The Basilica di San Frediano in Lucca is a medieval basilica with a large campanile, a 13th-century mosaic on its facade, a monumental Romanesque font, a notable Renaissance fresco cycle, and several other interesting features.
History of San Frediano
San Frediano was founded in the 6th century by its namesake, Saint Fridianus, an Irish missionary and bishop. He dedicated his church to St. Vincent, but it was later rededicated to Frediano when he was buried in its crypt. The church was built facing west just outside the Roman walls, as was traditional for funerary basilicas. In the 7th century it was known as the Basilica Langobardorum (Lombard Basilica).
The present Romanesque basilica was begun in 1112 and consecrated in 1147 by Pope Eugene III. Renovations to the interior, apse and facade, including the addition of the mosaic, took place in the early 13th century. In the 16th century, the presbytery was raised above the nave and a second aisle was added to each side to accommodate chapels.
San Frediano was restored in the middle of the 19th century, including re-facing of the campanile and restoration of the facade mosaic.
What to See at San Frediano
The 12th-century "west" facade, which actually faces east, is a fine example of the local Romanesque style, although it was altered after its construction. Originally, it was only three aisles wide and the upper gable was shorter (it was raised in the 13th century to accommodate the large mosaic).
The golden facade mosaic, possibly by Berlinghiero Berlinghieri, was created in the 13th century and restored in the mid-19th century. It depicts the Ascension of Christ in a Byzantine style. Angels bear the throne of Christ upwards, while the Twelve Apostles look on from below.
At the west end, a small plaza provides a good view of the large apse and exceptionally tall campanile. The round apse, renovated in the 13th century, is decorated with uneven horizontal stripes made of red and white marble. The campanile has an increasing number of windows on each level, from one to four. It is topped with Ghibelline crenellations.
The dimly-lit interior has a medieval atmosphere despite the 16th-century alterations. The nave is divided from the side aisles by slender columns, almost all of which were appropriated from Roman buildings. The large limestone monolith on the left side of the presbytery probably came from the Amphitheatre. Above the columns is a flat masonry wall, on which a faded fresco of the 13th century can be seen, with small windows in the clerestory level.
At the west end is the raised presbytery (16th century) and a tall round apse with six small windows (12-13th century). Behind the high altar is the original Cosmatesque floor (12th century) that paved the choir until the 16th-century renovations.
The artistic highlight of the interior is the 12th-century Romanesque font. It was destroyed in the late 18th century but reassembled in 1952 based on existing drawings. The monumental font, consisting of a large round basin with an inner bowl supported on a central pillar, is the work of three master sculptors.
Six of the eight panels on the outer basin depict the stories of Moses in dynamic, crowded scenes carved by an unknown Lombard master. The two remaining panels on the outer basin, depicting the Good Shepherd and six prophets, were sculpted by one Robertus, who signed his work ("ME FECIT ROBERTUS MAGISTER IN ARTE PERITUS"). Robertus has a Byzantine style, with slim figures under small arches, that is quite distinct from the Moses artist.
The third artist was from Tuscany and worked on the central bowl. His work has Classical elements. The lid of the bowl is divided into two registers, the top with figures of the Apostles and the bottom with the Labors of the Months. On the lower bowl are beautiful masks in high relief, from which the water flowed into the basin.
In a chapel near the font is the tomb of Saint Zita (d. 1278), whose mummified body can be seen through glass. Mentioned by Dante in the Inferno, Zita was very popular in the Middle Ages. According to legend, she was a maid for the noble Fatinelli family who was caught stealing bread from the Fatinelli's cupboard to give to the poor. But when asked what she was carrying, she said it was only flowers, and upon investigation the bread had indeed miraculously turned into flowers. The miracle of St. Zita is celebrated each April with the blessing of the daffodils, which fill the surrounding streets.
Many of the other side chapels have frescoes from the 15th-17th centuries, the most notable of which are in the north aisle. A major highlight is the Chapel of Sant'Agostino, which was entirely frescoed in 1508-09 by Amico Aspertini, an eccentric artist from Bologna. Subjects include the Translation of the Volto Santo (see Lucca Cathedral for details on this important relic); Nativity; Miracles of San Frediano (primarily diverting a flood); Saint Ambrose Baptizing Saint Augustine (with contemporary portraits including the artist); Rule of Saint Augustine; and the Deposition of Christ. There was originally a Last Judgment on the back wall, but this has been lost. The vault fresco depicts God the Father with Prophets and Sibyls against a blue background.
In a nearby chapel is an altarpiece and two tombs for the Trenta family by the Sienese sculptor Jacopo della Quercia (1412-22), who is best known for his monumental tomb of Ilaria del Carretto in Lucca Cathedral.
Quick Facts on San Frediano
|Names:||Basilica di San Frediano · Basilica of St. Fridianus · San Frediano|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.846202° N, 10.504550° E|
|Address:||Piazza San Frediano|
|Hours:||Apr to mid-Nov: Mon-Sat 7:30am-noon and 3-5pm; Sun 10:30am-5pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near San Frediano|
- Personal visit (May 1, 2008).
- Alta Macadam and Ellen Grady, Blue Guide Central Italy with Rome and Florence, 1st ed. (Somerset: Blue Guides Limited, 2008), 338-39.
- Lucca and Its Surroundings (Bologna, 2004), 83-93.
- Romanesque: Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, 305 (on font).
- San Frediano - Frommers.com
- Photos of San Frediano - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of San Frediano, Lucca
Below is a location map and aerial view of San Frediano. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.