San Francesco Basilica in Arezzo
Church in Arezzo
Saint Francis Square in the picturesque city of Arezzo, Tuscany, may not initially reveal the treasures hidden within the unassuming and unfinished façade of Saint Francis Church, which was designated a basilica in 1955. However, this web section will unveil the remarkable paintings of significant artistic value that grace this sacred site. The most illustrious among them is the fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca, illustrating the “Legend of the True Cross.” Painted between 1452 and 1466, these frescoes adorn the main chapel of the church, known as the Bacci Chapel, named after the wealthy Bacci family of Arezzo who commissioned this masterpiece from the renowned artist from Borgo San Sepolcro, Piero della Francesca.
Yet, the splendour of Saint Francis Church does not solely reside in Piero della Francesca’s works. Once, its walls were entirely covered with paintings dating from the late 14th century to the early 15th century, created by celebrated artists from Arezzo and beyond, including Spinello Aretino. Unfortunately, many of these artworks have been lost over time, while others are only partially visible today. Nevertheless, the Basilica of Saint Francis stands as the church boasting the most significant artistic treasure in Arezzo, both in terms of quantity and quality when it comes to frescoes.
The latter half of the 13th century marked a significant increase in the popularity of Saint Francis in Arezzo, as well as among his followers, following his reception of the Stigmata in 1224 at Mount Verna, near Arezzo, and his canonization in 1228, a mere two years after his death. During this period, the Counts Guidi commissioned the construction of the Chapel of the Stigmata in La Verna and the Church of Certomondo in Poppi. In Arezzo, the renowned painter Margherito created an exceptional portrayal of Saint Francis, now preserved in the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art. Additionally, the Franciscan friars established a more significant presence in the city around 1290, leading to the construction of the church of Saint Francis, which, over the 14th century, underwent various renovations and ultimately became the single-nave structure that stands as the church of Saint Francis today. The façade, reconstructed in 1346, remains unfinished, with visible plans for its completion on the exterior.
The church, built during the transitional period between Gothic and Renaissance styles, took on a light Gothic appearance but underwent numerous modifications over the centuries. In 1556, a devastating interior fire marked the beginning of a long period of decline for this once-magnificent architectural and artistic treasure. This decline continued through the Napoleonic era and the subsequent 19th century, when the church was closed to worship and repurposed as a warehouse.
In the early 20th century, restoration efforts aimed at both the architecture and the paintings were undertaken, and the church was reopened for worship. Architect Umberto Tavanti, honoured with one of the chapels, oversaw the reconstruction of several parts in a 15th-century style. Consequently, the Basilica of Saint Francis in Arezzo now exhibits an appearance reminiscent of the Neo-Renaissance period.
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Visiting San Francesco Basilica in Arezzo
Mon – Tue – Thu – Fri / 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sat / 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Sun / 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Last entry 30 minutes before closing.
Tours interrupted due to church service from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m