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St. Matthew St. Matthew St. Matthew St. Matthew
St. Matthew
St. Mark
St. Luke
St. John

The Four Evangelists

Before Piero della Francesca was involved in the fresco project at San Francesco, the old-style Florentine painter Bicci di Lorenzo (d. 1452) and his shop were at work, painting the vault and face of the triumphal arch. While images of the four Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, in the four webs of the vault are traditional, they are uniquely portrayed here as having particular meaning for the Franciscan order.

St. Matthew appears directly over the entrance to the apse. As usual, he is accompanied by an inspiring angel. The Franciscans derived their name from a saying of Christ quoted several times in Matthew’s gospel, that anything done to “the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me” [fratribus meis minimis mihi fecistis, Matt. 25:40]. The Franciscans call themselves the Minorites (“the least important ones”).

St. Mark with his symbol, the lion, appears above the left wall. He is shown in conversation with a small figure of St. Peter. In life, Mark went to Rome to study with St. Peter, the first pope. Peter’s presence emphasizes the Franciscan order’s relationship to papal Rome, as well as referring to Mark 16:20, where the Franciscan apostolic mission is defined.

St. Luke is placed above the right wall; his symbolic inspiration is an ox. Luke painted the first image of the Virgin Mary and dedicated his Gospel to her. The Virgin was one of the most important patrons of St. Francis: on the vault, Mary is carried by angels. This image is a reference to the sanctuary of Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below Assisi, where St. Francis spent his last years and where he died.

Christ revealed the secrets of the crucifixion to St. John the Evangelist, who was his favorite among the apostles. Over the altar, John appears not only with his eagle but also with an apparition of the crucified Christ, which recalls the crucifix that appeared to St. Francis in the wings of a seraphim that brought to him the stigmata.