The convent and church of Sant’Antonio are in ruins today, but they were at the centre of the social and religious life of the inhabitants of Bettona for some three hundred years. In his Memorie, the stubbornly disobedient priest of Bettona, Pietro Onofri, paints a wonderful picture of the building at the beginning of the 19th century, shortly before its demise: “all together this was one of the most beautiful convents had by the Observant Friars in Province of Umbria. […] In the vicinity of our Bettona, there is no more beautiful location”.
The convent was founded by the Observant branch of the Order of Friars Minor who arrived in Bettona in 1434 at the behest of the villagers themselves: the friars had settled in the hermitage of Sant’Onofrio, which is now the chapel of the Bettona’s cemetery, where they remained until 1500, when “due to the great humidity and injuriousness of the site that became uninhabitable”, they moved to the spot where a chapel dedicated to St Manno stood and started building the church and convent.
The convent was fairly large: there were two dormitories, with 20 habitable rooms and an apartment for the provincial superiors; the refectory could accommodate 40 friars and there were all the necessary workshops. A well-stocked and catalogued library is also mentioned, while there was no infirmary or apothecary, but the friars had a vast garden and a wood with fruit trees.
The adjacent church was a treasure trove of works of art, as well as the fulcrum of community life in Bettona: here the confraternity of Sant’Antonio Abate was erected, consisting entirely of peasants, to show how much this place represented the most attractive religious complex for the rural populations. They helped the friars to manage the church and convent and, with their quests, purchased many of the objects and works of art that are in the building: many went missing after the complex was suppressed while others are now kept at the Museo della Città di Bettona. Among the latter are Sant’Antonio di Padua e committente and the Madonna della Misericordia by Pietro Vannucci known as Perugino, the Madonna delle Grazie e sei santi by Jacopo Siculo and a glazed terracotta representing St Antony of Padua by Della Robbia.
After the Unification of Italy, the convent was suppressed and became a hospital, a colony of the G.I.L. (Italian Youth of the Lictor), and social housing for families in financial difficulty. The complex has been in a very poor state since uncompleted renovation work in the 1980s. Completely stripped of any furniture, it is now covered with vegetation both internally and externally, with unsafe walls and parts of frescoes left in a terrible condition. In recent years some initiatives have been promoted by the Pro Loco of Bettona in collaboration with the Municipality: a restoration project for the entire building has been proposed but the necessary funds are still lacking.