Church of San Francesco

According to ancient tradition, the convent in Iseo would be one of the first built in the diocese of Brescia, founded by St. Francis of Assisi during his return journey from Egypt around 1218 to 1220. The saint was said to have accepted a small house near a stream (now Cortelo) outside the village walls, turning it into a small religious centre dedicated to St. Mary of the Angels, called “Madonna Nuova” (New Madonna), which included a small church and a well.

The first documents making reference to the convent date back to the 14th Century: they refer to the assigning of the ecclesiastical offices at the Church of Santa Maria degli Oldofredi to the Franciscan friars, a position they retained until the end of the 17th Century.

The New Madonna was often abandoned, probably due to the inconvenient position of the seat and the unhealthy air of the stagnant area. In 1465, upon the requests of the Town Council, the General of the Order of Friars Minor, Francis della Rovere, the future Pope Sixtus IV allowed the friar Amadeo Mendes de Sylva and his followers to move there. The entire building was renovated and the name changed to St. Francis.

The Amadeiti Franciscans remained there until 1568, the year in which they were united with the Observant friars who lived there from 1569 until the Venetian suppression of 1771. It then became the seat of the friars of the convent on the island of St. Paul [54] from 1783 to the early 19th Century. Acquired from the public domain, it was bought by private and rented to the Town Council that, between 1825 and 1827, transformed it into a school. In 1841 it was converted into a hospital, a function that it still performs today.

In the 19th and 20th Century, the convent was restructured to meet the hospital requirements, but the size remained almost unchanged from the period of Amadeiti, with some later additions. We do not know much about the structure of the original convent, of which only a few rooms remain, and the changes made by the Amadeiti can only be recreated in part; what remains of the 15th Century convent are the cloister, part of the church and a couple of rooms on both floors.

The expansion project of the Amadeiti was adapted to suit the pre-existence of some rooms, for example the convergence with the Lake of the long sides of the cloister, from which we can access a terrace on the water. The cloister was built with recycled materials and interspersed by arches supported by columns in red Simona stone (local sandstone) and white Gallina stone, creating a stylish colour effect; some murals were also painted at this time depicting the Annunciation, the Coronation of the Virgin Mary, St. Francis before the Bishop of Assisi. The common and service rooms, such as the kitchen, the pantry, the refectory, the fire hall were arranged around the cloister.

On the first floor they built new cells and loggias supported by Sarnico stone, Gallina stone and Simona stone columns.

The friars replaced the old church, which became a place of transit towards the sacristy, with a new version but kept the ancient bell tower, demolished in the 19th Century, along with part of the 15th Century chapel. Outside, later on they built a cemetery, some agricultural activity facilities, and, after the Friars from the island of San Paolo (St. Paul) settled here, also a wool mill.

The church has a single nave and sanctuary is rib-vaulted; the apsidal conch consists of Neo-Gothic beaded ribs, each hosting frescoes of angels or busts of saints. On the wooden ceiling of the chapel you can admire, in the centre of a marvellous architectural 17th Century quadratura (illusionistic mural painting), a painting depicting The chariot of fire although mutilated during the 19th Century restoration works. The rather uncommon subject is the Legenda Maior of St. Bonaventure and tends to identify Saint Francis as a new Elijah. On the altar there is a wooden Cross, and in three niches there are the statues of St. John Bosco, the Infant St. Mary and St. Joseph. A detached fragment of a late 14th Century fresco badly repainted depicting the Madonna enthroned with Child is hung on the inside façade.

In various areas of the hospital there are still traces of frescoes from different periods, from the 15th to the 17th Century.


Angelo Valsecchi

Iniziativa realizzata nell’ambito del bando Wonderfood & Wine di Regione Lombardia e Unioncamere Lombardia per la promozione di Sapore inLOMBARDIA

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