Santa Croce e San Bonaventura dei Lucchesi is a 17th century convent church at Via dei Lucchesi 3 in the rione Trevi. It is also the regional church for expatriates from Lucca in Tuscany. Picture of the church at Wikimedia Commons here.
Two earlier church edifices survive as part of the complex.
San Niccolò de Portiis -first churchEdit
The first church here was dedicated to St Nicholas of Myra. Its origins are unknown, although suggestions have been made that it was 4th or 9th century. A date at the end of the 10th century would correspond with an intensive building campaign which provided a dense concentration of small parish churches within the then built up area. On the other hand, the fact that the first church is now below ground level suggests a very early foundation date.
The first documentary reference dates from the end of the 12th century, and the church is listed in the late mediaeval catalogues as San Niccolò de Trivio or San Niccolò de Portiis. The latter name, with variations, is thought to derive from a mediaeval family called Porzi which owned property in the area.
It is certain that this church was still in use in the 14th century, since surviving fresco fragments date from then.
San Niccolò de Portiis -second churchEdit
Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the old church was abandoned and a new church built on top of it. The parishioners must have become tired of the water, mud and filth washing down into their church when it rained, so would have welcomed a new place of worship above street level.
Oddly, the historians seem not to have traced the date of this. The new edifice must have been consecrated, after all. The old church became a crypt, but there was no proper access provided so it did not continue as a place for worship (this point is in answer to the suggestion that the frescoes mentioned above might have been painted after the upper church was added).
Capuchins -third churchEdit
In the second half of the 16th century Pope Gregory XIII granted the church to the Friars Minor Capuchin, and they built a friary here. A third church was constructed in 1575 just to the west of the second one, with the apse abutting onto its former façade. This arrangement looks as if the friars used the old church as their choir chapel, as an indentical arrangement occurs in many other Roman convents.
This new church was dedicated to St Bonaventure.
St Felix of Cantalice spent a great part of his life at this friary. Born in 1515, he became a Capuchin early in that order's history and was sent to Rome in 1547 as a quaestor. This Latin term means "seeker", and it was his job to tour the streets begging for the friars' sustenance (they were not allowed to possess property, or the means to earn a cash income). He did this for forty years, becoming a famous religious personality in his own right before his death at the new convent in 1587.
The redundant complex was given to the expatriate Lucchesi community in Rome as their national church by Pope Urban VIII in 1631. The description "national" was appropriate then, because the Republic of Lucca was a sovereign state. A hospice for poor and infirm Lucchesi, as well as for pilgrims, was opened in the re-ordered convent by a newly-founded confraternity. This was committed also to the propagation of devotion to the Holy Face of Lucca, and a dedication to the Holy Cross was added to that of St Bonaventure to give the present church's title. The Holy Face is an ancient crucifix which has been at the cathedral of Lucca since the 8th century, and is credited with miraculous powers. The altarpiece here is a representation of it.
The old Capuchin church was completely remodelled in 1682-1683 by Mattia de Rossi, as a simply decorated edifice expressing Franciscan poverty was no longer appropriate. The result was very sumptuous. The old choir chapel (the second church) was redundant, but kept as a meeting room.
There was another restoration in 1736, and again in 1787. In 1859-1863 there was a major restoration by Virginio Vespignani, and much of the present decoration dates from this. Further repairs took place in 1907.
Towards the middle of the 19th century, the hospice was proving redundant and so was shut down in 1845. Fifty years later, in 1897, the premises were granted to the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix which was a French active sisterhood founded in 1857. Their first chapel at Rome was at Santa Maria Riparatrice.
They still occupy the complex as a convent, and have made it their generalate or international headquarters. The convent is dedicated to St Peter -San Pietro.
The church remained in the charge of the confraternity, which since 1907 was called the Opera Pia dei Lucchesi.
Layout and fabricEdit
There is a single nave of five bays, continuing directly into a square apse without a transept. On each side of the nave are three large external chapels, and these are connected by corridors. If you look down the side of the church, you will see how each chapel has its own roof, with the corridors in between roofed at a lower level. Modern buildings abut the apse on each side, and on the right hand end of the nave is perched a little campanile which probably replaced a medieval tower when the Capuchins took over.
The façade is single-storey, on a high plinth and is hence accessed by a wide staircase. In contrast with the interior,
the decoration is very restrained. There are four Corinthian pilasters supporting an entablature with a blank frieze, and a triangular pediment (tympanon in Italian). In the tympanum of this is an oculus in a molded Baroque frame, decorated with ribbons and a cornice with archivolt.
The single entrance has a molded doorcase, with a simple dedicatory inscription above the lintel. This is topped by a slightly oversized segmental pediment. Above this in turn is a vertical rectangular window in a Baroque frame topped by a scallop shell flanked by a pair of curlicues.
The background is rendered in a yellowish pink, with architectural details in white.
The chapel frontages on either side each have a pair of Doric pilasters supporting an entablature marking a flat roofline. On the outer corners are perched, oddly, two halves of a split and very widely separated segmental pediment.
