. The sacred building, with double naves, has a downwards sloping floor and presents frescoes of the 1400s portraying “San Giovanni Battista” and “Santa Lucia”. The “Madonna del Soccorso” fresco is also of a great value and was commissioned by the Piccolomini family, as testifies by the half-moon (symbol of the aristocratic families) situated at the bottom of the painting.

panorama del castello di gagliano aterno

Gagliano Aterno

The origin of the name Gagliano Aterno is probably linked to the “Pagus superequano Boedinus Balianum” derived firstly in Gallianum and then later modified in Gagliano. Only then was the name Aterno added, for its proximity to the homonymous river that crosses the Subequana valley. Built in the fourteenth century and destroyed by Braccio da Montone in 1462, the village was rebuilt and became part of the Barberini and Piccolomini families’ estate.

Among the most important monuments of the village is the wonderful castle of Gagliano that stands out and was visited by over 5000 people during the “Giornate di Primavera del FAI 2016”. The church of San Martino and the church and the convent of Santa Chiara that previously a Benedictine monastery of the ninth century. This wonderful place of worship testifies the Franciscan vocation of the Subequana valley. The interior is rich in various works of art, among which are three frescoes portraying: the “Madonna sospesa sopra le nuvole”; “Santa Chiara in gloria sospesa da putti”; “I quattro Evangelisti” and three statues illustrating Saint Francis of Assisi. The church cloister dates back to the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries and is of great value and is also adorned by a well.

chiesa di s maria assunta

Castel di Ieri

The modern name of Castel di Ieri derives from the ancient Castrum Ildegeri, mentioned by Chronicon Casauriense in a document that dates back to 970. Castel di Ieri is a village situated on the ancient via Tiburtina Valeria dominated by its quadrangular tower from the fifteenth century that allows a panoramic view of the entire Subequana valley, particularly the passage towards Rome.

During Roman times, the center became greatly important as we can see by the presence of its temple from the fourth century BC not too far from the village. In the village center you can admire the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta built in 1555 that preserves the body of San Donato; a medieval house from the fifteenth century with its mullioned window, its entrances and shops characteristic of the contemporary architecture of l’Aquila.

The valuable Italic temple located in the Piedi Franci area represents one of the most important archeological sites in Abruzzo with the ruins of a building dating back to the second-first centuries BC and dedicated to the worship of Jupiter and two other divinities (probably the Triade Capitolina). A must see is the church-hermitage of Madonna di Pietrobona a place of worship consecrated to the Virgin Mary in the twelfth century and hidden in a small canyon near the Subequana valley between Castel di Ieri and Goriano Sicoli.

scorcio di goriano sicoli

Goriano Sicoli

In the Cronaca Farense (875) Goriano Sicoli was named Gorgianum and only later was the name modified to its current title. The village closes the valley to the south, is also a strategic position in respect of accessibility, and crossed by the historical roads “tratturo Celano-Foggia” and its pastures.

Today it entirely preserves its medieval aspect such as its two wonderful places of worship symbols of the religious and Franciscan traditions, the shrine of Santa Gemma and the church of Saint Francis. The first is placed where once stood the ancient church of San Giovanni dedicated to this unique Saint who lived in the Goriano area. The second, an ancient Clarisse nuns monastery built in 1304, preserves two valuable frescoes, one portraying “La deposizione di Gesù” and the other “La resurrezione di Gesù” in addition to a wonderful portrait illustrating “La nascita di Maria” a work of art from Naples dating back to the 1600s.


Discover which are the best monuments in Castelvecchio Subequo and the entire Subequana valley, places that will lead you to discover the territory and the various stages of the Journey made by Saint Francis and Friar Thomas.

The territory

Discover the villages of the Subequana valley and Castelvecchio Subequo. Visit the church and the convent of Saint Francis where the relic of his blood is preserved.

dove mangiare
Where to eat
dove dormire
Where to sleep

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