The Church and Convent of San Francesco
BORGO SAN LORENZO – According to tradition, the Ubaldini Da Ripa donated the pre-existing church of Sant’Andrea to Saint Francis and the poor, which was outside the castle of Borgo San Lorenzo, in the direction of Vicchio and then founded the adjacent Franciscan convent, following his visit to the town. During the XIII century, the convent community grew and was the object of numerous legacies and donations: one above all the donation in 1245 of a land by Ardingo, bishop of Florence, or another by Folco Portinari, father of Beatrice Portinari, the well-known Beatrice of Dante, dating back to 1287. Thanks to these legacies, the Franciscan community, which in the meantime had grown considerably in number, could begin the construction of the new and most significant conventual church, the current one, which probably dates back to the second half of the 13th century, built to the left of the present oratory of the SS. Crocifisso and oriented on the east-west axis. Around 1270 Beato Benedetto from Mugello made the convent famous with his miracles: an intense spiritual and cultural activity developed in the area and also led to the opening of a school of theology and philosophy. Over time the church welcomed various confraternities: Battuti, De Neri, Corpus Christi (or Corpus Domini), Martiri, San Sebastiano. In 1808 the convent was suppressed by the Napoleonic government, the friars were removed and the whole complex, almost completely deprived of its assets, was acquired by the Marquises Negrotto Cambiaso.
The first restoration works were carried out in 1944 by the British troops, and then in 1959 with the reconstruction of the roof, but this state of abandonment ended thanks to the restoration campaign commenced by the owners from 1987 until today with the complete recovery of the building.
The church has a central gabled-facade, in quarry ashlar stone blocks, and the entrance, which still preserves the original fourteenth-century door, made of solid oak, is surmounted by a lunette with a single ogival lancet window, in Gothic style.
The interior is an authentic and precious Franciscan preaching hall, large, with a single nave covered with wooden trusses. It ends with a well-defined tribune with a pointed arch and covered by a cross vault with four ribbed sails. The structure is built entirely of brick, a material that gives the whole environment a warm pinkish colour.
On the right side, there is the base of the pulpit, consisting of a large carved “pietra serena” pedestal that, with the exquisite basket decoration, that recalls examples of Florentine capitals from the second half of the fifteenth century.
Near the main entrance there are, according to a custom common to the most important Franciscan churches, the highly significant remnants of what was supposed to be the original pictorial decoration of the walls: on the left wall there is a fresco with a Madonna with the Child, angels, and saints Antonio da Padova and Ludovico di Tolosa. At the bottom of the throne, stand two kneeling figures elegantly dressed in fourteenth-century clothes, identifiable in the donors of the fresco. The work is traditionally attributed to the painter Pietro Nelli da Rabatta (active from 1375 to 1419, year of his death), who attended the artistic environment of Niccolò di Pietro Gerini. More recently, the painting was attributed to Pietro di Miniato, another Florentine painter of the late fourteenth century.
On the left side of the counter-façade, a fresco depicting the “Deposition of Christ in the sepulchre” has returned to light: only the lower part has been preserved. Magnificently restored, the painting has maintained its splendid and dazzling polychrome. The work shows a remarkable artistic quality. This is certainly the work of a Florentine Master of the fourteenth century of primary importance, probably close to Niccolò di Pietro Gerini. On the other hand, the right wall houses a large late sixteenth-century fresco depicting the Martyrdom of the eleven thousand martyrs. The monumental work was attributed to an important protagonist of Florentine painting of the second half of the sixteenth century and, the Florentine painter Girolamo Macchietti, called “Il Crocifissaio” (Florence, 1535 ca. -1592), but more recently, was attributed to Sebastiano Vini (1530-1602), a Veronese painter, but active in Tuscany between Pistoia and Florence.
Further on, on the same wall, was recently placed what remains of a fresco depicting the Madonna and Child enthroned between two saints, a work dating back to the late thirteenth-century and brought back to the sphere of Cimabue.
On the left wall, you can see the archway to the chapel of San Sebastiano, next to which there is the entrance to a second chapel, belonging to the local family the Da Rabatta. It is an authentic jewel of fifteenth-century architecture, even if unfortunately it did not reach us completely. The arched entrance presents two impressive stone semi-columns surmounted by imposing composite capitals and equipped with the arms of the Da Rabatta family. On the back wall, there is a fresco depicting the Madonna and Child between two Angels and the saints Antonio Abate and Lorenzo. Dating back to the end of the sixth decade of the fifteenth century, it is a work of considerable quality and can refer to a painter trained in the field of Fra Angelico or Filippo Lippi as well as Benozzo Gozzoli or Pesellino.
The cloister adjacent to the church presents in the centre the octagonal ring of a nineteenth-century well and overlooks the convent’s Chapter House and the elegant stone façade, consisting of a central pointed-pointed door and two mullioned windows embellished with poly-lobed rosettes. No trace remains of the bell tower collapsed on the church for the earthquake of 1919.
On the right side outside of the church, the ancient entrance portal to the cloister remains. The entrance to what was supposed to be the chapter house of the cloister is composed of two unusual mullioned windows with a rose window and a large central single window. The capitals of the supports are beautifully carved with plant motifs in the purest and most elegant Gothic style.
Interior and external photos