San Gimignano Frescoes of the Life of St. Augustine (a Guide for College Students)

San Gimignano Frescoes of the Life of St. Augustine (a Guide for College Students)


In his Confessions, St. Augustine (354-430) writes that "our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Oh Lord" (1.1.1).  He used the story of his own life and his own restless search for meaning as a way to unfold his philosophical and theological ideas.  Augustine's ideas were a powerful influence in the development of Christianity and of western culture generally. The beautiful Italian town of San Gimignano, often called the "city of towers," became a center of Augustinian spirituality; today that heritage is preserved in the Church of St. Augustine, where Augustinian friars host retreats and offer regular liturgies in Italian and English. During the Renaissance, the Augustinians commissioned Benozzo Gozzoli (1429-1497) to paint a series of frescoes illustrating scenes from the life of St. Augustine.   

At Villanova University, another center of the study of St. Augustine, a group of first year students studied the frescoes as part of their work in Villanova's freshman year Augustine and Culture Seminar. In this website, the students have produced a web-guide to the frescoes, designed specifically for college students.  For each fresco, they help the viewer interpret and understand what is in the image itself and then they explain the basis for the fresco in the text of Augustine's writing.  Finally, they reflect on the meaning of the fresco for contemporary college students.  In some cases two different groups of students worked on the same fresco, so you will find it especially interesting to see how different groups interpreted the same image.  So, for example, when you click on the sidelink for "son of tears" you will see two separate links, each for a different interpretation of the same fresco.

This website received a Special Recognition for Creative Projects award from the Villanova Center for Liberal Education in May, 2010. It has also been incorporated into the official Villanova University website.

All quotations and references to St. Augustine's Confessions are to the translation by Maria Boulding (Hyde Park, New City Press, 1997).

We invite you to explore this website and to share your reactions with us by Email.    

John Immerwahr
Professor of Philosophy
Villanova University
December, 2009

A variety of other websites produced by first year humanities students are also available.

Last modified: 6/1/2010 10:38 AM (EST)