Parma, the church of San Francesco del Prato is reborn. It will be reopened to the public and worship in December

Parma, the church of San Francesco del Prato is reborn. After more than two hundred years it will be reopened to the public and to worship.

The church of San Francesco del Prato in Parma is reborn, an important Gothic building that has long awaited the end of restoration, and for centuries hid many of its treasures from the view of visitors. The reopening of the church is among the most eagerly awaited news of Parma 2020 Italian Capital of Culture.

In 2019, San Francesco del Prato underwent major restoration works and was the site of cultural events that consecrated its rebirth, preparing its historic architecture for its reopening to the public and worship on December 8, 2020. This is also thanks to the Liberiamo San Francesco del Prato fundraiser, promoted by the Committee for San Francesco del Prato that involved the entire city.

The church, from the Napoleonic era until 1992, was turned into a prison, and has seen the beauty of its original facade re-emerge, thanks to the removal of the gratings that had defaced it for more than 200 years. The facade construction site was opened on September 3, 2018, and as of April 2019, fundraising had reached 3.5 million euros, thanks to the many donations and to Fondazione Cariparma, Crédit Agricole Italia Banking Group, Famiglia Chiesi, Barilla, Faac and other partners. In July 2019, the structural consolidation of the body of the former church and the restoration of the facade was completed. The 600 square meters of the facade were all freed from the grates, which became part of special caskets delivered to the participants of the fundraiser, who thus purchased a “piece of history” while contributing to the restoration of the work. The sign of the prison, particularly evident in the window grilles, remained in the side chapels, throughout the south side, bell tower and apses.

Special events and the enhancement of its historical and artistic heritage were also organized to mark the liberation of San Francesco del Prato. From Sept. 15 to Nov. 3, 2019, over 8 weekends, more than 2,400 people took part in guided tours at high altitude, admiring the church from an unprecedented perspective, with the privilege of taking a close look at the 16-beam rose window created by Alberto da Verona in 1462 with its large polychrome terracotta frame, and opening their gaze to the city from above, thanks to the contribution of 50 volunteer guides. More guided tours are planned and will take place from the period after Easter 2020 until July 19.

Already, other events have been held in the church: for example, some events of the Verdi Festival, three extraordinary concerts for the exhibition The Sound of Beauty, which were held with the support of Opem and Suite 152 (in collaboration with Teatro Regio), and with their proceeds contributed to the restoration work. (On Oct. 7 Fabrizio Bosso’s Spiritual Trio performed with a tribute to black music; on Oct. 14 violinist Massimo Quarta and the Orchestra I Musici di Parma, conducted by Vassili Christopoulos with music by Ludwig van Beethoven; and on Oct. 15 the Parma Trio on the notes of Robert Schumann, Antonín Dvorák and Johannes Brahms). And again, from Sept. 27 to Oct. 27, San Francesco del Prato was the site of a stop on the Biosphera Project tour to emphasize green innovations and issues in the field of architecture: an itinerant and energy-independent housing unit, designed according to the principles of biophilia, was installed in Piazzale San Francesco, with the aim of bringing well-being and regenerating the body and mind of the inhabitants.

During the restoration work, fragments of 15th-century frescoes then re-emerged under the plaster of the central apse, as we have already reported on these pages. These are works that reveal a starry sky, gold leaves that corollary the figure of Christ Pantocrator, the face and representation of St. Ursula, a 16th-century putto, and the head of a pope. To restore the keystone Christ, Crédit Agricole Italia has activated a fundraiser on its crowdfunding platform, which has the Cariparma Foundation as a partner, which will donate an amount equal to the total amount raised (up to a maximum of 50 percent of the final target amount). One can still contribute to the rebirth of the Church of San Francesco del Prato, a heritage of all, by making a contribution on the website by credit card or bank transfer. Depending on the amount of the offering, in addition to being on the donor registry, an object or activity will be offered as a token of thanks (from 10 euros: a visit up to the rose window; from 30 euros: an eco-friendly gadget; from 50 euros: a terracotta tile depicting the lion or gazelle surrounding the façade’s rose window; from 200 euros: a box containing a section of one of the façade’s grilles numbered one by one, a certificate of authenticity, and a booklet with the history of the church-prison).

It is still possible to support the project through a free disbursement, benefiting from the Art Bonus, which allows a tax recovery of 65 percent, over three years, of the amount donated by both citizens and businesses: transfers should be made out to the Diocese of Parma (IBAN IT02N06230127000038406827 c/o Crédit Agricole Italia, reason for Art Bonus - Diocese of Parma - San Francesco del Prato - Parma).

Pictured is the facade of the church before restoration.

Parma, the church of San Francesco del Prato is reborn. It will be reopened to the public and worship in December
Parma, the church of San Francesco del Prato is reborn. It will be reopened to the public and worship in December

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