Via Luca Pacioli is one of the most significant of Sansepolcro’s streets and where we can find the San Lorenzo church.
Cosimo I de Medici ordered, for military purposes the destruction of villages on the outskirts of all towns, the Benedictine monarchs were therefore forced to move inside the city walls around 1556 and with this the construction of the Church and convent began. Before the entrance there is a sixteenth century open gallery with marble columns. Inside the church and behind the main alter there is a collection of Baroque stucco decorations and the portrayal of the Deposizione. A Tuscan mannerism masterpiece by the Rosso Fiorentino (Giovan Battista di Jacopo 1495-1540) was painted when he as passing through Sansepolcro as a Roman fugitive between 1527 and 1530.
THE EX CHURCH OF SANTA CHIARA (ALREADY SAINT AGOSTINO)
Very close to the above mentioned church of San Lorenzo, we can find the small Santa Chiara church which was once the church for the Sant’Agostino convent.
These were already present in the fourteenth century and the church was later called Santa Chiara after the transferral to the Clarisse nuns in 1555. The medieval church’s masonry exterior and polygonal apse remain and were built by the Augustine Monks from 1281. The interior is decorated with eighteenth century stucchi and has only one aisle and a trussed roof, a crucifix from XVIII century, the Sant’Andrea fresco by Cherubino Alberti (1553-1615) at the third altar, and on the high altar the Assunzione della Vergine by the Umbrinan school at the beginning of the Sixteenth century. The fresco of Piero della Francesca with San Giuliano (1455) comes from this church which now can be found in Sansepolcro’s Pinacoteca.
SANTA MARIA DEI SERVIZI
The original church is from the XIV century and the lancets on the left side of the church are the only things left from that period. Between 1717 and 1727 the church went through a baroque transformation.
The facade and the bell tower were reconstructed towards the end of the 1700’s and 1800’s respectively. Inside the Santa Maria dei Servizi there is only one aisle that has good natural lighting with stucchi and gold decorations, as in the baroque style. The dome above the presbytery is the only to be found in a church in Sansepolcro and to the right of presbytery there is the ‘L’Assunzione della Vergine by Matteo di Giovanni (1430 -1499) commissioned in 1487.
THE CHURCH OF SANT’ANTONIO ABATE AND SANT’ELIGIO
The sacred building on Via Sant’Antonio was built in 1345 by the Campagnia di Sant’Antonio Abate to give shelter and care for the sick and pilgrims. From the original building the Portale Strombata has been conserved with bas relief of Cristo Benedicente between Sant’Antonio e Sant’Eligio.
As like other churches this church has had many changes over the years.
The main alter is decorated by a sixteenth century dossal in wood and gold and the Stendarlo Processionale della Compagnia (in a valuable frame) commissioned and created by Luca Signorelli (1445 -1523) in 1505.
Painted on both sides, the Crocifissione is on the front and the Saints Antonio and Eligio on the back. Not to be missed is L’eterno Padre by Raffaellino di Colle (1494-1566) and can be found in the arch of the high altar.
BASILICA CATHEDRAL OF SAN GIOVANNI EVANGELISTA
Today’s cathedral dedicated to San Giovanni Evangelista (also called the Duomo) was rebuilt in a roman-gothic style in the XIV century on the foundations of the Benedictine-Camaldolese abbey from the beginning of the XI century.
It is important also to refer to the back part of the bell tower, renovated in late 1300’s (after its destruction in 1352) and transformed more than once from 1585. In the 1520’s, with the creation of the Diocesi of Sansepolcro by Papa Leone X, the abbey was converted to a cathedral. San Giovanni Evangelista to whom it is dedicated is the Patron Saint of Sansepolcro and also the Diocese.
In the XVI and XVII centuries the church was subjected to many changes internally and externally due the influx in Tuscany baroque art. Between 1934 and 1943 Bishop Pompep Ghezzi authorised radical changes according to the ‘purist’ style that at the time was ‘fashionable’. Even though nearly all of the baroque elements were destroyed it has however, been possible to recuperate the architectural Romanesque and Baroque style along with some frescoes.
The frescoes were of Riminese and Bartolomeo della Gatta from XIV-XV centuries and were covered between XVII-XVIII. The bell tower of SS Sacramento was also built and now, is where the Volto Santo can be found after being moved from the high altar.
The Romanesque and Gothic renovation affected mostly the church’s facade which today has three entrances overlapped with lancets whereas along the sides of the building there is a large central rosette. The main door is made from walnut by local artisans at the beginning of the XVI century.
Inside, large columns divide the church along with three aisles; one central aisle and two external aisles. Here we can find some magnificent art work. Beginning at the right aisle towards the back: a Romanesque fresco portraying the Madonna con bambino (1385); along the first aisle there is the Incredualità di San Tommaso by the Santi di Tito (1536-1603, following on from this is the Crocefissione di Cristo by Bartolomeo della Gatta (Pietro Dei 1448-1502) finally at the second aisle there is the Adorazione dei Pastori by Durante Alberti (1536-1623).
The altar at the end of the right aisle is from late 1600s (1682) and the only testimony of the basilica’s original baroque style, having avoided the renovations in the 1930’s. It opens up to the upper part of the bell tower and is where it gets illuminated by the small dome decorated with stucco, the Gloria di Cristo and Maria and Pope Leone Magno. On the centre of the altar is the Madonna della Misericordia by Raffaelo Scaminossi (1529- unknown).
