Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Church of St Sigismund in Cremona, Italy

Yesterday was the feast of St Sigismund, a 6th-century king of Burgundy who is traditionally venerated as a martyr; during his fairly brief reign, he did much to advance the conversion of his people from Arianism to Catholicism, but this was not the cause of his death, which was really more of a political matter. In 1441, a church dedicated to him in the Lombard city of Cremona was the site of the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti, only daughter of Filippo Maria, duke of Milan, to Francesco Sforza; their descendents, the duchy’s last native dynasty, would rule until 1535. Beginning in 1463, the ancient church was demolished and rebuilt at the duchess’ behest, in thanksgiving to God for the blessings conferred upon her family, and a monastic complex built around it, served by the Order of St Jerome. The project was only brought to completion in the following century, after the last Sforza had died without issue, and the duchy of Milan had devolved to the Holy Roman Emperors.

For the feast day, the entire complex, including the cloister and refectory, were opened to the public; our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi was there, and we thank him for sharing these pictures with us.

The relic of the skull of St Sigismund, exposed for veneration on the feast day. Hagiographic skeptics would have a field day with the fact that other skulls reputed to be his are in the basilica of St Ambrose in Milan, and the cathedral of St Vitus in Prague.
The simple Renaissance façade of the mid-15th century contrasts very noticeable with the decorations of the interior, which were not begun until 1535, and are considered one of the best examples of the Mannerist period in northern Italy.
The apsidal fresco of Christ in Glory with the Four Evangelists, painted by Camillo Boccacino (1505-46), a native of Cremona, in 1535.

The main altarpiece by Giulio Campi (1502-72), another native of Cremona, shows the Madonna and Child with St Sigismund, the patron of the church, St Jerome, the patron of the order that ran the church, and Ss Chrysanthus and Daria, the two Roman martyrs on whose feast day, October 25th, the wedding of Bianca Maria Visconti and Francesco Sforza took place.

The monumental organ was rebuilt in 1861 out of pipes from the original of 1567, and is housed in the original casing by Bernardino Campi (no relation to the painter.) There are more photos below of the elaborately carved choir-stalls.

This fresco of Paradise, also by Bernardino Campi (1545) creates the illusion of a cupola in the crossing; in reality, it is less than 7 feet in height above its cornice. 
The ceiling has a large number of bright, Mannerist fresco works; here we see The Resurrection of Christ and Jonah and the Whale, both by Domenico de’ Siccis.
 Pentecost, by Giulio Campi
The Ascension, by Bernardino Gatti
A view of the church’s bell-tower from the cloister, both of the Renaissance period.
The sacristy door, decorated with the heraldic devices of the Sforza and Visconti families.
In northern Italy, there are many churches with very elaborately carved wooden choir stalls, an art form that was particularly cultivated in that region. 
One of the original stone decorations from the time of the church’s founding, with Ss Jerome and Sigismund.

On the reverse, the Visconti arms, and the letters B and M, with abbreviation marks over them for “Bianca Maria.” The city of Cremona was chosen as the location of the wedding since it was Bianca Maria Visconti’s personal fief, which came into the marriage as her dowry.
The Last Supper, by Tommaso Alieni, 1508, in the refectory.
Christ in the House of Simon the Pharisee, by Antonio Campi

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