To see the exterior of the second mediaeval church, you have to go round to Via della Dataria 21. There, in an early 20th century building is a large arched portal with a pair of columns, which leads via a high passage to a large courtyard with a single tall palm tree. The old church is on the far right hand side of this courtyard, and the external fabric of the rectangular edifice is distinguished by a projecting cornice with corbels, framed by two courses of bricks in a saw-tooth pattern.
Accessing this courtyard may be difficult, as the passageway may be guarded.
The church has a single nave, with three large chapels on each side having arched portals. The archivolts of these spring from wide Doric intradoses. It is richly decorated with stucco, in a white, gold, red and blue colour scheme.
In between the chapels are what look like opera boxes, with slightly bowed fronts on volute corbels. These are cantorie, and are intended for singers and musicians. Above the chapels and cantorie are six large windows on each side, the light from which give a glowing quality to the decoration.
The flat ceiling dates from 1637-1677, and was designed by Mattia de Rossi. The woodwork is intricately carved and gilded. There are large fresco panels of contrasting shapes, and these were painted by the Lucchese artists Giovanni Coliand Filippo Gherardi. The two were of the school of Pietro da Cortona, having trained in Lucca under Pietro Paolini, and collaborated closely in several prestigious projects. At Rome, their most notable work is at the Palazzo Colonna. Here, the subject is The Exaltation of the Cross On Its Return to Jerusalem by Emperor Heraclius.
The presbyterium is a square apse, with a little cupola on pendentives. The walls are richly revetted in polychrome marbles, and the cupola and pendentives are frescoed with angels and saints with symbols of the Passion (repeating the scheme for the smaller panels in the nave ceiling). The Veil of Veronica is featured. The high altar has a pair of Corinthian columns with gilded capitals, in a deep pink stone which is allegedly Sicilian jasper. The altarpiece is a large painting of the Holy Face of Lucca.
On the side walls of the apse are paintings with motifs related to the devotion to the Holy Face, by Francesco Grandi.
Chapel of the Holy SpiritEdit
The first chapel on the right is dedicated to the Holy Spirit, and the anonymous 17th century altarpiece depicts The Holy Spirit Poured Out on the Apostles at Pentecost.
Chapel of St ZitaEdit
The second chapel on the right is dedicated to St Zita, arguably the most famous saint from Lucca and a patron of domestic servants. It is has rich marble decorations, including a pair of columns in verde antico. The altarpiece is an oil painting of the saint by Lazarro Baldi, who also executed the fresco work. The marble putti are by Lorenzo Ottoni.
The chapel is also known as the Cappella Fantinelli, after the original patron.
Chapel of the TrinityEdit
The third chapel on the right is dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The architect was Simone Costanzi, and the patrons were the Castagnari family.
It has an altarpiece of Mary Immaculate by Biagio Puccini. On the right wall is a painting of St Frigidian by Francesco del Tintore, and on the left a painting of St Lawrence Giustiniani by Domenico Maria Muratori.
At the foot of the altar is the shrine of Blessed Blessed Mary of Jesus (in the world, Émilie d'Oultremont), founder of the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix, who was beatified on 12 October 1997.
The first chapel on the left is dedicated to St Bonaventure. The altarpiece reflects the original dedication of this chapel, which was to the Assumption of Our Lady. It depicts Mary Assumpta, Venerated by SS Francis of Assisi and Jerome. On the side walls are depictions of various saints.
Chapel of Our Lady, Queen of HeavenEdit
The second chapel on the left is sometimes called the Pantheon of the Lucchesi. The 17th century altarpiece by Domenichino depicts The Coronation of the Virgin.
Several notable persons from Lucca are interred here; the tombs of Alessandro Buttaioni and Stefano Tofanelli are on the right side, and those of Lorenzo Prospero Bottini and Filippo Buonamici are on the left side.
Chapel of the CrucifixEdit
In the third chapel on the left, which is dedicated to the Most Holy Crucifix, is a wooden crucifix and paintings by Giovanni Coli and Filippo Gherardi.
The second church on this site is accessed through the sacristy, via a corridor. It seems to be just a room.
The first church is, in effect, the crypt of the second church. There is a trapdoor in the floor of the latter, and a set of stairs.
The edifice was built on ancient Roman foundations, derived from a building about which nothing is known. There is a main nave with a left hand aisle, separated by a arcade with four arches. The main nave vault is being propped up by two pillars inserted in the 19th century restoration.
The interesting thing down here is the set of remnants of 14th century frescoes in the left hand aisle. The vault is divided into three by transeverse arches, and fragments of decoration can be seen on these. On the pillar nearest the entrance is a Calvary with Christ crucified accompanied by Our Lady and St John, and on the wall opposite this is a depiction of St Christopher. Also identifiable are a Lamb of God, Christ giving a blessing and an Annunciation scene with Our Lady and the angel.
Feasts that are celebrated with special solemnity are those of the Holy Cross on 14 September, St Bonaventure on 15 July and Blessed Mary of Jesus on 11 October. The last-named was the foundress of the Sisters of Mary Reparatrix, and so her relics are enshrined here in the Trinity Chapel.
The church has restricted opening hours. It is normally open every weekday, 12.00-13.00.
On Saturday and Sunday, the church is closed.
Guided tours used to available at other times on request, but this may no longer be the case. The church's online profile is poor.
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