The Provostal Church of San Lorenzo
The church of San Lorenzo has been the center of the religious life of the town for many centuries. As a “Parish Chapel,” it was built within the walls for the convenience of the faithful somewhere around the last part of the 13° century. In 1991, archeological excavations brought to light an older building on top of which the church had been erected (visits on request).
Today the church has lost much of its original appearance, for over the centuries the interior was embellished with chapels and altars. Some of the art works contained in the church are worthy of attention
The Interior, which is quite simple in its architectural lines, is made more imposing by the frescoes that decorate the vault, painted in 1904. Badly damaged when a part of the roof collapsed on Dec. 9, 1991, they were restored in 1996. Immediately after the entrance on the right is the holy water stoup, made from an ancient capital Behind the wrought iron gate is an antique baptismal font: this octagonal basin reminds us that in ancient times baptism was performed by immersion. The basin, which was originally in the Parish of San Giovanni, has the date 1555 carved on the left panel. Two other panels contain bas-reliefs of a turtle and a snail. These creatures, whose lives are sustained by water, were placed here as a reminder that Christians are born to new life in the water of baptism.
On the facing wall is a large canvas representing the Adoration of the Shepherds (18th century). The faces of the shepherds are particularly beautiful, seemingly illuminated by a mysterious light which appears to originate from the body of the Christ child. Behind the Madonna, almost as if partly hiding, is the figure of St. Joseph. On the wall in front is a Nativity of Mary by Bartolomeo Salvestrini (1632). Continuing towards the high altar, still on the right hand side, we come to the Chapel of Saint Anthony, built in 1480. The altar and the statue are 18th century; the two small paintings high up on the walls were done in 1845. Some 18th century reliquaries are displayed in the niches on each side of the altar. The confessional, dated 1757, was originally in the church at Fucinaia. On the opposite side of the church is the Chapel of the Madonna delle Grazie (Our Lady of Grace), built in 1783. Above the altar is a magnificent Virgin and Child, painted on wood panel. It is attributed to the Maestro of San Torpé, a painter from Pisa active in the 14th century who was closely tied to the School of Siena. When the painting was discovered, it was in terrible condition, almost unrecognizable after years of humidity and neglect. It was restored with admirable skill in the 1970’s; although some of the color is lost, the faces of the Madonna and Child are almost miraculously intact. On each side of the altar are two 17th century gilded wooden statues representing the Annunciation. Let us pause for a moment. The angel, with his arm raised, points his finger as if to indicate the One whose messenger he is; the Virgin’s face expresses all the marvel and awe that she feels on hearing these words, just as her gestures suggest purity and humility. Farther on, still on the left-hand wall, a Madonna amongst the saints turns from Heaven her piteous and tender gaze towards the Souls in Purgatory (18th century).
On the opposite side a painting represents Saint Lawrence, who is recognizable by the grill, and Saint Anthony, both worshipping the Virgin. The work is signed by the artist, Iacopo Vignali, and dated 1636. We have now reached the presbytery, defined by arches and columns in faux marble placed here in 1785, the year the church underwent the transformations that give it its present appearance.
It is worth stopping for a moment before the altar on the right transept, recently restored to the original colors and decorations which make it a pleasant example of Baroque art: the inscription (on the lower right hand side) reveals that it was built by the Boldrini family in 1747. In the frame on the altar is another painting in which we can identify Saint Rocco (who protects from plague), Saint Christina of Bolsena (with a dagger at her throat) and Saint James (invoked by pilgrims). On high, in the glory of Heaven, is the Madonna with Child. The high altar (18th century) holds the relics of the Holy Bishop Fiorenzo, the patron saint of Campiglia, who died in 545. In the vault is a painting on plaster of the Eternal Father. We now pass in front of the altar, paying our devotional respects to the Holy Sacrament, and make our way towards the left transept, where we can admire a wooden sculpture of Our Lady of Sorrows (18th century). This is the Madonna Addolorata that used to be carried in procession through the town on the night of Good Friday.
We are now in front of the entrance to the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament and of Mercy, an oratory that already existed in the seventeenth century and was consecrated in 1726, as is stated in the inscription above the door. A careful restoration, finished in march 1999, returned the chapel to the appearance that it had been given in 1856, as testified by a plaque at the entrance. The architrave bears the inscription Cuius livore sanati sumus (we are healed by His death). The interior of the Chapel is finely adorned with stucco work; on the walls are eighteenth century paintings on canvas depicting scenes from the Passion of Our Lord. Starting on the left: The Last Supper, the Kiss of Judas, Jesus in the Garden of Olives, Jesus before Pontius Pilate, the Flagellation, Jesus crowned with Thorns, the Ecce Homo, Jesus on the way to Calvary. Over the doorway, Jesus chases the merchants out of the Temple. The interesting prospective diversions of the vault, and the two large Eucharistic motifs were entirely whitewashed over in the 1930’s and were thus hidden from view until the last restoration. There are two small wooden statues on the end wall representing the Theological Virtues: Faith (on the left) and Hope (on the right). The third Theological Virtue (Charity) is represented by the Crucifix, as announced by the Gospels: “For no one hath a love greater than this...” The Crucifix, recently restored, is 18th century. The use of this chapel as an oratory is confirmed by the wooden choir along the walls: the members of the Company of the Obedient and later those of the Confraternity of the Holy Sacrament and of Mercy used to congregate here.
The visit to the Church of San Lorenzo is now ended. Before leaving, please glance one more time at the Madonna delle Grazie. How can we not be touched by the sweetness of her face, or the tenderness of Jesus’s gesture as he caresses his Mother. In one tiny hand, he holds a robin. The small bird, because of its colors, is the symbol of the Passion; it was customary for the painters of the time to remind the beholder that this Child is the Son of God, who gave his life for us on the Cross.
Don Marcello Boldrini, rector
Traslation: Bettie Luppitt Gambaccini