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The Church

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History

Following the construction of a first chapel by the Franciscans at the end of the 13th century, and a 14th century period trend being detected with the recent digs, a new large monument of worship was built in the historical heart of Cuneo at the beginning of the 15th century. Families and societies linked to the brothers of the Confraternity immediately began to buy the benefice of altars and decorate the chapels. In 1583 Bishop Gerolamo Scarampi saw a building abundantly finished, with altars decorated with holy pictures and chapels covered in frescoes.
In the seventeenth century a porch was rebuilt on the west side of the cloister, frescoes depicting the history of San Francesco were painted on the lunettes and some Baroque style shrines were added to the church.
The end of the eighteenth century was however the most turbulent period for the monument: after strong structural changes the Napoleon Government commandeered the church to use as a military base. The loss and dispersion of the precious internal fittings of the building and convent nearby date back to these years. The convent was abandoned definitively by the Franciscan Friars Minor in 1851, during which the already small conventual community was eliminated. The Military District of Cuneo set itself up in the cloister of the convent, using the Church as its depot.
Between 1928 and 1929 the first restorations were carried out primarily on the façade; the Municipality bought the building in 1967 and immediately provided for general works of renewal and redevelopment. The Municipality also financed the repair works and archaeological digs in the Seventies and Eighties.
The Church of San Francesco can now be used following a long series of restructuring and restoration works that begun in 2009, owing to a generous contribution by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Cuneo, and which was directed by the Heads of Architectural Heritage, Artistic Heritage, Historical Heritage and Archaeological Heritage of Piedmont.

The facade

An elaborate affair, which stretched over half a century, marked the construction of the façade of the monument. In 1481 the Zabreri brothers from Pagliero delivered the stone portal, plain but inscribed with the city’s coat of arms that is still visible. A few years later a series of decorative clay elements were added to refine the upper arches and pinnacles. The insertion of the cherubs and candlesticks in the upper part of the structure is most probably due to the Sormano di Como. One would assume that the lunette above the portal, now lost, contained a low-relief in which a Madonna on a throne or maybe a San Francesco was portrayed; its disappearance was reported by Bishop Alfonso Maria Riberi in the first decades of the 20th Century.
The façade was subject to total restoration works at the beginning of the 21st Century.

The archaeological dig

The interior of the holy building has a great emotional impact; it is divided in three aisles: the left wing gives a view of the archaeological dig, accessible by way of a glass walkway. Engaging with the building will enable the visitor to see the remains of the old church and highlight the junction between the two constructions along the actual perimeter wall. The recent excavation across the length and breadth of the building has revealed the presence of two floorings in clay and mortar that mark the two different phases of fourteenth century construction, and the many graves to the southern exterior of the Church. Some of these most likely had furnishings and chapels outdoors that were sheltered by a porch. In addition to the numerous burial places associated with initial 15th century construction, other new structures emerged next to the principal apse of the existing church, from which the reconstruction of the building began in that first decade of the 15th century with the discovery of a system to cast bells. A similar hand-crafted system unearthed in the central aisle near to the façade is more recent. The survey of the area has restored many family tombs that today are being studied in the 17th century side chapels also.

The seies of paintings

Recent restorations of the décor have enabled the completion of the figurative discourse already skilfully led by Pietro da Saluzzo with his stories of Christ depicted in 1472 on the ceiling of the so-called “Cruciata,” and dedicated to the Brotherhood of Santa Croce. To these you can add the stories of San Francesco and San Bartolomeo now recovered in the transverse arch of the second chapel on the left (1) , dedicated to the Santi Innocenti and taking us back to the early style of Pietro da Saluzzo, as do the fragments on the second pillar of the left aisle, showing a San Michele and a holy bishop.
The most suprising discovery however is the entire decoration of the fifth chapel in the right aisle, dedicated to San Bonaventura and comprising of frescoes of I Dottori della Chiesa (2) painted in small studios with chairs, furnishings and accessories. The style is that of a later Pietro da Saluzzo, juxtaposed with the style of another painter which had not previously been noted in the studio of Pocapaglia.
The polychrome geometrical patterns that emerge from the vaults of the main aisle (3) and the Chapel of Jesus (the fourth on the right aisle) can be credited to this latter style.
Finally, on the left wall of the chapel below the bell tower, a fresco panel has been recovered, surmounted by an angel next to a tower. Within this fresco there is a series of quatrefoil figures arranged in a semicircle with Christ the Benedictory at the centre and some saints with phylacteries at the sides. Below there is a holy bishop into a quatrefoil niche placed side-by side to another figure. The style of the work goes back to the gothic designs at the beginning of the 15th Century (5).

Furnishings and Commemorative Works

The wide central aisle draws the visitor’s gaze towards the apse that in ancient times housed the famous 14th century crucifix, of which there is now a plaster cast on a solid wood cross.
The reopening of the monument to the public was also an occasion to replace on the ground two of the commemorative tombstones that in the Seventeenth century were commissioned and placed in the Church by two well-known families of the time: the Corvo and the Malopera families.
In the left aisle, which today is below the glass glazing of the archaeological dig, the epigraph of the commemorative funeral tombstone of Massimiliano Corvo is visible, dating back to 1623 (6). Furthermore, in front of the Mocchia Chapel, the last in the right aisle, the funeral monument of the Knight of Jerusalem Gasparre Malopera, created between 1547 and 1678DC, is still located on the ground (7).

Plan of the Church with a digital display of the works, furniture and celebrations

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