Culture by Nature

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Church of Saint Mary of Luzzara


The Church of Saint Mary of Luzzara definitely deserves a visit; you can find it along the road from Gozzano to San Maurizio d’Opaglio.

The building, dedicated to the Nativity of Mary, is located to the right and a bit lower than the road, surrounded by grass and dirt paths. At first glance the church appears truly ancient, an artifact of the Romanesque era (eleventh or twelfth century); in reality, however, its true age remains unknown – it may be have been constructed more recently than it appears. The church does, however, have an inscription in a 1114 document under the name Luciaria. The three small apses in the east end of the simple square room are very charming. The gabled façade represents the only entrance to the central area with two rectangular windows to the sides; an unusual sailing bell tower rises from the granite tiled roof that covers the building. Although a second, more highly functional entrance was planned along the side, the sacristy was added there instead. The church is home to a rich series of frescoes, mostly dating back to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although some of their images have unfortunately faded significantly with time.

The frescoes in the façade were painted by Francesco Cagnola, who was a member of one of the most well-known workshops in Novara in the fifteenth century: on the left hangs a magnificent Saint Christopher in the triptych of Saint Anthony the Great, Saint Roch, and Saint Julius; on the right the figure of the Madonna with Child can be made out among Saints Anthony and Roch, the Blessed Panacea, Saint Clare, Saint Francis, Saint Mary Magdelene, and a devoted follower on his knees. At the center, inside the lunette, an Annunciation is legible. All the frescoes appear to be particularly damaged by atmospheric agents.

Inside we find a single rectangular room framed by two transverse arches that end in three joined apses, responsible for bestowing the epithet Saint Mary of the Chapels to the church. This central room is larger than the other two. The only external decorative patters on the three apses are their mullioned windows, now partially walled up. This area is definitely a distinctive feature because not many churches have single rooms that end in three joined apses.

Recent restorations signpost the beautiful frescoes that decorate the inside of the church.
The first of these frescoes is Cagnola’s intense Crucifixion, painted on the bottom wall, above the apses. In its scene you can admire the scenographic complexity rendered by the artist and developed on three registers: the dramatic figure of the bloody Christ surrounded by seraphs shines from high up. A dove appears to rise up at the upper end, symbolizing the Holy Spirit. In the most animated central area, the two thieves and the Roman guards are withdrawn, depicted on foot or horseback and characterized by the banner with the evil symbol of the scorpion. Finally Saint Anthony the Great, with a piglet – his traditional symbol – at his feet, is weaved in to the left of the crucifix at the bottom of the image, together with the three Marys, with the Virgin fainting, devastated by pain, and Mary Magdalene hugging the cross and kissing Christ’s feet. To the right we find a white-haired, haloed man who is well dressed, mostly likely Joseph of Arimatea, and the young Saint John the Evangelist next to the figure of Nicholas (identified by the pliers he holds in his hangs). To the very left you can spot Saint Julius and Saint Bove, recognizable because of the ox depicted on the banner that the Saint holds.
The same three-part structure portrays the complex episode of the Coronation and Assumption of the Virgin. These are only partial images, with gaps in the middle and on the right side, but with some parts have been preserved and are very valuable today. You can see the Madonna’s empty tomb in the lower area, surrounded by the Apostles who have turned their gazes upward; among them we recognize Saint Peter, Saint Matthew, and Saint Thomas who, according to tradition, holds the girdle that the Virgin drops from the sky as a testament to her assumption. The Apostles are depicted with serene-looking faces, seeming to be in either prayerful or bewildered moods. Presented in a large central image and surrounded by musical angels, the Madonna prays as God accepts her into Heaven. The Virgin appears completely absorbed in the moment, already steeped in a reality beyond that of our earth; the angels are playful while the apostles and adoring saints are composed and self-controlled. Finally, at the top God is encircled by seraphs as he places the crown on Mary’s head. Unfortunately God’s head has vanished; the only parts of his image that remain are some white hair and the damask sleeve of his clothing.

This representation of the Assumption exhibits exquisite workmanship and composition: the artist managed to cleanly structure the elaborate scene with its many figures introduced in niches without making it feel cluttered at all. A devoted follower sits at the feet of Our Lady of Mercy; this depiction includes large neutral zones where the plaster has fallen. The scene, however, is still quite clear. The frescoes in the apses have been less well preserved: a Madonna among three angels and the Apostolic Saints hangs on the left, while to the right you can find a representation of the Madonna with Children. You can also see a depiction of the mystic marriage of Saint Catherine.

Closed but open to visitors upon request.

Further Information

Church of Saint Mary of Luzzara
Tel. +39 0322 913981