The Capuchin Church

Of all the minor churches in our city, the one dedicated to St Francis of Assisi, and better known as the Church of the Capuchins, named after the friars who looked after it for a couple of centuries, is probably the most prestigious in terms of historical, artistic and religious interest. Not only that. But it is also the most fortunate and privileged in that it is the only one that for several decades has had the presence of a priest who ensures the almost daily performance of the ritual liturgical celebrations. This has contributed to making this place of worship better and better known, which has now become a pulsating centre of religious life and a reference point for the inhabitants of the neighbourhood, but also for those who love silence and prayer. It was Francesco Gonzaga, considered with his brother St. Luigi among the greats of the powerful noble family that governed the fief of Castiglione, who wanted this church, which he had built at his own expense together with an adjoining dignified convent.

Work began in 1608 and was completed within a couple of years. So much so that the date of the official inauguration is recorded as 1610. So the church, which the founder wanted to be dedicated to the Assisi saint of the same name, is close to celebrating the fourth centenary of its life, marked by ups and downs, from moments of decline and decay to others of rebirth and prosperity. Its topographical position is characteristic. In fact, it is built on the top of a hill, which is reached via a short steep slope, paved in cobblestones, with a flight of steps at its side, equipped with a support handle, to facilitate the ascent even for the elderly. Of rigorous Franciscan simplicity is the architectural style of the sacred building, designed by Father Francesco da Cornegliano, a Capuchin friar, author of other important works at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. In fact, the façade is without significant ornamental elements, highlighting an original semicircular rose window and a recently made mosaic with Franciscan symbols and slogans. The interior, with a single nave with ribbed vaulting and a chapel on the left side, is also characterised by purity and sobriety of architectural lines. Upon entering the church, two splendid and massive wooden altars, finely and artistically crafted, different in stylistic structure, undoubtedly the work of skilled local cabinet-makers, immediately catch the eye.

The presbytery altar, raised above the floor of the nave, frames a 17th-century altarpiece by an unknown artist depicting the saint of Assisi, portrayed standing in a blessing attitude with his right hand and holding the rule in his left arm. His face appears aristocratic and severe, and there are those who believe that the portrait of Francesco Gonzaga himself is hidden beneath that face. In the chapel to the side is the second magnificent altar, at the centre of which in a large niche is an artistic reliquary worked in embossed silver containing the miraculous image of the Madonna del Noce. It is a wooden sculpture made by a 'divine hand' representing the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus in her arms.