THE CHURCH OF SAN FRANCESCO
The construction of the church began in 1237 on the area of Sant’Angelo in Spatha’s parish church donated to the Franciscans by Gregory IX in 1236. The Lombard fort called the Castle of Sonza had originally stood on this site at the beginning of the millennium. The Castle was knocked down in 1208 and the Palace of the Alemanni was built in its place. The palace was later included in the convent complex built next to the church, and then became the seat of the Governors of St Peter’s Patrimony in Tuscia until the half of the XV century. The construction of the church mirrors two different stages which followed one after another around the middle of the XIII century. Various works were carried out under the direction of Rector N. Perotti and documented by the Pastoral Visit of 1583 which certified run-down conditions. However, the most serious tampering were reported in 1603 when reinforcement work was carried, the porch on the façade was taken off and a new portal was installed. In 1686 the restructuration of the church brought about the closing of the chapels along the right-hand wall, while large windows were opened in the façade, the side walls were raised and new windows added to the nave. Some vaults, stuccos and other Baroque decorations were also added and kept until the bombings in 1944. In 1873 the church-convent complex was expropriated by the State Property and it was not until 1886 that the temple was re-opened to the cult. The bombings of 1944 caused severe damage to the church, leaving only parts of the outside wall standing. The reconstruction of the church was completed in 1953 and corresponded to the strong neo-medieval influence which reigned in Viterbo in the years immediately following the war. These rebuilding works also caused the elimination of the Baroque architecture. The convent (which is at present the Bazzichelli Barracks) was also the residence of San Bonaventura of Bagnoregio, and hosted 32 Popes. Here, on the 3rd of July, 1528, Clement VII issued the Bull of Approval of the Order of the Capuchins. It was the seat of the Franciscan Theological University until 1873.
The present building, restored after the war, is the result of two different building stages. The first Franciscan church was begun in 1236 and then underwent further enlargements in pure Gothic form over the space of a few decades. The re-building of the façade after the bombings was carried out using parts from an ancient portal of 1372 which had been found on the right-hand external part of the church and were used to recreate a Romanesque-style archway with spiral columns. Above this we can see the celebratory insignia of the concession by Pope Pius XII bestowing the title of Minor Basilica. Three single-lancet windows and a simple oculus can be seen on the façade. The original façade, before the XVII century restoration, probably had a porticoed foyer and was decorated with frescoes. A pulpit stands in the right-hand corner which was erected in 1429 to celebrate St Bernadine of Siena’s preaching during the Lent. After these sermons the strict principles of the Sienese friar were adopted and all the excesses of wealth were banned. The presence of this saint in Viterbo is commemorated by an inscription in the panels of the hexagonal-shaped pulpit. The inscription declares: M.CCCCXXVIIII. DIE XXIII. IAN T(em)P(o)RE FR(at)RIS GUILELMI DE VENUSIO. Above the right-hand transept we can see the lateral bell-tower with two arches. The main bell, dated to 1259, was created by L. Pisano.
The only nave ends in a square apse with a four-lancet window with rosettes which had originally glasses decorated with figures. The roof trusses are held up by pointed arches. The apse and the transept are covered with pointed vaults trimmed with groins held up by pillars decorated with floral patterns. A peperino stone font (XV century) stands on the right of the entrance. On the right-hand wall there is an ex-voto on a tablet (1) portraying St Anthony of Padua and St Rose of Viterbo with a view of the city of Viterbo painted in the centre of it. This work was commissioned in 1572 to an anonymous Franciscan Maestro by Fra Marco of Viterbo. The next piece of work (2) is a Pietà (1555) from the suppressed church of San Giovanni degli Almadiani painted in fresco by T. Masini di Peretola, also known as Zoroastro. The Baroque structure (3) with the noble crest on top is extremely noteworthy. This had made up the framework of the entrance portal of the Bussi chapel built in the XVII century. In the right-hand transept, in the right wall, to the left of the little door leading to the bell-tower, there is an epigraph that had been on Cardinal G. Pironti’s tomb. He died in 1269 during the Viterbian conclave which brought about the nomination of Gregory X. The plaque on the right commemorates the sepulchre of the French Prelate T. di Malines who died in 1304. In the right-hand transept we can see the