The places of Saint Francis, or San Francesco
The church, formerly a Franciscan monastery, embodies the 13th century-spirituality
The old church is a great example of the traditional and simple architecture employed by the Mendicant orders. It was built a few years after Francis of Assisi’s preaching, on the margins of the ancient medieval town.
The inside of the church, with its single nave, follows the principle of simplicity, which is what the Franciscan Order is based on.
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It is the main Franciscan church in the Volterra area.
The San Francesco Church is the main Franciscan church in the area of Volterra. It was built in the 13th century as the first Franciscan church after the Saint’s preaching because of the amount of people attracted to the Franciscan monks’ lifestyle.
It’s a big, one-nave church with three choral chapels. Around the building is where the whole Franciscan convent, today down to a few houses, was built.
The San Francesco church follows the simple architectural style of the typical Franciscan church as well as the typical location, on the outskirts of the medieval town.
At the beginning of the 14th century, a Gothic-style chapel called Cappella della Croce was added to the church. It was decorated in 1410 by sir Cenni from Florence, with the biggest and best-conserved group of frescoes in the city.
A group of four statues in terracotta, colour glazed and by the Volterra-born artist Zaccaria Zacchi, is conserved in a room right next to the church.
THE CROCE DI GIORNO CHAPEL
The Chapel of the Croce di Giorno is directly connected to the San Francesco church through a side door. This is how visitors can access the chapel, which also has an independent entrance on the Inghirami square.
The chapel has been under the Conti Guidi family since 1786. In 1315, Mone de’ Tedecinghi built its two square-plan bays, with one of them ending in a polygonal shape. The roof is completed with reinforced pointed vaults. The altar, which is located in the polygonal bay, is where Rosso Fiorentino’s Deposition was situated until 1788, when it was replaced with a painting of the crucifixion by Vincenzo Tamagni, an artist from San Gimignano.
All the walls of the chapel are decorated with frescoes.
The frescoes, with their references to Christ’s early life, to the Madonna’s life and to the Cross, fit perfectly with the religiosity of a brotherhood of flagellants such as the “Compagnia della Croce di Giorno”.
The series of frescoes was finished up by Cenni di Francesco in 1410, with the exception of the evangelists in the vault of the first bay, which were made by Jacopo da Firenze.
The intrados of the arch between the two bays is decorated with busts of saints and prophets, arranged in couples according to affinity starting at the centre. Unlike in the second bay’s umbrella vault, the first bay’s umbrella vault is decorated with representations of San Ludovico da Tolosa, San Francesco and Sant’Antonio da Padova.
The “Storie della Croce” are made up of 8 panes representing:
1 – Adam’s death
2 – Adoration of the cross’ wood
3 – The making of the cross
4 – The finding of the cross
5 – Adoration of the cross
6 – Cosroe’s flight
7 – Adoration of Cosroe, Heraclius’ dream, Heraclius’ battle
8 – The cross’ triumph, Cosroe’s decapitation
The remaining walls represent Christ’s and the Madonna’s stories:
1 – Announcement of the Virgin’s death
2 – Dormitio Virginis
3 – The Madonna’s tomb
4 – Christ’s nativity
5 – Presentation at the temple
6 – Flight to Egypt
7 – Slaughter of the innocents
The frescoes of the chapel are the result of a big commitment and a finely cured execution. The vibrant palette, with its light and bright shades, has been met by criticism because of the replacement of golden and silver leaves with darker tones.
If you’re looking for an accurate and outstanding representation of the Tuscan Middle Ages, look no further than this highly evocative chapel and its artistic heritage.
Hidden corners: Porta San Francesco
Admire the ancient frescos and the medieval colors
San Francesco used to be one of the main gates to the city of Volterra in the Middle Ages. It was commissioned by the municipality of Volterra and built together with the most recent city walls in the 13th century.
It has changed name through the years, as it was called Porta Santo Stefano or Pisana at first. Out of all the gates to the city, it’s the only one with traces of frescos on the internal arch.