The beautiful Romanesque church of San Lorenzo is almost completely surrounded by other buildings. People taking a stroll along the Corso Cavour might very well pass by the church without noticing it. Only a Gothic gate topped by a statue of Saint Lawrence with his gridiron and a sign with the text Chiesa di San Lorenzo (sec. XII) betray the fact that there is a church dedicated to this saint adjoining this street. If you walk along the river Adige, you have a better view of the building. It then becomes clear that, apart from a bell-tower, the church also has two peculiar cylindrical staircase towers at the front. These towers give access to the galleries or matronaea above the aisles of the church. Remarkably, the two towers do not have spires, and they are not entirely identical either. One is for instance slightly bigger than the other.
In Antiquity the Corso Cavour was called the Via Postumia, which was a Roman road built as early as 148 BCE (see Verona: Remains of a Roman city). The site where we now find the San Lorenzo was located outside the city walls. According to an unproven theory, a Roman temple dedicated to the goddess Venus once stood here. We do not know when exactly the first Christian church was erected on this spot. It is possible that this church was built as early as the fifth century, and in any case a church stood here at the end of the eighth or beginning of the ninth century. As the sign outside the church indicates, the present church dates from the twelfth century. Its construction, in the Romanesque style, was completed around 1110 under bishop Arnolfo Zuffetto. The church was enlarged in the centuries that followed.
In the fifteenth century one Matteo Canato (died 1478) from Vicenza had important changes made to the building. Canato was the prior of San Lorenzo and also bishop of Tripoli in present-day Lebanon. He had the church provided with a barrel vault, which was unfortunately lost during the Second World War, when it collapsed as a result of Allied bombings. The prior also had the bell-tower of the church built or renovated. His family coat of arms can be seen in the tip of the marble Gothic gate on the Via Cavour, so that gate must also date from the fifteenth century. If you walk through the gate, you can take a side entrance and enter the San Lorenzo. Surrounding this entrance is a Renaissance-style vertical loggia or pròtiro, which was added after Canato’s death.
In the eighteenth century the interior of the church was thoroughly remodelled. It was renovated “nach dem damaligen Geschmack” [according to the tastes of the time], as one of my sources puts it. That no doubts means that Baroque elements were added. These are no longer visible, as between 1887 and 1898 the church was given back its original Romanesque interior. As was already mentioned, the church suffered badly during aerial bombardments on Verona in 1944 and 1945. Allied bombs destroyed the oratory that had been built north of the church in 1815. If you walk along the Adige, you can still see the building’s outer walls standing. This is a sad sight indeed.
Things to see
Although the San Lorenzo cannot boast of any works of art made by famous painters or sculptors, the interior of the church is simply splendid nonetheless. The alternating bands of red brick and white tuff create beautiful effects. Between the striped pillars we also discover a couple of classical columns, which may very well date back to Antiquity. The church is famous for its matronaea, which I already mentioned above. Matronaea are galleries above the aisles. These were intended for those who did not want to or were not allowed to attend mass in the nave below (probably not just women or ‘matrons’, but also sick people).
Most of the medieval frescoes in the church have unfortunately not been preserved. Traces of painted decorations can be found here and there, but these are not much to look at. In the central apse hangs the San Lorenzo altarpiece, which is a work of Domenico Brusasorzi (1516-1567). It dates from 1566 and represents Saint Lawrence among Saints John the Baptist and Augustinus, with a Madonna and Child above him. In the right apse we see the remains of medieval frescoes, but what really catches our eye is a painted wooden statue of Christ with blood dripping from a wound in his side. The statue is part of an altar retable that features a painted Crucifixion, or more specifically the various attributes that contributed to the Passion of the Saviour.
A final object of interest is the large tomb in the left aisle. The tomb is the final resting place of one Ludovico Nogarola, who was buried here with his two sons. It dates from the end of the fifteenth or beginning of the sixteenth century, so from the early Renaissance period. We do not know the name of the sculptor, but his work is not very sophisticated. The gisant (effigy) of the deceased looks very flat and the relief above it of God the Father surrounded by angels is a rather crude piece of work. To the right of the tomb we can still see a piece of fresco featuring a bearded saint.