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San Fermo
San Fermo Maggiore
Via Dogana

There may have been a church at this site as early as the 6th century, built on the site of Saints Fermo and Rustico's torture and martyrdom in 304. In 765 Saint Annone, the bishop of Verona, acquired the saints remains from Trieste, after the payment of a ransom, and placed them in this early Christian church in a lead sarcophagus in the confessional. (They had initially been buried in Carthage.) From 1065 to 1143 Benedictine monks demolished the old church and built the current split Romanesque structure - the earlier lower church to house the relics and the later upper for services. The lower church would not originally been underground, as it is now.
Franciscans occupying the small church of San Francesco al Corso and in need of larger premises petitioned Pope Innocent IV to allow them to move into San Fermo. He agreed and evicted the six remaining Benedictine monks on 10 May 1249. They argued and resisted until 1260, and so it wasn't until 1261 that the
complex passed to the Franciscans. They transformed the upper church, rebuilding it in Gothic style, removing  the atrium and the nave columns to create an aisleless nave more in keeping with their preaching needs and in layout similar to their mother church in Assisi, which is also a double basilica. This interior work which was completed in 1350, resulting in cycles of narrative paintings on nearly all the walls.
The following centuries saw the addition of chapels, altars and monuments. In 1759 the remains of the martyrs were moved in their sarcophagus to the upper church, to protect them from floods. In 1807 the Franciscans were ejected by Napoleon and much of the complex was put to State use, with the church passing to parish use. In 1909 buildings that concealed the east-end chapels were removed and the lower church was opened in 1946 for services. It is still used for services during the winter. Bombing during WWII destroyed the cloisters but left the church largely undamaged.

Characteristic brick and marble striped Romanesque fašade with a more gothic lower section. To the left of the main door is the 1350 tomb of Avantino Fracastoro, physician to the della Scallas who died in 1368. The damaged and fragmentary frescoes from the tomb,  of the 1380s, depicting The Coronation of the Virgin were detached in 1958 and taken to the Castelvecchio, along with their sinopie. They are attributed to the bottega di Altichiero. The main door has 24 bronze panels showing the lives of Saints Fermo and Rustico made by Luciano Minguzzi in 1997. The door to the street is 14th century and framed with polychrome marble.

