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CHIESA DI SAN MICHELE IN FORO

The gorgeous Pisan Romanesque Church of San Michele in Foro stands in the square after its name on the site of the former Roman Forum, in the set of connections of the Roman streets in Lucca.
A few steps from the historical Piazza San Michele is placed the massive Palazzo Pretorio, which dates back from 1492. It is considered the most important building of the age in Lucca. Under its loggia is placed the magnificent monument to Matteo Civitali.

The construction of the Chiesa di San Michele in Foro started in the 11th century, over the remnants of a previous church from the 8th century, by will of Pope Alexander II.  In fact, the first records in relation to the former Chiesa of San Michele with the title “in Foro”came back from 795 AD. The impressive religious building was ended in its existing form in the 14th century.

Its luminous white façade, which was built with exactly limestone blocks, is much more elaborated and outsized than the church that was finally constructed. There are not precise statements of the age explaining this fact. Maybe, the funds assigned to its building ran out before the church could be rised to the same height of the façade.  Nevertheless, in that unusual lack of proportion between the glorious and far above the ground façade and the smaller church lays the core that makes people being astonished at it, while keeping inevitably on fixing their eyes on this unbelievable fusion of Romanesque and Gothic style.

The façade is ornamented by a considerable series of sculptures and inlaid works, which carvings are extremely thin and perfectly balanced.
In the lower part make stand out the principal portal, surrounded from left to right by a succession of blind arcades. On the right corner once stand the famous marble statue of the “Madonna and Child”, known as the Madonna Salutis Portus”. It was commissioned around 1480 by the illustrious Lucchese politician, diplomatic and academic Domenico Bertini (1417-1506) from the brilliant Renaissance Lucchese artist Matteo Civitali (1436-1502) as a sign of gratefulness to the Holy Virgin for deliverance Lucca from the Black Death, which razed the city in 1476. At present, the marvellous “Madonna Salutis Portus” is hosted in the indoors of the church.
The upper part of the façade is set by four levels of loggias composed of arcades supported by countless slim columns. Every single column is distinct from the others. Some of them are richly carved, while others are twisted, of spiral shape or striped.
On the top there is the imposing 13th century statue (4 meters in height) of St. Michael the Arcangel slaying the Dragon flanked by two smaller angels. It is said that the statue of St. Michael has a ring with a full-size diamond on his hand. In dawn, when the sun is at the right angle a sparkle is visible on the summit. 

The interior of the church is shaped like a Romanesque basilica with a central nave, two aisles and a semicircular apse. The nave is supported by arches on huge columns with medieval inscriptions and drawings on their lower part.
The higher part of the walls is plenty of wonderful stained glass lunettes, while the ceiling is covered by barrel vaults.
        
          Among the artworks hosted in the Chiesa of San Michele in Foro make stand out the wonderful glazed terracotta of  the “Madonna and Child”  created by the talented Florentine sculptor Andrea Della Robbia (1435-1528), placed on the central column,  while the “Madonna Salutis Portus” by Civitali, stands in the right corner close to the main door. In addition, the emblematic wooden polychrome Crucifix in Byzantine stile, which was carved by the Tuscan sculptor and painter Berlinghiero Berlinghieri (active in Lucca from 1228 to 1232) and the superb panel representing “The Four Saints” (St. Roch, St. Sebastian, St. Jerome and St. Helen) painted by the celebrated Tuscan artist Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), son of the famous Fra Filippo Lippi.
“The Four Saints”, which hangs on the far wall of the right transept, is unanimously considered a Tuscan Renaissance masterpiece.

The splendid and very high Campanile (bell-tower) was built between the 12th and the 14th century. It is situated close to the end of the right transept. The  Campanile with a progression of single, double and triple mullioned windows was originally crowned by a superb battlemented summit, which was arbitrarily destroyed in the second half of the 14th century by will of the tyrannical Giovanni dell’Agnello, Doge of the Maritime Republic of Pisa (1364-1368).

The Chiesa di San Michele in Foro opens daily:
from 7:40 am to 12:00 pm and from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
The admission is free. Tours are not allowed during religious celebrations.      

Other Pages about Lucca

Hystory and Origins

Must-See Monuments and Art in Lucca

- Il Duomo di San Martino - Palazzo dei Guinigi - Chiesa di San Michele in Foro - The native house of Giacomo Puccini

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