Next to the Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso dei Miracoli is the church of San Francesco.
According to tradition, it was the Ubaldini da ripa who donated the church of Sant’Andrea (church before the present one) and the adjacent Franciscan convent, as a testimony of their devotion to the Saint, following a visit to Borgo.
During the XIII century the convent community grew and moreover the convent of Borgo was object of numerous legacies and donations. Thanks to these donations he could begin the construction of the new and larger conventual church, that is the current one. The church of San Francesco probably dates back to the second half of the 13th century. Around 1270 a school of theology and philosophy was opened inside the church of San Francesco. Over the centuries, the convent was enlarged and underwent various restoration interventions.
In the eighteenth century new rooms were added on the northern side, a new staircase leading to the presbytery and new altars of stone that led to the loss of fourteenth-century frescoes. In the church over time there were various confraternities, Battuti, De Neri, Corpus Domini, Martiri, San Sebastiano. Religious life ended in 1808, when the convent was suppressed by the Napoleonic government, the friars were removed and the whole complex, almost completely stripped of its assets, was bought by the Marquises Negrotto Cambiaso.
With the suppression of the Napoleonic government began a long period of disuse and degradation. The eighteenth-century altars are brought elsewhere. In 1919, following an earthquake, the bell tower, from the typical tower form of the eleventh century, collapses on the apse, causing the roof to collapse and its remains are demolished.
The first restoration works were carried out in 1944 by British troops and in 1959 with the reconstruction of the roof but the state of abandonment ends thanks to the owners who carried out the complete recovery of the building.
Eighteenth-century aspect of the church of San Francesco
The eighteenth-century aspect of the church can however be reconstructed through the description made by Valentino Felice Mannucci: the façade had a long porch with columns, while inside the church was furnished with eleven altars, five on one side and six on the other. Immediately to the right of the door, on the counter-façade there is an altar with a painting depicting the Madonna del Carmine and on the same side there is a fresco. Below is an altar made entirely of stuccos with a canvas table depicting the mystery. Then there is the altar of San Francesco with a canvas table depicting the Saint. Also on the right side is the altar of Santa Chiara and Santa Rosa. In the presbytery, there was a fresco with the Annunciation. On the left side of the door, on the counter-façade, there was the altar of the Holy Conception. Then there was an altar with a painting of San Sebastiano and San Rocco and, later, the altar of Saint Anthony. Behind this altar is the old chapel of the family from Rabatta built in 1456. The next altar is dedicated to San Bonaventura and San Giuseppe. Next to the high altar there was the one dedicated to the invention of the Cross, also furnished with a painting. Finally we reach the main chapel, named after the Santissimo Crocifisso, patronage of the Pecori family. Interesting is also the indication of the presence of a balustrade with columns, probably desired by the friar Father Antonio Pinelli, long guardian of the convent. The floor of the church is also equipped with several tombstones.
Of all that Mannucci saw in church, almost nothing is preserved. It should be noted that the church was almost completely devoid of frescoes, in particular, there is no trace of those fourteenth-century frescoes currently present in the church that were probably covered by the altars.
The church, which has a main facade, in small stone quarry drafts, is a gable and the entrance, which still preserves the original fourteenth-century door, made of solid oak, is surmounted by an ogival lunette with a large single lancet window, of Gothic style, inside which there was a fresco probably dating to the sixteenth century depicting the Madonna and Child. On the left you can see the small and elegant facade of the seventeenth-century chapel dedicated to San Sebastiano. On the opposite side, next to the façade, one can see an ogival door that constituted the original entrance to the convent. The loggia with columns that ran along the four sides of the cloister was knocked down during the numerous works.
The interior, with a single nave covered with wooden trusses, ends with a well-defined tribune with a pointed arch and covered by a cross vault with four ribbed sails. The structure is built entirely of brick, a material that gives the whole environment a warm, pinkish warmth.
On the right side, where a small door hides the ladder leading to the small pulpit whose base is very well preserved and restored. On the opposite wall, the one on the left side leads to an oratory.
Just beyond the pulpit there is the large (currently buffered) door that connected the church with the cloister of the convent and which shows a splendid arch in laterazio. Near the main entrance are the remains of what was supposed to be the original pictorial decoration of the walls.
In various parts of the church of San Francesco you can admire frescoes that have been irreparably damaged by time but carefully restored during the church’s restoration work.
On the floor there are some burials, the most significant of which, placed at the center of the nave, in front of the steps to the large presbytery, is made up of an interesting tombstone of the family Da Rabatta, with inscription in Gothic characters bearing the date 1424. On the left wall you can see the archway to the chapel of San Sebastiano, next to which there is the entrance to a second chapel, that of the local family of the Da Rabatta. It is a jewel of fifteenth-century architecture, even if unfortunately it did not reach us completely.
On the back wall there emerged a remarkable fresco depicting the Madonna col Bambino tra due Angeli e i Santi Antonio Abate e Lorenzo, respectively referring to the name of the commissioner Antonio da Rabatta, and the holy owner of the village.
In the cloister adjacent to the church of San Francesco, in the center of which is the octagonal ring of a nineteenth-century well and overlooks what was the convent. Even today there is the chapter room of which some supporting structures remain awaiting restoration.
Frescoes and works of art
The church in the past possessed numerous works of art that had been lost over the centuries including a crystal cross containing a piece of wood from the Santa Croce, donated, according to tradition, by Count Ugo degli Ubaldini. The cross is identifiable with that possessed by the Santuario del Santissimo Crocifisso dei Miracoli, which perhaps came after the Napoleonic suppressions: on that occasion, in fact, the friars, in an attempt to steal the precious relic from the requisitions and hoping to get it back later, they may have delivered the stauroteca to the nearby company de ‘Neri, which will then remain due to the lack of reconstruction of the convent community.
We must remember the recent identification of the large altarpiece painting “San Francesco che riceve le Stimmate“, restored in 1603 by Giovanni di Pietro dei Pelliccioni, attributed first to Giotto but recently attributed to Taddeo Gaddi, his most illustrious pupil, a time placed on the main altar of the church, brought in 1929 in America and exhibited in the Fogg Museum of Cambridge.