The Winter Saints

February 15, 2013 / Events
Perugia, Umbria
perugiaI’ve dubbed them santi d’inverno (winter saints), three patron saints of Umbrian medieval towns, Trevi, Foligno and Perugia: early Christian martyred bishops (2nd – 4th c AD) with late January feast days.

Town patron saints are often the first bishop – and as the first, likely a martyr. In fact, the much-loved San Francesco is not Assisi’s patron saint; that would be San Rufino, Assisi’s martyred 3rd-century bishop. San Francesco is bigger than that! He’s Italy’s patron saint.

Foligno and Trevi are close to one another, and close in patron saint celebrations: Foligno’s San Feliciano is on January 24thm while Trevi’s Sant’ Emiliano is on the 28th. On January 29th, nearby Perugia honors San Costanzo, 2nd-century martyr/bishop and one of their three patron saints, forming a triad with San Lorenzo and San Ercolano.   

Patron saint festivities include High Mass in the cathedral, typical festive dishes and la fiera, the huge open market lining the streets the day after the feast day.

perugia-saintsIn Borgo XX Giugno – the street leading to the legendary site of San Costanzo’s martyrdom – i Perugini wander the booths of over 70 artists and artisans at the fiera as street musicians add a musical note. One booth offers visitors slices of the six-meter torcolo – the traditional San Costanzo fruitcake – and glasses of vin santo. “Heavenly” is that fruitcake dipped in sweet “holy” wine.

The following day, intrepid torcolo fans can enjoy comparative tastings of the traditional cakes by twenty Perugia bakers.  Whose is best?

Probably mamma’s home-baked one. When slicing, she’ll first make five slits in the cake, representing Perugia’s five city gates. Legend links the ring-shaped torcolo di San Costanzo to the flowering garland placed around the neck of the decapitated bishop when the faithful –  wishing to hide the brutal wound – lovingly recomposed his body for burial. The cake’s candied fruits and raisins represent the garland’s flower petals: a sweet memory of a beloved saint.

Torcolo di San Costanzo


Anne Robichaud

by Anne Robichaud

An authorized Umbrian tour guide, Anne and her husband Pino worked the land for many years in the 1970’s so rural life, rural people, rural cuisine are una passione for her. See Umbria from “the inside”: join her May 2017 ten-day tour centered on discovering Umbria, Anne’s Umbria.

See for more on her Umbria tours. Do see for news on the Assisi apartment – and Assisi countryside guest house – she and Pino now rent out.

Anne writes frequently on Umbria and other areas of Italy. Read about her annual U.S. Feb/Mar cooking classes and lectures, as well as her numerous Italy insights on her blog.

16 Responses to “The Winter Saints”

  1. Jack Litewka

    Annie always makes me hungry — sometimes with visuals/art and sometimes with food — and always for a little more knowledge about Italian history and culture.

  2. Sandi Spector

    I bet the Italian ‘fruit cakes’ are 1,000 times better than the US versions. Of course, everything Italians make is better.
    Grazie, Annie
    Ps- do you bake these at home?

  3. Will definitely make the Perugino torcolo next Christmas, a new twist to an old tradition!

  4. This is very interesting. I always thought that St.Francis was the patron saint of Assisi. Please keep writing about this wonderful region as it is my favorite place to visit. Thank you.


  5. Karen Kotoske

    Ciao Anne! Reading your Umbrian stories always makes me hungry for the fabulous offerings of Umbria’s tables and towns. Torcolo did it again. (I’m curious: does torcolo mean ‘twisted?) Your own tours and the ‘tables’ you have lead us to (restaurants, farms and your home) only whet our appetites for future visits. In the meantime we’ll have to content ourselves with your stories. Thanks!

  6. Lucy Smith

    Wow! Great story, and interesting info. Thank you! And the beautiful photo of torcolo….I could smell the fresh-baked sweet bread! Mmmmmmm!

  7. Anne Robichaud

    Thanks to each for notes and for GB for posting the recipe.
    Yes, Karen, probably roughly “something twisted” would be “torcolo”
    “Torcere” = “to twist”.

  8. Frank and Brit

    Annie, Thanks for the story AND the picture of the torcolo. Frank and Brit

  9. Donna Good

    Oh, Annie, thank you for sharing this. While we try to get to Italy every year we don’t always get to Umbria, and this made me miss it so. Next year we will come, stay at Il Nido, and bask in Umbrian history and cusine!

  10. Thanks Anne for writing about the patron saints of these three Umbrian towns and the festivals in their names. I hope to one day be able to take part in one of these festivals. Your articles always make me want to book the next flight to Italy. I wonder, are there any Festas taking place in the beginning of July, maybe I can catch one while their!!

  11. Anne Robichaud

    Valerie, Umbria Jazz in Perugia is the BIG one for July..but many “sabras” all over and had written a note on the “sabra” on this site so do run a search for it.
    Will keep you updated on all the feste when you are in Umbria!


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