Italy is so full of riches that just one church in a provincial centre could require several posts dedicated to it. Piazza San Rocco in Borgo a Mozzano is easily missed unless one is going to the library, now re-housed in the splendid palazzo Santini on the south side of the square.
Closing the piazza is the parish church of san Rocco, a saint better known as Saint Roche in France and the UK and the patron saint of plague and pestilence victims.
San Rocco, patron saint of illnesses, became one of the most popular saints of all time and still has a devoted following today, especially among those afflicted by rare conditions. According to tradition, Saint Roche had a very eventful life, eventually dying in a prison around 1380. He, too, fell a victim while healing the sick and had to retire to a cave since his plague sores were beginning to make him stink unpleasantly. The only companion he found was a dog who would steal bread from his own master’s table to bring it to Saint Roche. This delightful animal story is represented in many statues depicting the saint and in banners celebrating him. Here’s the banner and statue in the Borgo church:
Fortunately, occurrences like the Black Death have been wiped out (I hope) in the west so there is less need to invoke Saint Roche. However, the beauty of this secondary church in an easily by-passed square in an easily by-passed town needs to be savoured and appreciated.
In 1527 a chapel was built over the site of Saint Sebastian’s oratory by members of the confraternity of San Rocco in Cerreto (the village overlooking Borgo a Mozzano) and dedicated to San Rocco and Saint Sebastian. The chapel was expanded into a church between 1607 and 1627. San Rocco e San Sebastiano was consecrated on the third of July, 1746. The present church dates largely from between 1760 and 1791 when the choir and apse were enlarged.
The classical façade is both dignified and elegant, looking out onto the square which was formed by the demolition of some houses.
Above the entrance there’s a round marble bas-relief depicting Saint Roche.
The construction of the campanile in 1690 made the church rather unstable and it has had to be stabilised and reinforced by iron chains.
San Rocco’s interior is aisle-less and in the form of a Latin cross. It has six altars. The four before the transept are decorated in stucco and were built by Giovanni Battista Lazzari, Sebastiano Lippi and Giovanni Maria Michelacci.
The four side altars are dedicated to Saint Anne, the Crucifix, the Virign of Sorrows, and Saint Gregory, respectively:.
Of particular interest in the apse are the three rare frescoes by neo-classical Luccan artist Luigi Ademollo who worked at the beginning of the nineteenth century. They represent the Centurion, the Redeemer and Baptist and the distribution of the loaves.
For me one of the major delights in the church is the decoration of the organ (by Nicomede Agati) balcony depicting musical instruments including the violin and a viola da gamba, showing that this instrument was still very much in vogue in the eighteenth century. Who knows, perhaps music-making in the organ loft was once enriched by orchestral instruments in a manner similar to that described in Dorset by Thomas Hardy in his ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’.
I hope Borgo appoints organists who don’t suffer from vertigo!
The church doesn’t stop at ‘old art’: the recent stained glass windows illustrating the four evangelists are superb:
There are many other points of interest in this church:
It’s so easy to get blasé about the lovely things which particularly abound in Italy. Often one has to see familiar places with new eyes to really relish them.