Dating primarily from the 12th century, San Michele in Foro in Lucca is a beautiful Romanesque church with one of the most interesting facades in Italy. Its four colonnaded levels of gleaming white marble are inlaid with a menagerie of real and mythical animals.
History of San Michele in Foro
A church on this site has been documented since 795, but the present San Michele in Foro dates mainly from the 12th century (1143 onward), with some construction continuing into the 14th century.
What to See at San Michele in Foro
The indisputed highlight of San Michele in Foro is its magnificent marble facade, one of the finest examples of the Pisan Romanesque style anywhere. The tall, narrow facade consists of a comparatively plain lower section surmounted by four stacked tiers of blind arcading, two of them occupying a freestanding loggia.
The lower part of the facade is faced with white and light grey marble blocks, enhanced with tall blind arcades with striped arches and Corinthian capitals. A three-dimensional diamond shape adds depth under each arch. The central portal is topped with a classical architrave, carved with St. Michael slaying the dragon flanked by a variety of mythical creatures. Above is a small rose window flanked by lions.
A narrow grey band decorated with inlaid geometric shapes and a few creatures connects the lower facade with the magnificent blind arcading of the upper facade, full of wondrous detail. The blind arches are supported by a remarkable variety of little marble columns: some are carved with zigzags, some have been inlaid with darker marble to create intricate designs, and some are even covered in whimsical sculptures.
Most of these columns have acanthus-leaf capitals, but the abacus (flat part at the top) of each one bears a sculpture of a human head, animal, or pair of flowers. Above each capital, at the joining of each arch, is another sculpture of similar theme. Some of the heads are modern, and depict such figures as Garibaldi and Vittorio Emmanuele.
Along the top of each tier is perhaps the most enchanting part of the facade: a menagerie of real and mythical animals in white inlaid marble against a dark green marble background. Most of the animals are depicted in dynamic action: walking, jumping, eating, fighting. Those areas not occupied by animals are decorated with inlaid designs such as stars, circles and flowers.
The blind arcading continues onto the loggia, which culminates in a free-standing sculpture of St. Michael with bronze wings, flanked by two trumpeting angels. Be sure to look behind the loggia from the Piazza San Michele, for a glimpse of a rather alarming diagonal stairway leading from the roof to the top of the loggia.
The side of the church continues the layout of the facade, though with less decoration. The tall blind arcades along the bottom have no diamond-shaped indentations or sculptures, but the colonnetes above do have corbel heads and striped arches.
Begun in the 12th century and completed in the 19th, the rectangular campanile (bell tower) is incorporated into the south transept. Its four tiers have increasing numbers of windows and are gently decorated with pilaster strips and Lombard bands.
The interior is dimly lit and rather plain compared with the exuberant facade, but it has some notable features as well. The grey-and-white pavement is the medieval original, as are the stately marble columns with Corinthian capitals. The nave has two side aisles and culminates in a Romanesque round apse with three small windows.
Suspended in the apse over the altar is a painted wooden Crucifix with the Virgin and St. John by a local master, dating from the late 12th century. The south transept contains the beautiful Saints Helen, Jerome, Sebastian and Roch by Filippino Lippi.
At the back of the south aisle is a lovely statue of the Madonna (1476-80), made by Matteo Civitali for the facade (now replaced there with a replica) after Lucca's deliverance from the plague. Finally, there is also a white enameled relief of the Madonna and Child, attributed to Luca della Robbia.
Quick Facts on San Michele in Foro
|Names:||San Michele in Foro|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||43.843183° N, 10.502750° E|
|Address:||Piazza San Michele|
|Hours:||Daily 7:30am-noon and 3-6pm|
|Lodging:||View hotels near San Michele in Foro|
- 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), 332-34.
- Kenneth John Conant, Carolingian and Romanesque Architecture 800-1200 (Pelican History of Art) (Yale University Press, 1993), 382.
- Lucca and Its Surroundings (Lucca: Santori S.A.S., 2004), 51-57. Tourist book purchased in Lucca.
- San Michele in Foro - Frommer's Florence, Tuscany and Umbria
- San Michele in Foro, Lucca - Planetware
Map of San Michele in Foro, Lucca
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