Friday, November 18, 2011

The Basilica of San Frediano in Lucca

The Roman Martyrology notes on November 18th the translation of the relics of San Frediano, a sixth-century bishop of the Italian city of Lucca in Tuscany. His feast is traditionally kept by many congregations of Canons Regular on the following day, since his death occurred in mid-March, hence always in Lent, and the day of the translation itself is also the feast of the dedication of the Roman basilicas of Ss Peter and Paul. Frigdianus, as he was called in Latin, was an Irishman who decided to settle among the hermits living on Monte Pisano, between Lucca and Pisa, while returning from a pilgrimage to Rome. For the great holiness of his life, he was chosen as bishop of the former city, much against his will, for he loved the life of solitude in the mountains; during his long tenure as bishop, he would periodically retire to his old hermitage, just as Saint Martin lived in a monastic community just outside the city of Tours. His clergy lived a common life, and maintained a reputation for austerity and discipline for many centuries; when Pope Alexander II (1061-73), who had previously been bishop of Lucca, wished to reform the canons of the Lateran Basilica, he brought canons from San Frediano into that church. The strict observance of the Canons of San Frediano remained one of the most important models for canons regular even after they were formally merged with the Lateran Canons in 1507.

When the cathedral of Lucca was destroyed during the Lombard invasion of Italy in 568, St Frediano rebuilt it, dedicating it to Ss Stephen, Lawrence, and Vincent, the three famous deacon martyrs; it is now named for him, and his relics rest within the high altar. (It was subsequently replaced as Lucca’s cathedral by a much larger church dedicated to St. Martin.) In keeping with the spirit of the community that traditionally had its home here, the building is fairly austere, but preserves a few notable artworks. The rather plain façade of the first part of the 12th century was decorated with a Byzantine mosaic of the Ascension roughly a century later by the painter Berlinghiero of Lucca.
A fresco by Amico Aspertini (1474-1552), in the chapel of the Cross, depicts St Frediano moving the river Serchio so that it would no longer flood into Lucca and the surrounding countryside, damaging buildings and crops. This miracle is reported by the Saint’s contemporary, St Gregory the Great, in the second book of the Dialogues, chapter 9.
The late-12th century baptismal font, sadly much damaged, is the work of three different sculptors. The lower part, signed by “Maestro Roberto”, shows the life of Moses; a very rough Good Shepherd and the Prophets (opposite side) were added by another hand, and the upper part, showing the Apostles and the months of the year, by an unknown Tuscan sculptor. Behind it, a 15-century glazed terracotta Annunciation, by the famous school of Andrea della Robbia.
A few paintings survive on the columns and walls below the clerestory. In the Middle Ages, it was a common custom, at least in Italy, to add frescoes, often commissioned as votive offerings, to any and every uncovered part of a church; the result could be a jumble of different styles with no unified program to their subject matter. After the Council of Trent, most such images were removed as a distraction to the faithful, who should focus their attention on the Mass celebrated at the main altar.

The 16th century high altar containing the relics of St Frediano.
An unusually well preserved carved and painted wooden altarpiece, attributed to the Luccan sculptor Matteo Civitali (1436-1502) or his nephew Masseo (active ca. 1490-1510).
Lucca is less than ten miles away from one of the major centers of Italian Romanesque architecture, Pisa, and the influence of the eclectic Pisan style is evident in several of the city’s church façades. Here we see the deconsecrated church of San Cristoforo, from about 1200; typically Pisan are the stripes of different colored marble, and the various heights and shapes of the arches in the various stages of the façade.
The façade of San Giovanni preserves an elaborately decorated Romanesque portal in the middle of a classically Renaissance frame. The earlier version of this church served as the cathedral for a time, before the new Duomo of San Martino was completed in the 14th-century.

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