Basilica di San Frediano

A religious building dedicated to the three Levite saints Vincent, Stephen and Lawrence existed on this site from the 6th century. This first church was built by St Frediano, Bishop of Lucca from 560 to 588, and excavations under the current basilica have confirmed the presence of the older building. At the end of the 8th century a crypt was added to this church, and the body of St Frediano was laid to rest there. In 1112 reconstruction work began and the church was consecrated in 1147. The project was for a church with nave and two aisles, no transepts or crypt (according to the new trends linked to Gregorian reforms) and an east-facing façade, contrary to the rule which required the apse to face east. The church was lower than today’s building; it was raised in the 13th century and work was concluded with the mosaic decoration on the upper part of the façade. This mosaic depicts The Ascension of Christ in a mandorla held by angels, in the presence of the apostles, who were originally on either side of the Madonna. Her image was destroyed when the central lancet window was opened. The upper section shows the characteristics of a cultured craftsman up-to-date with recent Byzantine experiences, to be placed in a Roman context, while the lower area seems to be the work of a local craftsman from the Berlinghieri studio. Despite continual modifications over the centuries, the basilica’s appearance is still predominantly medieval. The aisles are divided by columns, mostly unadorned, imported from Rome, like many of the capitals. The cuspidate fresco depicting the Martyrdom of Saints Vincent, Stephen and Lawrence is one of the oldest examples of medieval painting in Lucca and dates back to the first half of the 12th century. Among the most important examples of Romanesque Luccan sculpture is the baptismal font. Some sections of pictorial decoration are coming to light: a wonderful late 18th-century decoration including a St Christopher and a Crucifixion with Mourners and a St Peter Enthroned with Saints from the first half of the 14th century. From the late 14th century the walls, columns and especially the family chapels were covered with frescoes while commissions for new altar panels were increasing. In the early decades of the 15th century the Trenta family chapel was built and decorated, for which Jacopo della Quercia sculpted a polyptych with a Madonna and Child and Saints Ursula, Lawrence, Jerome and Frediano (1422). Between the 15th and 16th centuries the Chapel of the Cross was decorated by Amico Aspertini with evangelical themes, episodes from the life of Saint Augustine and subjects from local ecclesiastical history. These depict: the Diversion of the River Serchio by St Frediano, the Nativity, the Transportation of the Holy Visage to Lucca and the Deposition from the Cross. Amico Aspertini also frescoed a Holy Conversation. The sculptor Matteo Civitali carved three statues showing the Holy Bishops Frediano, Augustine and John I reclining, and he is also the author of the Our Lady of the Annunciation. His nephew Masseo made the large wooden altar piece of Our Lady of the Assumption. Between the 16th and 17th centuries the altars and their paintings were renewed. The new canvases included the Miracle of St Cassian by Lomi and the Martyrdom of St Fausta by Sorri. Between the 18th and 19th centuries the Buonvisi chapel, by Stefano Tofanelli, was also totally refurbished. After the Napoleonic suppressions the large lunette by Mattia della Robbia and the altar sculpted by Giovanni Baratta (early 18th century) arrived in San Frediano. The Chapel of St Zita, one of two chapels annexed to the church, is one of the oldest chapels and was built on the cemetery area where the saint was buried in 1278. It was completely renovated in the 17th century: Paolo Guidotti painted a canvas of St Zita and the Pauper, and in the second half of the century Francesco del Tintore completed the decorations with five canvases showing the Miracles of St Zita. In 1509 the Chapel of Our Lady of Succour was handed over to Eufrosina Compagni who commissioned a fresco with Our Lady of Succour by Giuliano da Pisa.

Related book: Lucca


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