Vercelli: San Cristoforo

San Cristoforo.

It was the first church we visited in Vercelli: that of Saint Christopher, the “Christ-bearer”. The history of the church goes back to the middle of the twelfth century. The present church was, however, built in 1515. It was used by members of the order of the Humiliati, the “humble ones”. The origins of this order are not well known, but it seems to have originated in Lombardy. In 1239 the first members of the order settled in Florence as well (see Florence: Ognissanti). Humiliati were devoted to poverty, humility and hard work, their coat of arms showing the Lamb of God with the slogan “Humilitas vincit omnia”, “humility conquers all”. Initially the Humiliati were held in high regard, but in the sixteenth century their power and prestige suffered a sharp decline. The order was suppressed in 1571 by a Bull issued by Pope Pius V (1566-1572).

After the suppression of the Humiliati the church of San Cristoforo was first used by Jesuits and then, as of 1581, by Clerics Regular of Saint Paul, also known as Barnabites. In the second half of the eighteenth century the Barnabites were in their turn succeeded by Dominicans. Since 2004 the clergy of the archdiocese of Vercelli has been in charge. In terms of decorations the San Cristoforo has a balustrade from 1730 made by Filippo Juvarra (1678-1736) and ceiling frescoes from 1752-1756 painted by Francesco Maria Bianchi (1689-1757) and the brothers Giacomo Antonio and Antonio Francesco Giovannini. On the right side of the church we find a chapel with a seventeenth-century replica of the Holy House of Loreto, which according to tradition was the house in which the Virgin Mary had lived in the Holy Land (see Rome: San Salvatore in Lauro and the tomb of Pope Eugenius IV).

Madonna degli aranci – Gaudenzio Ferrari.

The principal reason for visiting this church are the splendid works of the painter Gaudenzio Ferrari (ca. 1475-1546), made in 1529-1534. One of these works is the altarpiece (oil on panel) that is known as La Madonna degli aranci, the Madonna of the Oranges. The name is certainly incorrect, as the panel depicts an apple tree. Of course the fact that the painting was wrongly named does not in any way diminish its beauty. The Madonna and Child have been depicted under the tree, flanked by Saints Christopher (with a long staff), John the Baptist (with a lamb), Joseph and Nicholas of Bari. The figures in white habits on the right are members of the Humiliati. In the painting we moreover see a great many putti, two of whom are at the feet of the Madonna making music. They can be seen playing the violin and the lute.

The other works by Gaudenzio Ferrari are to be found in the transept. See the Chapel of the Maddalena on the right and the Chapel of the Beata Vergine on the left. The former chapel has frescoes from 1531-1532 about the life of Saint Mary Magdalen, while the latter features frescoes from 1533-1534 about the life of the Virgin Mary. In the Chapel of the Beata Vergine we can admire four frescoes about the Birth of the Virgin, the Marriage of the Virgin, the Adoration of the Shepherds and the Adoration of the Magi. Between the lower two frescoes Ferrari painted two kneeling noblewomen in black dress, accompanied by Saints Catherine of Siena and Nicholas of Bari. In addition to the previous works Ferrari made an impressive fresco of the Crucifixion for the Chapel of the Maddalena and an equally beautiful fresco of the Assumption in the Chapel of the Beata Vergine. If you want to see all the details well, drop a coin in the machine that controls the lights in the church.

Chapel of the Beata Vergine.

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