remains of the Funeral Monument of Pietro di Vico (4), a prefect of Rome. This monument was made by P. di Oderisio in 1269; it originally came from the church of Santa Maria in Gradi. A pointed arch, which is decorated by spiral columns, leads to the chapel of the Holy Sacrament (5), erected by the Gatti family (whose crest can be seen over the portal), one of the most important families in the civil and political life of Viterbo. Here, under the altar, a relic of the head of St. Elisabeth Queen of Hungary is kept. She is the patron saint of the secular Franciscan Order. Between 1998 and 2002, the relics underwent an investigation by the Anthropological Institute of the University of Chieti with the collaboration of the Hungarian Government. On the corner between the Gatti chapel and the Sannelli portal we can see the Oil store-room (end of XIII century ) autographed by Vassalletto, mosaicist of the Cosmati school. Next to it a fifteenth-century altar comes from the Sannelli chapel which used to be on the left-hand side of the transept. Only the framework of the portal built into the wall remains and this now forms the frame of a wooden Crucifix (6) of Donatello’s school ( XV century). The relics of St Venusta Martyr and St Specious Martyr have been placed underneath it. Next to this we can see the Mausoleum of Adrian V (7) attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. The Pope died in Viterbo in 1276 after only 39 days of pontificate. This monument presents a pavilion with two slopes held up by columns. The front ones are decorated with mosaics. The statue, dressed in papal robes, lies on a double plinth embellished with polychromatic marbles. A plaque is embedded in the wall on the right. It includes three Fieschi’s crests which were on the tomb of Cardinal. Ugo di Tedisio Fieschi, Adrian V’s brother, who died in 1270. In the apse, in the end wall of the presbytery there is a four lanced window (8) painted with figures by Laura Giuliani Redini (1951). It portrays the Franciscan Tree with saints and Clarisses of the Franciscan regular order. A fresco portraying the Agnus Dei in the shrine can be seen on the right wall. It is protected by small wooden doors. On the opposite wall there are fragments of some fourteenth and fifteenth-century frescoes. The wooden statue of St. Francis dated 1960 was created by G. Tommasi. On the same side hangs a crucifix (XVIII century) which was brought to the church from the art gallery. In the left-hand transept, we can see Clement IV’s mausoleum (10) by P. Oderisio (1270) is placed on the left-hand transept (8). He became priest after his wife’s death and was elected Pope on the 7th February, 1265. He moved to Viterbo in 1266 and died there on the 29th November, 1268. A tabernacle covers the statue, placed on a Roman sarcophagus with fluting bas-relief on a marble plinth decorated with polychromatic inlays. In 1885 many objects were found in the tomb. Among those the mitre, the pectoral cover with scenes from Christ’s life, shoes, studs from the gloves, the ring with filigree and the Pope’s seal with the fleur-de-lis. The sepulchre with the statue of P. Le Gros stands at the feet of the Mausoleum. He was Clement IV’s nephew and became Bishop after his uncle’s death. After the Mausoleum of Clement IV, we can see the peperino frame of the former Botonti chapel (11) (XVI century) for which the famous Pietà by Sebastiano Del Piombo had been painted between 1515 and 1516. The Pietà is now kept in the Civic Museum. Above it, on the left, there is a commemorative plaque of the General Chapter held in the church in 1596. On the end wall, a peperino stone sarcophagus with a shrine represents the burial of Cardinal Gerardo Landriani de’ Capitani (12), died suddenly on the 8th October 1445 while passing through Viterbo. Passing through a round arch with spiral columns, which used to lead to the Ceccolini Chapel built in 1439, one reaches the parish house (13) where the library and art gallery can be found. On the cover of a sarcophagus, further along the wall (14), a noblewoman is depicted dressed as a Franciscan tertiary. Next to this we can see the funereal statue of Cardinal Vicedomini (15), called the Pope for one day. He died on the 5th of September 1276, the day after he had been elected Pope with the name of Gregory XI. Returning to the nave we can see the remains of the statue of the Mausoleum of Cardinal Marco from Viterbo (16), who died of plague in 1369 in Viterbo. It was only possible to recover few remains of the Bussi Funeral Monument (17) which had been in the family chapel mentioned above: the bust of a noblewoman of the same family and some crests. Here we can also see the baptismal font in peperino stone (18), a painting (19) depicting the Virgin holding the child standing between St John the Baptist, St Peter and St Quirico, a work by Maestro Monaldo Trofi, also known as “Il Truffetta”.
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