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Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Basilica of St. John Baptist

Foto Basilica of St. John Baptist
Foto Basilica of St. John Baptist
Foto Basilica of St. John Baptist
Foto Basilica of St. John Baptist
Foto Basilica of St. John Baptist
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Places  of historical value  of artistic value around Milan (Italy): Basilica of St. John BaptistThe Basilica of St. John Baptist, dedicated to one of the patron saints of the city, is the largest church in Busto Arsizio. It is located in the city center, a few hundred meters from the Renaissance Sanctuary of Saint Mary at the Square. The interior of the basilica is marked by the work of Biagio Bellotti, painter, architect, organist, writer, choreographer and canon of Busto Arsizio born in 1714 and died in 1789.

On the site of the current basilica, it seems that a chapel dedicated to their patron saint was already present at the time of the Lombards. It was replaced in medieval times by a Romanesque church with a basilica structure. Between 1400 and 1418 the bell tower was added, the only part of this Romanesque building that has survived to us.
The current church was built between 1609 and 1635 because the Romanesque church had become too small. The work progressed slowly also due to the Manzoni plague of 1630.
This is the most complex monumental building among those designed by the Baroque architect Francesco Maria Richini (or Ricchino, Ricchini or even Righini), who was also responsible for the Church of San Giuseppe in Milan. He had to face the difficulty represented by the limited width of the area available, due to the presence of the bell tower to the south and the parish house to the north. The solution he identified consisted in the introduction of a second transept, with the bell tower that came to be between the right arms of the two transepts. In this way, moreover, he transformed the layout of the church into a double Greek cross, so as to also meet his preference for the central plan.
The decoration of the interior of the church was completed only between 1904 and 1923, with the addition of the pink grit and variegated marble on the walls and of the frescoes of the dome and a of large part of the roof.

As mentioned, the church is characterized by a double Greek cross plan with two transepts.
The bell tower, located between the right arms of the transepts, has a square plan and is entirely made of exposed brick. In purely Romanesque style, it presents on the external surfaces the typical division into rectangular frames decorated with hanging arches under the upper edge. The bell cell has a large mullioned window on each side. The conical cusp in exposed brick represents a stylistic element typical of Lombard architecture of the fifteenth century.
In 2008 the sundial on the side facing the street was restored.
The two-orders façade is imposing and scenographic and contrasts with the simplicity of the sides of the building. The lower order was built simultaneously with the church, the upper one only later, between 1699 and 1701. The lower order is marked by coupled Ionic pilasters and has a short porch with a richly decorated arched pediment. The copper and bronze doors are recent (Enrico Astori, 1908) and are decorated with bas-reliefs depicting scenes from the life of San Giovanni Battista. Between the central door and the side doors there are two niches containing the statues of Sant'Ambrogio and San Carlo. Above the three doors there are three bas-reliefs, depicting the announcement to Zacharias, the birth and the beheading of the Baptist. Finally, above the pediment of the porch are the allogoric statues of Faith and Charity. These decorations were made by Giovanni Pozzi between 1703 and 1705.
The upper order was built between 1699 and 1701 on a project by Domenico Valmagini and is centered on the large central oval window placed inside a frame that simulates plant festoons. At the apex there is a double pediment, with a smaller curvilinear one in front of a larger triangular one. On the sides of the central window there are two niches with the statues of St. Paul and St. Peter. At the apex of the facade there are five statues depicting four prophets and, in the center, St. John the Baptist.
On the right side, immediately behind the façade, there is the mortorium, a small temple with a complex and cultured architecture by an unknown artist and built between 1689 and 1692, aimed at reminding passers-by of the mystery of death by means of the display of the skulls, still visible today from Milano street. Inside there are paintings with angels and symbolisms on the Passion. The frescoes that were present on the outside, works by the brothers Ambrogio Gelli, Francesco and Biagio Bellotti and depicting the ages of man, the various aspects of death, virtue, purgatory and weeping angels, were removed in 1975 and moved inside the church of San Gregorio Magno in Camposanto. The top of the building is crowned with pinnacles and a dome with an octagonal base inscribed in an ellipse and crowned by a lantern ending in a pine cone.

Behind the mortorium there is, on a high pedestal, the statue of the blessed Giuliana designed in 1782 by Biagio Bellotti.

The interior of the basilica is characterized by the presence of the two transepts, so that the real structure of the building is not immediately perceptible, also in light of the fact that the side aisles are interrupted in the middle by the first transept and that at the intersections between side aisles and transepts the columns supporting the dividing arches between the naves give way to large pillars. Between the attachment of the pillars and columns and the roof of the central nave there is a thick and articulated entablature.
The roof includes both barrel vaults with lunettes and cross vaults. The lighting is ensured by large rectangular windows present in the lunettes of the vaults and by the counter-façade window, whose stained glass depicts the saint dedicatee.
The dome rests on a high drum whose internal face sees the alternation of rectangular windows placed inside rich baroque cornices and double pilasters with Corinthian capitals. In the middle of each pair of pilasters there are two putti in stucco, all different from each other.
The frescoes of the dome (Glorification of the Baptist), of the pendentives (Evangelists) and of the vaults (Blessed Giuliana and Blessed Bernhard, Immaculate Conception, The Eucharist and the Papacy) and of the minor transept (four prophets) are all works by Carlo Grossi and were made in the early twentieth century. On the other hand, the two frescoes in the left main transept depicting the Rest on the Flight into Egypt and the Nativity date back to the time of the construction of the basilica) and are attributed to Antonio Crespi Castoldi. The Via Crucis made up of large bronze panels placed on the walls rather high up are by Enrico Astorri (1908).
The counter-façade is dominated by the elaborate wind break of the central door, made by Biagio Bellotti between 1775 and 1776 in late rococò style.
Along the central nave of the church hang eight large paintings depicting the life of the Baptist and painted between the end of the seventeenth century and the beginning of the eighteenth century. The paintings are made by different painters. The works depict:

