The presence of the Conventual Franciscans in Vicenza dates back to the beginning of the 13th century, more precisely to the year 1216. In 1280, they received the old Church of San Francesco Vecchio, together with a piece of land in the area.
Starting with 1280, a new larger church was built on this site, with a large churchyard in front of the facade. The church was completed around the year 1300.
Throughout the 14th century, changes and external additions were made, such as the Oratory of the Conception on the western side, the portal, and the restructuring of the apses. In the following centuries, the interior was embellished with numerous works of art, donated by patrician families of Vicenza.
Following the Napoleonic invasion, the church and the adjacent convent were looted and used first as a military hospital, then as a barracks for the troops. With the decree of Compiègne of 1810, which dissolved the religious orders, the few Franciscans left in Vicenza were dispersed. The buildings remained in a state of neglect, until the Municipality bought them in 1836.
The Church of San Lorenzo was reopened for worship in 1839, but it was closed again in 1859 and in 1866, during the wars of independence.
Despite continuous restoration work, in 1903 it was declared unsafe due to structural damage, and closed again for a radical intervention. Reopened in April 1914, it was closed again a year later following the outbreak of the First World War.
Permanently reopened for worship on October 29, 1927, it was entrusted again to the Conventual Franciscans.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The facade has a gabled profile in the upper half and seven high pointed arches in the lower half, characteristic elements of Venetian architecture, which are also found in the most important Paduan churches of the 13th century.
The most prominent element is the portal, built around the middle of the 14th century by the Venetian sculptor and architect Andriolo de Santi. Pietro da Marano, a councilor of Cangrande della Scala, financed the work, and is depicted in the splendid lunette of the portal, kneeling in front of Mary and Child, with Saints Francis and Lorenzo at his side.
Along the jambs, are the busts of Saint Paul and the apostles. The blessing Christ is in the center of the architrave. To his right are the Saints Vincenzo, Lodovico, Francesco and Giovanni Evangelista, and to the left Lorenzo, Antonio, Chiara and Stefano.
Four 14th-century sarcophagi, placed on corbels and covered by stone canopies, are set in the side arches of the facade, and contain the remains of illustrious men of the time: Benvenuto da Porto, Marco da Marano, Lapo degli Uberti and Perdono Repeta.
The tall columns, the vaults, the high windows and the rose window are purely Gothic elements that make the interior of the church one of the most grandiose in the city.
The three naves are divided by powerful cylindrical pillars on square bases and stone blocks. On the capitals of the columns rest the transversal arches. The terracotta ribs accentuates the momentum of the vaults.
At the end of the aisles, the transept widens. The main apse, raised by four steps, houses the liturgical choir, with the main altar in the center. The altar is an 18th century work. Above the altar, there is a wooden crucifix from the second half of the 15th century.
The bell-tower, built at the same time with the church, is in Romanesque style, with vertical pilasters and six short horizontal cornices on blind round arches. The belfry has on each side a mullioned window with arches.
Among the works of art inside the church, we can mention the Monument to Giambattista Porto and Vincenzo Scamozzi’s cenotaph in the counter facade, the 16th-century Gualdo Altar and the Deposition by Luca Giordano in the right nave, the late 15th-century Altar Pojana in the right arm of the transept, the series of sculptures by Antonino da Venezia with the Madonna and Child with Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the minor left chapel, the Madonna with Child and Saint Anthony of Padua by Giulio Carpioni, and the Canati and Piovene altars in the left nave.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Church of San Lorenzo is located about 900 meters away from the Vicenza railway station. The closest bus stop is Contra’ San Biagio 76, located about 170 meters away, on the bus Lines 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10 and 17.
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