In the presbytery and behind the high altar, there is another altar where the Polittico della Resurrezione is, by Niccolò di Segna (Siena, 1348). On the central canvas there is the representation of Cristo Risorto, victorious over death and the sleeping soldiers surrounding the open sarcophagus, the setting was used again almost 100 years later by Piero della Francesca in the hall of Palazzo dei Conservatori (now the main hall for the civic museum).
On the wall next to the organ there is the canvas representing the Misteri del Rosario (XVI century).
In the left chapel of the presbytery your attention is drawn to the Volto Santo, still today one of the oldest wooden crucifixes which created in the Carolingia age (IX century) and perhaps the model used for the Volto Santo in the Lucca cathedral.
Carrying on the left aisle, near the vestry door is a tabernacle by Andrea Della Robbia in the late 1400’s. At the second altar, the Assunta di Cristo by Pietro Vannucci, (Perugia 1448-1523) painted between 1505-1510 and commissioned by Simone Graziani (who did the Florentine monumento Sepolcrale in the 1500’s).
Finally the Resurrezione di Cristo by Raffaellino Del Colle (1524) is the first of his works ever to be recognised. On the counter facade there are two terracotta, by Robbiana from the XVI century: San Benedetto and San Romualdo founders of the Benedictine and Camaldolese orders.
From the side door which opens up half way roughly the right aisle, you get to the convent where the ‘circle of frescoes on San Benedetto’s life’ is. This was commissioned by Abbot Simone Grazioni regent (from 1490 to 1509) to an unknown, but who was probably from the Sodoma workshop (Giovanni Bazzi 1477-1549).
THE CHAPEL OF SAN LEONARDO OR MONACATO
This small chapel, opening onto the Cathedral’s convent, is considered to be in the heart of the town and also the first Christian core where the village evolved.
It is where the pilgrim saints Egidio and Arcano after their miraculous event, built the oratory to protect the sacred relics brought back by Saint Sansepolcro from Jerusalem. The chapel has a square form, housed with a cross shaped ceiling. At the end of the chapel there is an altar with an arch that frames the fresco depicting the dolente: (from the left) San Leonardo, San Romualdo, Il Beato Egidio, San Pietro, the Roman soldier Cherubino Alberti (1553-1615) and centrally a wooden crucifix from the 1400’s.
Not to be forgotten is the tombstone to the left of the entrance that quotes an extract from the testament of Piero della Francesco where he states that he wishes to be buried in that very spot
SANTA MARIA MADRE DELLA GRAZIA
Looking onto the San Francesco Piazza is the 14th century Mariano shrine of Santa Maria della Grazia.
The wooden entrance catches your attention instantly, with fine carvings, some depicting skeletons and symbolizations of death. The delicate coffered ceiling decorations are by local craftsmen at the end of the XVI century. The Madre della Grazia, painted by Raffaellino del Colle (1494-1566) in 1555 is at the high altar. An imagine worshipped and classed by the locals as miraculous; according to the tradition the Virgin Mary’s hands opened to stop a severe earthquake that hit the town in 1558.
SAN FRANCESCO CHURCH
The church is a sacred building that can be found in the town square. It was the first core for the Franciscan church and dates back to the XIII century. It still conserves some of the façade in which the portal and rose window open upon.
Particular attention needs to be paid to the bell tower (torre campanaria) also from the fourteenth century. Internally it was completely renovated in the 1700’s enforcing the vault and the semicircular ‘coro’ and maintains the original format by having a single anave which is typical of the Mendicant order. The high altar is in stone and has a sarcophagus form with Solomonic columns dating back to 1304. Left at the first altar is the canvas of Passignano (Domenico Cresti 1559-1638) depicting the Disputa nel Tempio, and at the third right altar the Stimmate di San Francesco by Giovanni de’Vecchi (1536ca-1614). A statue in multicoloured terracotta has been preserved from the XV century portraying Saint Antonio di Padova. In the crypt there is the conserved body of Beato Ranieri– a Franciscan monk who died 1st November 1304.
L’EREMO DI MONTECASALE
Seven hundred metres high it is sacred building that can be found in the area where it takes its name and still in the Sansepolcro area.
According to tradition the origins date back to 1213 and thought to be established by the Saint of Italy – San Francesco. The eremo or settlement is a place of extreme importance for the Franciscan spirituality. Sill today it is visited by pilgrims and tourists and not only as the place where the Saint of Assisi once visited but also as the place where some of San Francesco miracles took place. For example the conversion of the three thieves or in Italian conversione dei tre ladroni. Between XIII and XIV centuries, a following to the Virgin Mary developed around the image of the Madonna in Trono col Bambino; a multicoloured wooden sculpture from the XIII century and today still visible in the church.
From the beginning of the XVI century the Cappuccini Monks reside in the settlement. The complex conserves the primitive facilities of the antique Franciscan convents, from the central convent to the big stone architraves to the small buildings for the monastic rituals. It is a remarkable example of ‘poor’ architecture, built with local materials and inspired by the religious followers’ simple way of life.