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Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Church of Santo Stefano

Foto Church of Santo Stefano
Foto Church of Santo Stefano
Foto Church of Santo Stefano
Foto Church of Santo Stefano
Foto Church of Santo Stefano
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Church of Santo StefanoThe Church of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen's Collegiate Church) is located in the very center of Vimercate.

The origins of the church are very old, as already documents of the eighth century speak about it. However, the current building is more recent, as it was built in the tenth century with regard to the front. The apses and the crypt are instead the result of an expansion of a little later.
In the twelfth century the mighty bell tower was added, inserted in the right side of the facade.
Between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the church was curiously transformed into a fortified structure, with the rise of the upper part and the construction of a fortified room.
In the second half of the sixteenth century the apsidal basin (with the realization of the currently visible frescoes) and the façade were rebuilt.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, under the supervision of Leopoldo Pollack, the walls were consolidated and the current altar and pulpit were created. Later, around the middle of the same century, various frescoes and decorations in neoclassical style were added to the nave.
In the course of the twentieth century, numerous restoration campaigns have taken place.

The façade presents itself in the simple classical forms deriving from the sixteenth-century interventions. It is very simple and substantially divided into three parts: the left part, in exposed bricks (it should be noted that it appears in the upper part as an isolated vertical wall, since its upper limit does not follow the sloping course of the roof of the left aisle, but it is horizontal), the right side, which corresponds to the lower part of the bell tower, and the central part, bounded on the sides by two pilasters. Horizontally, there is a cornice that cuts the central part at about three quarters of its height. In a central position there is the portal with a small decorated pronao supported by two columns. Just below the cornice there is also a serliana whose three openings are separated by two double columns. Finally, just above the cornice there is a niche with copies of the three fourteenth-century statues depicting the Madonna with Child, St. Stephen and another holy warrior. The originals are now stored in the Museum of the Vimercate Territory.
The Romanesque bell tower presents, inserted at its base, tombstones and sarcophagi from the Roman era. Its structure is largely in stone, except for the highest part in which the bells are inserted, which is made of bricks. The division in the various floors is underlined by hanging arches. At the apex, in the middle of the roof, there is an octagonal lantern with pointed cusp.
The three apses are of very different sizes. The central one, with a semicircular plan and externally decorated with pilasters that do not reach the roof, but only a cornice of hanging arches at about three quarters of the height of the walls, is much larger than the lateral ones. The latter, different from each other, have been deeply reworked over the centuries.
The interior comprehends three naves separated by thick pillars. The central nave is much wider than the lateral ones and is covered by a barrel vault decorated in neoclassical style with stylized rosettes, bishop's coats of arms, symbols of the faith and, in the lunettes, monochromes of busts of saints.
Between the arches of the pillars and the vault are represented, inside frames of neoclassical taste, ten episodes of the Martyrs of the Apostles, painted by Giovanni Chiarini in 1841, interspersed with smaller squares with monochrome plant decorations.
In the first left span is placed the ancient baptismal font, originally surmounted by a statue of St. John the Baptist of the middle of the fourteenth century. Also this statue is now at the Museum of the Vimercate Territory.
On the counter-façade, above the door, we note the dedication to Santo Stefano. On the sides of it there are two angels, also by Giovanni Chiarini.
In the central nave there is furthermore the pulpit, with elliptical case and canopy. Designed by Leopoldo Pollack, it is decorated with three panels with a gold background depicting three Gospel scenes: the Miraculous Fishing, the Samaritan woman at the well and the Temptation of Christ.
The three apses are very different from each other. The one on the left is the smallest one and in practice is nothing but a chapel dedicated to San Carlo, depicted in the altarpiece. However, the beautiful altar in scagliola is nevertheless noticeable.
The apse on the right, formerly the Chapel of Sant'Ambrogio, is currently used as a sacristy. In 1988 the fourteenth-century frescoes of the ceiling and the area around the window came to light (Fig. 3). On the ceiling are depicted the Four Doctors of the Church with the mystic lamb in the center. The shield depicting a griffin in the rossoblu field is the coat of arms of the Ghisolfi family, commissioner of the frescoes and an important local family in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Around the window there are only some remains of the frescoes originally present, among which stands out, however, immediately above the window, the representation of a labyrinth.
On the back wall, instead, there are frescoes of 1530, depicting a Lament and a Resurrection between two sorrowful angels, perhaps fragments of a larger composition.
The central apse is characterized by the large fresco created in 1566 by Lattanzio Gambara from Brescia. The fresco, which extends over the entire back wall (also wrapping the two windows, which indeed have the function of delimiting the scenes) and on the whole apsidal basin depicts the Stories of the Passion of St. Stephen according to the narration present in the Acts of the Apostles. In the first scene, to the left of the left window, the Saint Stephen's Disputation, i.e. the saint discussing with the members of the Sanhedrin. At the center there is the main scene, that of the Stoning of Saint Stephen, with the saint, surrounded by his executioners against the backdrop of a windy and restless landscape, who turns his serene gaze to the sky. In the background an ideal depiction of Jerusalem. To the right of the right window, then the Burial of the Saint.
Above all a majestic celestial Glory occupies the entire apsidal basin, with God the Father in the center flanked on his right by Christ and on his left by the Crowned Madonna and all around the three a host of angels flying among storm clouds. The three angels under the three main characters each hold a long scroll. Two other angels are then flying down to St. Stephen to bring him the crown and the palm of martyrdom.
It should be noted that also the windows are richly decorated, with monochromatic elements of plants, animals and cherubs. Precisely among these decorations the date of execution of the fresco can be read.

