Chiesa di San Francesco, Modena
Church in Modena
The Church of San Francesco in Modena stands as a testament to the profound influence of the Franciscan cult. Initiated around 1244, just two decades after the demise of the revered Saint of Assisi, this church ranks among the earliest establishments dedicated to him.
The inception of the church is rooted in the Order of Friars Minor of San Francesco d’Assisi, which was officially recognized in 1221 while the Saint was still living. The proliferation of the order in the city is credited to Friar Gherardo Boccabadati, a disciple of the Saint. Originally, the order established a church and convent near Baggiovara. However, in 1244, owing to the munificence of Bishop Boschetti, they relocated within Modena’s city walls. By 1257, the church’s roof was in place, and it became the final resting place for Friar Gherardo.
Through the centuries, the church underwent numerous transformations and expansions, including the addition of external chapels. Notably, in 1442, the remains of Friar Gherardo were discovered in a marble ark and subsequently relocated beneath the main altar. The 1501 earthquake caused significant damage, but it took until 1535 for a major restoration. This renovation altered the ancient structure considerably.
In 1774, the Franciscans vacated the convent due to Duke Francesco III d’Este’s decree to reduce religious institutions. The Napoleonic invasion further led to the church’s degradation, as it was repurposed for military use. Post the 1815 Restoration, it served as a storage and barracks. Only in 1826 did Duke Francesco IV of Habsburg-Este commission a restoration, returning the church to its sacred purpose.
The church’s present neo-Gothic appearance is attributed to an 1886-1888 restoration by Carlo Barbieri, resonating with the romantic aesthetics prevalent during that era. The facade, built of brick, showcases gothic features, with a central rose window and a stone portal adorned with a painting of St. Francis.
Internally, the church is home to several historical artifacts and artworks. From the 18th century, there’s an organ positioned opposite the main entrance and a painting from the 17th century by Giovanni Nigetti. Domenico Baroni’s altarpiece from 1838, Bernardino Rossi’s ‘Family of the Virgin’, and Luigi Mainoni’s depiction of the Immaculate Conception from 1840 are among the highlights. The church also houses ‘The Deposition’, a masterful sculpture created by Antonio Begarelli in 1531, showcasing a poignant moment from the Passion of Christ.
The church’s history is emblematic of the cultural and historical shifts that shaped Modena, from religious fervor to military occupation and restoration. It stands today not just as a place of worship, but also as a silent witness to the city’s storied past.
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