Barga’s Chiesa Del Santissimo Crocifisso (church of the most Holy Crucifix) is the second oldest church in the town after the Duomo. It was originally a chapel of prayer founded in the 13th century. In the 16th century the church became the headquarters of the Society of the Crucifix who enlarged it considerably and added some quite sumptuous ornamentation.
Today the building consists of a nave and two aisles with barrel vaults. The exterior has a sober and dignified appearance:
The interior, however, is quite another matter in its exuberant decoration.
The prize piece here is the altarpiece dating from 1646 and which has only recently been shown (after the discovery of his signature) to be the work of Francesco Santini di Cerreto.
There’s also a wooden crucifix dating from the 15th century and several paintings of the Tuscan school dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
There are few churches in our part of the world with woodwork of such a high standard. It’s truly worth talking a look at this building which stands in the shadow of the Duomo but which in my opinion is of considerable worth.
Who was Francesco Santini?
Santini was born in Cerreto which is just above Borgo a Mozzano and there is news of him from 1640 to 1660. He came from a family of highly regarded carvers in the area. Santini’s first work is a wooden altar, dating from 1642, in the monastery church of San Francesco in Borgo a Mozzano. It’s the first altar you see on the right entering the church and was commissioned by the Society of the Immaculate Conception. I have always been taken by this altar. Its superb carving of the serpentine columns, unadorned by any overlying paint, reminds me somewhat of England’s own marvellous Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).
In 1661 came the altar of Borgo a Mozzano’s main church, San Jacopo. Here the play of scrolls and assured architectural features shows the sculptor at his most mature.
Francesco Santini is a good example of an exceptional artist born into a thriving craft tradition. Much in the same way as other creators spring from a family tradition, (a great example is the number of musicians in the Bach family), he was just one of many other Santinis who carried on what they considered a craft but what many of us today would consider an art. A later Santini, for example, Alessandro created the altar of another of Barga’s churches, San Rocco.
At least we are able to give names to the Santinis. I wonder how many other great artistic works lie in our territory with their creator’s name remaining unknown!
There’s a very useful web site at http://sacrumluce.sns.it/mv/html/sacrumluce.html which you can investigate for more religious treasures in our area. My own photographs date from November 2006.