The high altar, created in 1807 according to a design by Leopoldo Pollack, is a jewel of neoclassicism. Made of polychrome marble, it is dominated by a small circular temple made up of eight white marble columns on which, above a thick trabeation, an open dome rests, dominated in turn by an open lantern, decorated with golden garlands and cherub heads and with a statue of Christ at the apex.
Unfortunately, this small temple is in fact oversized and it prevents the complete view on the fresco on the bottom.
Also noteworthy is the walnut wood choir on the bottom. It was built in 1564 by Enrico Dei Galli. The seats of the major order are marked by Corinthian columns. The minor order includes instead four benches.

At the junction between the central nave and the presbytery there are two balconies, the one on the left occupied by the organ and the right one with the function of cantoria. The organ dates from 1841. It was designed by Giuseppe Vergani, inspired by 16th-century Renaissance models. The pipes, therefore, are placed in a large carved and gilded wooden retable, with two columns on the sides and in front of a fake apse with coffered vault.
On the side walls of the presbytery, leaning against the balconies, there are two large panels with frescoes by Giovanni Chiarini depicting the martyrs of the Saints Peter (Fig. 5) and Paul.

Below the presbytery there is the crypt (Fig. 4). Its dimensions coincide with those of the presbytery and it can be accessed through a staircase that starts from the sacristy. It is divided into three aisles with cross vaults separated by recycled columns (they are all slightly different from one another). The decorations of the vaults with stuccos and frescoes are from the seventeenth century. During the recent restorations of 2002 various devotional frescoes have come to light. Among them, in particular, a Veronica between San Cristoforo and a holy knight, from about 1520.
It is thought that originally the crypt was illuminated by windows now disappeared under the street level. This would mean that the church has undergone a process of partial burial of about one and a half meters.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Piazza Santo Stefano, 10, 20871 Vimercate MB
Further pictures of Church of Santo Stefano in the section Photography
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Central apse of the the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Frescoes of the fourteenth century on the ceiling of the sacristy of the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Stoning of St. Stephen in the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Heavenly vision of Saint Stephen in the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Facade of the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Veronica between San Cristoforo and a saint knight in the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Interior of the central apse of the the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Martyrdom of St. Paul in the Church of Santo Stefano
Vimercate (Monza e Brianza, Italy): Interior of the the Church of Santo Stefano