Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca

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Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca


The church of San Frediano in Lucca is not a simple church, but an ancient basilica dating back thousands of years. To see it you are really amazed. That great mosaic, at the top of the main façade, almost seems to want to touch the sky and rise to it to confuse its colors and probably the spirit. The building has medieval origins, while its mosaic dates back seven centuries later. The complex is monumental, although collected in the small square that bears its name; the mosaic, the interior architecture, the cycle of Renaissance frescoes and the exquisite sculptural works, make San Frediano one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. The current basilica, in Romanesque style, was begun in the first XII century and consecrated in 1147 by Pope Eugene III.

Basilica di San Frediano a LuccaIts foundations are however much older, of the sixth century, and are traced back to the same San Frediano bishop, probably born in Ireland in 500 and died in that of Lucca 88 years later. It is said that in Tuscany he arrived around 566, on his return from a pilgrimage to Rome. On the way back he decided to stop and retire as a hermit in the Monti Pisani, between the towns of Lucca and Pisa. As the story tells us for the The Holy Face of Lucca (Volto Santo) , the life of San Frediano and the church dedicated to him are linked to the diocese of Luni, which once gathered the religious congregation of part of the territory located between Tuscany and Liguria. Luni today, as is known, no longer exists, but once it was a thriving city and port, situated not far from the current Sarzana.

Basilica di San Frediano a LuccaIt happened so that Frediano became bishop of Luni. On his return from Rome, the saint decided to take refuge in these mountains, already dotted with medieval villages (today we can see the remains of ancient fortifications), in search of the necessary spiritual isolation; a choice which, however, did not make the citizens to be elected bishop desist, following the divine intervention that popular tradition attributes to him: it was thanks to the indications of Frediano that the river Serchio, the ancient Auser, gently diverted the route to avoid the umpteenth flooding. Whether it was the work of the divine or the fruit of the hydraulic experiences that probably the saint possessed, we are not informed (in fact, it is documented that the locality of Migliarino Pisano had the opportunity to take advantage of the hydraulic knowledge of Frediano in 575), what is known is that the land freed from the waters was located just outside the oldest walls of Lucca, those of Roman origin: that became the chosen place to build a building The church was built to the west and just outside the walls, as was traditionally the case for funerary basilicas, and in time it was known as Basilica Langobardorum.

Mosaico Basilica di San Frediano a LuccaThe western façade is certainly the first point of visual impact to capture the visitor's gaze. However, perhaps it does not come from the centre of the city, that is to say from the interior, but from the tree-lined avenue along the walls and from that short pedestrian (and cycle path) descent, almost randomly sought after between the red roofs and the ochre walls of the houses, adjacent to the garden of Palazzo Pfanner. The longiline bell tower, flanked by the apse and distinguished from the body of the apse, dictates the direction. Down from the walls and turning the corner around the structure, the small Piazza San Frediano offers a good view of the exceptionally high bell tower. The apse has a circular shape and is decorated with horizontal and irregular strips of white and red marble. The bell tower has an increasing number of windows on each level, from one to four, and is decorated by a typical Ghibelline dovetail crenellation (described from the so-called "guelph", whose top is square). Although Guelphs and Ghibellines actually used these architectural divisions for purely distinctive reasons, it is also true that in the following years the battlements were built at the discretion of the designers.

Basilica di San Frediano a LuccaThe basilica of San Frediano was remodelled several times over the centuries, but today's appearance will still be mostly medieval. The initial project was for a church with three naves, without a transept or crypt (according to the trends linked to Gregorian reforms that were being formed during the period). The façade was also built contrary to the rule that imposed the apse facing east. Originally, the church was also lower than the present one and was built in the 13th century to make room for the mosaic that can be admired today in the upper part of the façade. The mosaic is in Byzantine style and is probably the work of the painting workshop of Berlinghieri of Lucca; it depicts the Ascension of Christ, with angels to carry the throne upwards, and with the Twelve Apostles to look down. Berlinghieri were very active artists in Lucca and the mosaic is attributed to Berlinghiero Berlinghieri, a native of Volterra and active in Lucca between 1228 and 1232. Other works in the city are due to him, including the Cross of Lucca (painted in tempera and gold of about 1230), housed at the Guinigi Museum, and a Madonna with Child, today at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Of his son, Bonaventura Berlinghieri, is instead the splendid painting of St. Francis and stories of his life, housed in the Church of St. Francis in Pescia.

