Saint Michael's Church in Murato - San Michele

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Saint Michel
Posted on 14/02/2015 | Updated 10 years ago
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Saint Michel

One of the Most Famous Churches in Corsica

Saint-Michel Church of Murato
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The Church of Saint-Michel in Murato - San Michele di Muratu - is emblematic of Corsica and known beyond the Mediterranean. Mentioned in the writings of Prosper Mérimée, it is visited by nearly hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, both in summer and winter.

The building features Romanesque architecture with a Pisan style, as evidenced by its two-tone facades of rectangular green and white stones. The former are composed of local serpentine (chloritite) from the Bevinco river, which flows through the village, and the white stones are made of limestone from Saint-Florent.

In 1839, Prosper Mérimée, then on an inspection trip in Corsica, stated that he considered it "the most elegant and the prettiest he had seen in Corsica." It was classified as a Historic Monument in 1840, one year later.

The Church is open on Saint-Michel’s Day, May 8th and August 15th, and on some afternoons.

The Context of the 11th and 12th Centuries

Corsica emerged from several centuries of Saracen offensives that forced the populations to leave the coast for mountainous regions. Supported on multiple occasions by Charlemagne, then by a Genoese and Pisan alliance. Pope Gregory VII established the system of Piève and asked the Bishop of Pisa to set up administrative, religious, and judicial institutions, undertaking the construction of buildings, churches, bridges, port areas, and providing more resources for local populations to defend themselves. Saint-Michel was part of the Piévanie of Bevinco, and the diocese of Nebbiu. Corsica then experienced two centuries of prosperity, the "Pax Pisana".

Built in the 12th Century

Commissioned by the lords of Petr'a l'Arreta, its foundation is estimated between 1130 and 1140 and appears to have been completed in two phases according to records: first the Nave, then the bell tower porch. Legend has it that it was built in one night by Angels. It is one of the oldest churches on the island, and its state of preservation is also due to renovations carried out on several occasions, notably the raising of the bell tower in 1855 by Achille Murati, whose grandfather was an army leader of Pascal Paoli.

Saint-Michel stands out for its antiquity, its distinctive character, but also its particular location, in the center of a large walled parcel, with a view over the gulf of Saint Florent and facing its village of Murato.

It is interesting to note that 1000 years before its construction, the site of the Catholic Church - the site of Lourinion - was one of the markers used by the Greek geographer and astrologer Ptolemy when he mapped Corsica around the year 150. See point 42 by clicking on the thumbnail:Corsica Map Ptolemy

Sculptures of the Archivolts

The archivolts of the window-slits seem to depict - carved in serpentine and limestone - biblical scenes.

Scene Eve Temptation Serpent Sculpture Church MuratoSculpture Scene Noah Grapes after Flood Church Saint Michel MuratoArchivolt Two Intertwined SerpentsSculpture Lamb of Victory ApocalypseSculpture Twelve Circles Church Saint Michel MuratoSculpture Braided Rope Church Saint Michel Murato

Structure of the Edifice

The exterior structure of Saint-Michel consists of a Nave, a choir that ends with a semi-circular apse in the shape of a hemicycle. The bell tower rests on 2 cylindrical columns. The roof is covered with green lauzes, a typically insular roofing material, and the wooden frame is exposed.

On the semi-circular apse, thus the east façade, a cross-shaped dormer receives the light of the rising sun - see photo.

The polychrome façades in Pisan style are composed of five window-slits, one of which is on the wall of the hemicycle, and modillions around the perimeter of the building. It is worth noting that the polychromy of the walls is very similar to the chapel of the Holy Trinity in Aregno, dating from the same period.

The interior is adorned with wall frescoes, some of which have faded over time. An oculus is situated on the entrance façade to the west.

Lintel of Saint-Michel

Struck by lightning in 1969, the lintel of Saint-Michel has since been reconstructed. It depicts two birds, two peacocks with feathers adorned with stones, each pulling the ear of a man placed in the center, holding them by one leg.

Lintel Church Saint Michel Murato Two Peacocks Pulling Ears


Saint-Michel is adorned with a large number of modillions around the entire perimeter of the Church. These modillions are intended to be simple and eloquent without superficiality to be accessible to the greatest number. They evoke, among other things, justice, law, and religious values through representations of objects, characters, and animals. On the front, there are two figures that seemingly represent the law, one holding a scroll, the other dressed in a robe, and on the south façade, which features, among other things, two birds back to back, a woman's portrait, stars at various peaks, a shape that seems to recall infinity or the universe, and a triton symbolizing the sin of lust.

Animal - ModillonRam - ModillonDeer - ModillonCross Light East ChurchWater - ModillonModillon - beteModillon - betesModillon - LimestoneModillon - ChandelierModillon - BasketModillon - CrossModillon - etoile 8 sommetsModillon - LeavesModillon - oiseaux dos a dosModillon - RosetteModillon - tete animalModillonEtoile 8 sommets - ModillonEve Serpent Apple SculptureFleur solaire - ModillonHomme loi texte parchemin - ModillonInfini univers - ModillonCruciform Nimbus Murato Saint MichelParchemin - ModillonPortrait femme - ModillonModillon - crapaudModillon - facadeModillon - formeModillon - losangeModillon - mainModillon - personnageTriton bifide - ModillonModillonModillon - tresseModillon - portrait

The Tomb

Below Saint-Michel lies a tomb inscribed with the names of Achilles Murati and Romanus Murati, historical figures of the village. Achille Murati was the lieutenant of Pascal Paoli.

Broadcast on Saint-Michel in Corsican by the CRDP

Some Interesting Sources

Below are some interesting and relevant links for further exploration with the association Imagina Muratu, which provides additional insights, as well as the blog of Elisabeth Pardon regarding the sculptures, modillions, and motifs of the Church of Saint-Michel.