The Church of Saint Francis stands where there was once an oratory consecrated to Saint Niccolò which was externally linked to the Pocalodis’castle: the embattled and turreted building which used to be a fortress and controlled the nearby harbour in the lower part of the town. In 1252 the new Bishop of Lodi Buongiovanni Fissiraga was ordered by Pope Innocenzo IV to give the Church of Saint Niccolò, its
houses and gardens to the Conventual Friars. Later as Antonio Fissiraga, a scion of a famous family in Lodi, had no heirs he decided to have a bigger church built in honour of Saint Francis. The friars were able to complete the building of the new church in just ten years between 1280 and 1290 thanks to the financial support of the Guelph Fissiraga Family. In 1290 Bishop Buongiovanni was the first to be buried in the church. Saint Francis which was built in Romanesque Gothic style has an incomplete terracotta brick façade without the fastigium of the saddle roof and perhaps the building was stopped because of the death (or the imprisonment) of Antonio Fissiraga. The façade is divided by two great applied columns into three parts and is characterised by two double splay “open” lancet windows, a feature typical of Lodi chosen to make the front Structure lighter. In the centre there is a pointed prothyrum which was added in the XV century above the typical rose window in red Verona marble. The Latin cross-shaped interior with three naves shows the late Romanesque style in the strength of the pillars and the Gothic style in the lancet arches of the vaults. You can still see the best painting exhibition from Lodi which includes paintings from the 14th century this will help a local painting school to flourish. The church became really important with the Conventual Friars Minor and was the centre of an intense spiritual life. Lodi’s most renowned families were honoured with the privilege of burying their dead in the church: you can still see the tombs of the Fissiraga, Modegnani, De Lemene families. In 1976 the poet Ada Negri
who had often written about the spiritual charm of the church was buried here. In the XIV and XV centuries when the Minor Observants started to take care of the church it was altered and lost its original unity of style above all in the left aisle: some chapels were decorated with frescoes, marbles and plasters according to the Baroque canons of the time; the windows with two lights which lit the apse were closed and the choir was painted by Sebastiano Galeotti with The Glory of Saint Francis in the XVIII century. As it had happened to their predecessors, the Minor Observants had to leave Lodi as well as Saint Francis during the Napoleonic suppression in 1810. The church was annexed to the parish of Saint Salvatore of Carmine and a local priest was entrusted with it. In 1842 the church was entrusted to the Barnabite Fathers (Order of Clerics Regular of Saint
Paul) as “a perpetual use for their offices, in free and full usufruct, with all the charges of maintenance and service”. The Barnabite Fathers had been in Lodi since 1605 in the convent and the church of Saint Giovanni alle Vigne built using the plan by the Barnabite Father Giannambrogio Mazenta which will be changed into the present local theatre. The Barnabite Fathers were involved in the Napoleonic suppression in 1810 and came back to Lodi in 1832, this time in the convent of Saint Francis offered free by the town council. But it was not easy to serve the church which was still in the hands of the parish priest of the Church of Carmine. The negotiations were repeated in 1837 and 1842 when at last the deed was drawn up, but the Barnabite Fathers had to force the doors open in order to get into the church because the parish priest had hidden the keys and was refusing to pass them over. The church was in a very bad condition and restorations started quickly to get it back to its previous splendour. The paintings on some columns were restored, the wooden moulding which ran all over the church was removed altogether with a crumbling choir and some chapels; the roof was rebuilt. But some jobs were unfinished. The restorations started again under the direction of Professor Pinin Brambilla Barcilon who intervened on the precious frescoes of the walls and the vaults from 1960. Among them is the votive fresco of Madonna with the Child which goes back to the end of the XIV century, also called Ada Negri’s Madonna because it was her favourite painting and is mentioned in the autobiographical novel
“Morning Star” written in 1921. In a fresco placed above Antonio Fissiraga’s tomb he is shown offering the Child the model of the new Church of Saint Francis while two patron saints, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Nicholas of Bari are witnessing his gift. Among the chapels of the church the Chapel of Saint Bernardine from Siena is the most symbolic. It was frescoed by Gian Giacomo from Lodi in 1477 and was commissioned by the De’ Bononis, a noble local family. On the wall you can see very precious work: there are 22 panels which represent the Cycle of Saint Bernardine’s life. Every scene is described by a caption in Latin Gothic characters. Originally the walls were part of the tower in the Pocalodis’ castle which was later changed into the new church tower. When the Hospital was built, the tower was cut short and twenty years later it was changed into a chapel. The ancient lighthouse on Gerundio Lake was fitted and became the new church tower. It still stands as a massive belltower in the area of the nearby college. In the 17th century, in San Giovanni alle Vigne the Barnabite Fathers started the so-called “superior” studies (philosophy, theology and morals) and later added the “inferior”
courses (grammar, humanity and rhetoric). In 1833 the Fathers went back to Lodi, settled in the present building and resumed their teaching of classical subjects. In 1970s new subjects were added in the Scientific and Language School of Saint Francis (till 1985). later followed by a primary school, a nursery school and an infant school. Inside the college you can find a library with over 60 000 books, music archives with more than 23 000 scores and the Natural Science Museum. The museum was established around 1833, when the college was founded. Started with a didactic aim and year after year, thanks to the intelligent search for more items it has become bigger and bigger and now has 6 000 items together with a collection of 980 scientific instruments. Many famous people were educated in the College of Saint Francis which is still important for Lodi and its area. The Church of Saint Francis is also still important and thanks to the architecture of its façade it is now one of the symbols of the city of Lodi.