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Caravaggio (Bergamo, Italy): Church of San Bernardino

Foto Church of San Bernardino
Foto Church of San Bernardino
Foto Church of San Bernardino
Foto Church of San Bernardino
Foto Church of San Bernardino
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Church of San BernardinoThe Church of San Bernardino, originally part of the Convent of San Bernardino, was built at the turn between the late Gothic and early Renaissance. The first prevails at the level of architecture, the second at the level of pictorial decoration.

HISTORY
The church was built starting in 1472 and consecrated in 1489. Church and convent were erected on land donated by the Secco family to the minor friars of San Bernardino.
The convent to which the church was annexed was suppressed in 1798 by decree of the Cisalpina Republic. However, they were saved by the fact of being purchased by Giuseppe Mariani, who left them in free use to the friars to whom they had belonged.
In 1859 the convent and the church were occupied by soldiers, French, Italians and Zouaves.
The convent was definitively suppressed by the new Italian state in 1866 and became a farmhouse and barracks, while the church continued to be used as a place of worship and managed to retain its original form. In 1970 the municipality of Caravaggio bought part of the structure and in 1978 the civil hospital, which owned the property at that time, donated the church to the municipality. The complex was then the subject of restoration and later used as a civic center and to house the municipal library and the naval museum dedicated to Ottorino Zibetti.

STRUCTURE
The building follows the traditional model of Franciscan construction, marked by simplicity and practicality.
Externally the church is extremely sober. The structure is entirely in exposed brick, with an asymmetrical facade (due to the presence of side chapels only on the left side) marked by three pillars, two of which delimit the main part. The façade is enriched by hanging arches that run under the roof line, by an oculus at the top in the center, above which the radiant sun, a Bernardinian symbol, is recognizable, by two large single-lancet windows very splayed on the sides, by the brick portal and by the small portico in front of it (an eighteenth-century addition). In the lunette of the portal there is a Renaissance Adoration of the Magi of Fermo Stella, unfortunately heavily retouched over the centuries.
The bell tower is located at the bottom, to the left of the presbytery. It, too, is in brick. Also in its case, there is the typical decoration with hanging arches under the roof line. The belfry has a single-lancet window with a pointed arch on each side.

Internally, the Church of San Bernardino is divided into two parts, both with a single nave, separated by a partition: the one originally intended for the people and the presbytery, reserved for religious.
The public part has a wooden ceiling decorated with 17th century motifs. Note, immediately under the roof, a band decorated with frescoes depicting vases and festoons.
The nave is dominated by the cycle of frescoes present on the wall that divides the two parts of the church and which covers a total area of almost eighty square meters. It was painted by the Caravaggio painter Fermo Stella in 1531 and is dedicated to the Passion of Christ. The large central panel depicts the Crucifixion. The two on the left depict the Last Supper and Jesus before Pilate, those on the right the Capture of Jesus and the Resurrection.
The eight Sibyls are depicted immediately on the sides of the wall, while eight Prophets are represented between the arches at the base of the wall.
Finally, on the pillars between the arches, there is an Ecce Homo on the left (attributed to Nicola Moietta), a Virgin Mary on the right, possibly completely repainted by Baruffi, the author of the angels in the second chapel.

There are five chapels: three lateral on the left wall and two at the front in correspondence with the structure that divides the two parts of the church.
The three side chapels have the same size and structure: they are rather deep and the bottom has a polygonal shape. Towards the nave they open through large pointed arches. Each has two large rectangular windows that ensure good lighting. The first, curiously, also has a third window, placed at the bottom on the side facing the facade.
First Chapel: It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was the first to be decorated. Of the frescoes on the left wall, only the Nativity in the lunette has remained clearly recognizable. The Adoration of the Magi and the Resurrection are practically lost. These frescoes are attributed to artists from the circle of Zenale and Butinone. On the right wall there are, instead, the Ascension, the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the Assumption. In this case the author is thought to have been close to Foppa or Bergognone. The rounds present in the sails of the vault depicting saints are attributed to the same artist.
The altar is surmounted by a retable with an architectural structure that normally houses an Immaculate Conception of the eighteenth century. In the photo on this page it is not present because at the time of the visit it was being restored.
Second Chapel: It is dedicated to St. Bartholomew and has been completed only in the upper part.
The whole is sparse and includes elements from different eras. The decoration of the vault is Renaissance and includes the depictions of the four Evangelists. Note that St. Matthew was painted by Nicola Moietta around 1530, the other three evangelists (together with one of the angels in the arch) by his son Vincenzo in 1576.
The bottom is occupied by an altar with a large richly decorated wooden retable from the Baroque period. In the niche in the center of it there is a large statue of St. Anthony of Padua from the eighteenth century.
Finally, the decorations on the side walls depicting drapery, festoons and cherub heads are fake baroque and were made during the 1944 restorations by Ferruccio Baruffi.
Third chapel: It is dedicated to St. Francis and is the one that most of all has undergone transformations over time. No trace remains of the primitive decorations. The scenes from the life of St. Francis are by the Treviglio-based painter Trento Longaretti (living) who painted the frescoes in 1944; ruined by infiltrations, the same painter was in charge of their detachment and restoration which began in conjunction with the recovery of the convent. The chapel houses the tomb of Alessandro Martinengo Colleoni (1603 - 1675).
Left front chapel: It houses an ancient crucifix (unfortunately altered with the addition of the beard during the restoration of the church in 1944). The landscape frescoed on the walls also dates back to 1944, in imitation of the really ancient one in the right front chapel.
Right front chapel: On its back wall there is one of the oldest frescoes present in the Church of San Bernardino, having been painted in 1506. It depicts, against the backdrop of a harsh landscape, the Virgin with Child between San Bernardino, a Saint Bishop and the client, and was probably built by Cristoforo Ferrari de Giuchis.

On the wall between the first and the second lateral chapel there is a fresco of the Virgin Mary between San Bernardino (to her right) and San Rocco. Under the painting the author and the date are indicated in the form of a band bearing a rebus inscription: Fermo Stella, 1500.
On the wall between the second and third chapel there is another fresco: St. Francis in glory. The work is not signed but is attributed to Nicola Moietta, a 16th-century Caravaggio painter.
The right wall is bare, apart from the presence of the pulpit, whose baldachin is connected to the base only in a simulated way, through a trompe l'oeil fresco.

Presbytery
The presbytery, or "church of the friars", is not visible on this page because it was being restored at the time of the visit. Unlike the public church, it retains the vaulted ceiling. The arch and apse are decorated with trompe l'oeil frescoes in Baroque style by the Galliari brothers who painted them in 1759. Two rounds depict on the right Saint Anne with the Child Mary, on the left Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus. In the background, the altarpiece depicting San Bernardino refusing the tiara that symbolizes episcopal dignity.
The baroque altar in polychrome marble joins the walls through two doors that give access to the choir.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value


Viale Giovanni XXIII, 24043 Caravaggio BG
Further pictures of Chiesa di San Bernardino in the section Photography
Caravaggio (Bergamo, Italy): Frescoed wall which devides in two the interior of the Church of San Bernardino
Caravaggio (Bergamo, Italy): Interior of the right frontal chapel of the Church of San Bernardino
Caravaggio (Bergamo, Italy): Fresco of the Virgin Mary between San Bernardino in the Church of San Bernardino
Caravaggio (Bergamo, Italy): Fresco of the Nativity in the Church of San Bernardino