Inside a large aisleless Franciscan space there's a mixture of styles of chapel and layers of frescoes from the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, but the latter looking overall vivider than elsewhere. The impressive five-lobed ship's-hull ceiling of 1314 (later than San Zeno's) was painted with around 416 saints from 1310-1350. The design of vegetation spirals below the ceiling level has the same date.
The (Nicol˛) Brenzoni Monument
of 1426, on your left as you enter the west door, combines sculpture of The Resurrection by Nanni di Bartolo, a Florentine pupil of Donatello, with a fresco of The Annunciation by Pisanello. The sculptural elements would originally have been painted and decorated with gold leaf, and so would have merged more impressively with Pisanello's painting. His work consists of many layers - the true fresco base is overpainted a secco with pigments which couldn't be used in true fresco, and there are gold molded pastiglie stars nailed on. This is his earliest surviving work, but already features his signature wildlife. The painted figures of two more archangels,  Saints Raphael and Michael, in fictive niches above are also by him. Only three examples of Pisanello's fresco work survive, and two are in Verona, his mother's birthplace - the other being at Sant'Anastasia - whilst his work in Mantua in the Ducal Palace is very damaged. The framing cornice of red Verona limestone has also been gilded and painted.
Opposite, and further down the church, the pulpit of white marble and red Verona limestone (1396) is by Antonio da Mestre with framing frescoes by Martino da Verona depicting Evangelists, Doctors of the Church, Prophets and Learned Men of Antiquity. The altar to the right of the pulpit is 16th-century came here from the church of Santissima TrinitÓ in 1913.
Over the side door (and the main door) are 14th century frescoed Crucifixions, of different scales, by Turone di Maxio, who looks to have been an admirer of Giotto - the one over the side door has formerly been ascribed to Cimabue and Giotto. The frescoes on this side are relatively recent discoveries.
The chapel of the Immaculate Conception, just beyond the side door, contains a fine altarpiece by Giovan Francesco Caroto of the Virgin and Child and Saint Anne in Glory with Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Roch and Sebastian of 1528.
Opposite this chapel is the Capella San Bernardo. Faving you as you enter is an altar of 1570 brought from the church of San Fermo al Ponte in 1809, with an 18th century altarpiece by Antonio Elenetti  depicting The Virgin and Child with Saints Fermo and Rustico. The chapel also contains the early-15th-century wall tomb of Barnaba da Morano by Antonio da Mestre, originally placed on the interior wall of the fašade. Three panels of fresco by Martino da Verona that originally decorated the tomb by Martino da Verona were brought here too, in 1958.
The apse is enclosed by a semi-circular screen of 1523. Fine frescoing in the apse vault and on the surrounding arch is by an unknown artist dubbed the Maestro del Redentore. They were formerly attributed to Giotto, of course, and later Pisanello. One of the donors, Guglielmo da Castelbarco, can be seen on the right clutching a representation of the church. He it was who also did much for Sant'Anastasia, and whose famous tomb is outside the church, over the gate to the left of the main entrance. Opposite is a matching portrait of Fra Daniele Gusmmerio, the other founder/donor. Beneath these are a pair of scenes by Domenico Veneziano - a very damaged Coronation of the Virgin and an Adoration of the Magi.
To the left of the apse is the Chapel of Saint Anthony where 14th century frescoes, once covered by whitewash, and later canvases and panels can still be seen, as the panels have been made to open out and fold away (see right). These Franciscan frescoes include a very Giottesque Crucifixion.
To the right of the apse is a chapel containing a fine Crucifixion by Domenico Brucasorci.
In the right transept is the Alighieri Chapel, the resting place of the last descendents of Dante, erected by Francesco, the end of the male line, his daughter marrying into the Veronese Serego family.
Leaving via the entrance doorway in the right transept back down the staircase also allows access to the Benedictine Lower Church, and we are talking church - this does not feel like merely a crypt. Three rows of square columns and pillars, support the high ceiling and there are tantalisingly faded earlier (13th century) frescos. There are seventy frescoes, mostly saints on the square pillars, and much decorative use of red lines and six-petalled flowers (see right), found during restoration in 2005. The latter are ancient sacred symbols, called Flowers of Life, and are said here to be symbolic of Christ's resurrection. The penultimate column in the right aisle has an inscription which gives us the date of the start of building as 1065.

Romeo and Juliet connection
According to Shakespeare's play and the original story by Matteo Bandello the Lower Church  is where Romeo and Juliet died.

Begun by the Benedictines but not completed until the 13th century.

Lost art
A still partially-polychromed statue of Saint Martha, a Saint John the Baptist and a Swooning Virgin Mary, all three by the Master of Sant'Anastasia from the first half of the 14th century are in the Castelvecchio.
Painted for Altabella Avogaro Dal Bavo, the Virgin and Child with Saints Onuphrius, Jerome, Donato and Christopher, known as the Dal Bavo Altarpiece 1484 by Francesco Bonsignori, which was in the family chapel here, has been in the Castelvecchio since 1881.
A Nativity with Saint Jerome  by Liberale da Verona, once in the second sacristy here, is now in the Castelvecchio.
Veronese's first altarpiece, a Virgin and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Louis and two donors (the Bevilacqua Lazise Altarpiece, see right) painted when he was 18, hung in a chapel here commissioned in 1544 by Lucrezia Malespina in memory of her husband Giovanni Bevilacqua Lazise, the donors depicted, but was transferred to the Castelvecchio in 1865 following the demolition of the chapel.
The sculptor Andrea Riccio from Padua made a tomb for Girolamo della Torre and his son Marcantonio, two physician-professors, in this church between 1516 and 1521. Its eight bronze reliefs of pagan scenes are now in the Louvre.

Opening times

Monday-Saturday 10.00 - 6.00

Sunday and holidays: 1.00 - 6.00
(November-February the closing time is 17.00 and the church closes 13.00-13.30)

One of the four churches run by Associazione Chiese Vive

who in January 2023 published a new guidebook for this church, in Italian, English, French and German.



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