Tomba di Santa Zita Basilica di San Frediano a LuccaThe interior of the church is divided by columns imported from Rome (as was often the case at that time) and whose capitals derive instead from the Roman amphitheatre that was once present in Lucca. The whole is appreciated for the space and the sense of balance given by Romanesque architecture and the discretion of the works of art present. You will immediately notice the fresco cuspidato that depicts the Martyrdom of Saints Vincent, Stephen and Lorenzo, of the twelfth century, one of the oldest examples of medieval painting in Lucca. The artistic sensibility is struck by a marble work, the baptismal font of the church of San Frediano: it is unusual at the time that a church not erected as a cathedral could have the privilege of baptizing, so much so that it is said that perhaps the same work originally constituted a Lustrale fountain outside the building. The fineness of the processing used is certainly unbelievable, which, as if by magic and subtlety of detail Opere di Jacopo della Quercia Basilica di San Frediano a Luccahas brought to posterity this masterpiece considered among the most prestigious of Romanesque art. The baptismal font was shattered during the 19th century and then rebuilt in the middle of the last century thanks to the existing drawings. It consists of a round bathtub and a smaller one inside it, supported by a central pillar and eight external panels. Overall, the work is the work of three master sculptors: one Lombard, unknown, sculpted six of the panels, those that represent the stories of Moses; the remaining panels were carved by a certain Robertus, the only one who left his signature (Me Fecit Robertus Magister in Peritus art), in Byzantine style and depicting the Good Shepherd and six prophets. A third artist, probably a Tuscan, worked on the most central cup carving it with more classical motifs.

On the side, in a chapel near the baptismal font, we find the tomb of Santa Zita (of 1278), whose mummified body has remained uncorrupted and still visible in the transparent shrine. Zita was a devout Christian from Lucca, who lived in the 13th century. The legend presents the saint as a thief of a noble family and has become such as to feed the poor of his city. On April 27th in Lucca is still remembered today the miracle of Santa Zita, with flowers and plants to pay homage to the saint in the streets of the old town (between the basilica of San Frediano, where the saint often loved to go, and the Roman amphitheater): according to legend Zita are attributed several miracles, the best known is perhaps what suddenly transformed the bread stolen by her to the rich family where he Tradition has it that every year the people of Lucca exchange blessed narcissuses as a sign of mercy.

Luminarie Basilica di San Frediano a LuccaThe Basilica of San Frediano is also linked to Jacopo della Quercia, which in Lucca was active around the beginning of 1400 and to which we owe also the famous Funeral Monument to Ilaria del Carretto, housed in the Cathedral of San Martino. His sculptures are related to the Trenta family, a wealthy and ancient merchant family of Lucca, the Altare Trenta (273x303 cm), a splendid polyptych in Carrara marble, the Tombstone slab of Lisabetta Onesti (244x123 cm) and the Tombstone slab of Lorenzo Trenta (247x122 dm). It is said that in 1412 the artist began designing the Cappella Trenta in the basilica of San Frediano after having been contacted by Lorenzo Trenta, but that a few months later he was accused, together with his assistant Giovanni da Imola, of the rape of a young girl in the place. Jacopo della Quercia fled to Siena, where he worked on the creation of other masterpieces, and only after a few years, thanks to a safe-conduct he could return to Lucca and continue the work.

Basilica di San Frediano - Lucca In front of the altar of Della Quercia there is a wooden work from the 14th century, a lonely and elegant Virgin announced. Just a little further on, in the chapel of the Cross one can see the frescoes by Amico Aspertini, rich in evangelical themes and episodes from the life of Saint Augustine. Among these are also appreciated the representation of the' Miracle of San Frediano' and of the' Transfer of the Holy Face to Lucca', as narrated in the Legenda Leobiniana, 1508.
Other works of art enrich the Basilica of San Frediano, but all that remains is to discover which ones. You can visit San Frediano in any day of the visit to Lucca, but if you can not miss to participate in the Luminaria di Santa Croce, in September that takes back the miraculous itinerary of the Holy Face in Lucca, in the traditional route that from the Basilica of San Frediano arrives to the cathedral.

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