Featuring an outlook just as impressively plain as all the other 13th century places of worship in Siena, the Basilica of San Francesco, located in Terzo si Camollia, has had, on the other hand a more tumultuous history. Basically a Romanesque edifice later turned into a Gothic structure, the nowadays basilica is the result of repeated construction and restoration works. It managed, however, to keep its historical air, calling forth the times when the mendicant Franciscans owned and ruled the place by their own understanding of certain aspects of the religious life: austerity in both conduct and architectural display.
Much of the outlook of the present Basilica of San Francesco is the work of the centuries. The original place of worship was first erected in the first half of the 13th century (1228-1255), and it displayed a Romanesque expression. The 14th and the 15th centuries saw the transformation of the edifice into a Gothic structure under the supervision of Francesco di Giorgio, but subsequent modifications (restorations following sundry events, such as a fire in 1655) were brought.
The campanile, for instance, was built no sooner than 1765, following a design by Paolo Posi. Also worth mentioning is the fact that, until the late 19th century, when further reconstructions works were ordered (under the supervision of Giuseppe Partini, between 1885 and 1892.), for a long period of time the church was used as garrison. The surprisingly plain hut-like facade was completed in the early 20th century (construction works started in 1894 and completed in 1913), adding to the overall structure notable Gothic Revival elements envisaged by the chief architects, Vittorio Mariani and Gaetano Ceccarelli.
The facade is not particularly inviting, expressing, in fact, in stone the austerity so characteristic of the Franciscan life. The rose window above the entrance seems to temper the severity of the facade. Massiveness remains the one notable feature of the exterior, hinting on the cavernous interior of the church. A touch of slenderness, though slight, is brought by the bell tower, located on the right side of the edifice, notably more ornate than the main body of the church.
The vastness of the interior is divided into a nave with a transept, such as to accommodate the crowds of pilgrims and believers who regularly used to visit the edifice. Even if not replete with works of art, as it is the case with the majestic il Duomo, the interior of the basilica at issue does shelter some valuable works of art that moderate its sobriety.
Brought here from the historical city gates there are Sassetta and Sano di Pietro’s fresco depicting the Coronation of the Virgin (from Porta Romana) and a fresco by Il Sodoma (from Porta Pispini), both heavily damaged by weather and time. They enrich, however, the counter-facade, next to what’s left from a couple of tombs (dating back to the 14th century).
The chapels flanking the altar and the choir host a handful of works. Worth mentioning are Andreea Vanni’s Madonna and Child scene frescoed in the first chapel to the right of the choir, and Cristoforo Felici’s tomb by Urbano da Cortona (realized in 1462), located in the second chapel to the right.
The scene of the Crucifixion, dating back to 1331 and realized by Pietro Lorenzetti, decorates the wall of the first chapel to the left of the presbytery, while the second one houses Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Saint Ludovico of Anjou Before Boniface VIII and the Six Franciscans Martyred at Ceuta, two of the artist’s most valuable masterpieces. The so-called Chapel of the Sacrament contains the works of Marina (early 16th century), and the last choir chapel is embellished by the figures of Madonna and Child Enthroned, possibly by Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio.
Scattered throughout the church there are several other works of art. Don’t miss out Francesco di Giorgio Martini’s portal (carved in the 15th century) and a 14th century marble statues of the patron saint, brought inside from the old facade of the basilica.
The table below lists all information on address of the Basilica of San Francesco.
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