The announcement to Zacharias attributed to Carlo Preda
The birth of the Baptist by Donato Mazzolino
John the Baptist in the desert with the angels by an anonymous painter
Death of Elizabeth by Salvatore Bianchi
Sermon by John the Baptist by anonymous
Jesus and the apostles of Giovanni Battista by Carlo Preda
Beheading of the Baptist by an anonymous painter
Salome with the head of the Baptist also by Carlo Preda

The Basilica of St. John Baptist has a total of six side chapels:

  • Chapel of San Carlo Borromeo: It coincides with the right head of the minor transept (the first one upon entering) and is contemporary with the construction of the church. The canvases and frescoes depicting episodes in the life of the saint are by anonymous 17th century authors and are adorned with magnificent stuccoes. The altar has a frontal in scagliola by Pietro Solari dating back to 1722.

  • Chapel of the Relics: It coincides with the left head of the first transept and it too is contemporary with the construction of the basilica. It was initially dedicated to the apostles and to St. Francis. It contains wooden reliquaries and canvases depicting the Martyrdom of San Sabino, the Pardon of Assisi by Claudio Feria and a Virgin and Child (by Bernardino Lanino). Also in this case altar with frontal in scagliola by Pietro Solari from 1722.

  • Chapel of Sant'Ambrogio and of the Blessed Juliana: It was created in 1780 by Biagio Bellotti and contains a frame with the figures of Faith and Charity, an altarpiece depicting the Coronation of Blessed Juliana in the presence of St. Ambrose (one of the few Bellotti paintings depicting a landscape) and the tabernacle depicting the church showing the relics of the blessed.

  • Chapel of the Crucifix: It contains frescoes recently brought back to light by Francesco Maria Bianchi dating back to 1727, an eighteenth-century crucifix and the 1623 painting Dead Christ adored by San Domenico by Daniele Crespi.

  • St. Joseph's Chapel: It features a late neoclassical altar by Pietro Olgiati (1856) and two frescoes ( Miracle of St. John the Evangelist and Miracle of St. Ursula) from 1622 by Giovan Francesco Lampugnani.

  • Chapel of the Virgin: It contains a wooden statue of the Immaculate Conception by Ambrogio Moioli (1905).

The presbytery and the choir form a very deep space. The side walls consist of solid wood bulkheads at the bottom. The upper part is occupied on both sides by a wooden choir that houses a Mascioni pipe organ from 1912. The apse is occupied in the lower part by an eighteenth-century choir by Biagio Bellotti. The rest of the surfaces are occupied by frescoes painted by Biagio Bellotti between 1757 and 1765 in quadratures by Antonio Agrati. On the vault of the presbytery the Glory of San Sabino is depicted, in the apse basin the Paradise and on the wall of the apse The baptism of Jesus Christ in the waters of the Jordan.
Also the high altar is a work by Biagio Bellotti, built between 1755 and 1758 in polychrome marbles, a triumph of colors and abstract and naturalistic shapes, gilded bronzes, symbols linked to the Baptist and populated by cherubs and angels. Noteworthy is the monochrome door of the rear tabernacle, on which the Angel who awakens Elijah is represented. In 1753 the remains of San Sabino were placed in a showcase at the base of the altar. It should be noted that the altar facing the public, placed in front of the main one, is from 1967, although made in a style that allows it not to be out of tune.
The two pulpits placed at the entrance to the presbytery are from the eighteenth century.
The basilica has two sacristies. The old one is located to the right of the presbytery and was built together with the church. In it there are valuable hanging wardrobes and a Last Supper from the end of the sixteenth century by an unknown artist. The new sacristy was instead built by Biagio Bellotti between 1783 and 1786. It preserves a detached fresco from the beginning of the fifteenth century depicting the so-called Virgin of the Restegni, a San Giovanni Evangelista in Patmos from 1622, a Dead Christ by Giovan Francesco Lampugnani and various other seventeenth-century canvases.

Categories: Places of historical value of artistic value

Piazza S. Giovanni, 5, 21052 Busto Arsizio VA
Further pictures of Basilica of St. John Baptist in the section Photography
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Interior of the drum of the dome of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Central portal of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Choir of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Wall of the choir of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Sight from behind the main altar of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Retable of the altar of St. Ambrose and of the Blessed Juliana in the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Vault of the prebytery of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Internal internal wall of the of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Virgin of the Restegni in the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Chapel of the relics in the Basilica of St. John the Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Naves of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Presbytery and choir of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Vault of the first transept and interiors of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Bottom part of the interior of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Vault of the first transept of the Basilica of St. John Baptist
Busto Arsizio (Varese, Italy): Vault of the second transept of the Basilica of St. John Baptist