With a structure that equals the Cathedral of Parma in size, San Francesco del Prato is preparing to become the protagonist of an authentic rebirth, thanks to a careful restoration that aims to make it one of the symbols of the chosen city "Italian Capital of Culture" for 2020. A series of events, under the motto" Liberiamo San Francesco del Prato ", aims to raise funds for the intervention and highlight the long and fascinating history of the complex. All promoted and coordinated by the "Committee for San Francesco del Prato", set up with the aim of promoting and supporting the restoration of the church and the reopening to the city and to worship, to musical, academic and cultural events. And last but not least, to the redelivery of this wonder to the Friars Minor Conventual, which 800 years ago built it.
Facade of the Church of San Francesco del Prato before restoration
The church was given in concession to the Diocese in February 2018, due to availability of the University. Thanks to the establishment of the Committee, it was possible to complete and update the original project. The construction site was opened on 3 September 2018 and is currently continuing according to the established plans, concentrating on the phase of structural consolidation and restoration of the precious facade. Funded by the Cariparma Foundation, the project, prepared by prof. Paolo Marconi, and approved by the Superintendency in 2004, has been revised and adapted to the current needs and regulations by the architect. Giorgio Della Longa (former collaborator of Prof. Marconi) who took care of the architectural design and who acts as supervisor. The seismic adjustment is instead the work of engineer Giovanni Cangi, designer and director of structural works.
Front of the Church of San Francesco del Prato after restoration
San Francesco del Prato has a troubled history, from the Napoleonic era until 1992, Chiesa was transformed into a prison. A hidden gem to which its immense historical and cultural value was finally recognized, thus leading to the development of a project for its complete restoration. The first phase of the work saw the elimination from the façade of the railings of the prison, which for over 200 years had disfigured, in several places, the sober architecture of the architectural complex. The Areaitalia agency, which deals with the fundraising communication campaign, wanted to give value to this "piece of history" making it the tangible symbol of the rebirth of the Church. Cases containing a section of prison grates were created. The supporting message of the campaign "Liberiamo San Francesco del Prato" is symbolically expressed precisely by these grating pieces, carefully cut at the joint and numbered one by one. Inside the casket, in addition to the grating of the prison we find a booklet that tells the story of the church with suggestive photos and Franciscan phrases and the certificate of authenticity that guarantees its provenance and uniqueness. A lanyard seals the package (reminiscent of the track that the friars wear) fixed with marked wax.
Finally, to allow the display of the reproduction of the prison window, two housings have been created with the processing paper cuts which allow it to be easily placed wherever one wants. The box was made with deliberately poor materials and with simple and elegant lines, a "green" package that reflects the Franciscan spirit. A project that respects the environment also in the choice of the external container and the packaging that does not contain plastic but only recycled paper. Made in limited numbers, these boxes will be delivered to those who have donated online and can receive a tangible sign of their contribution (sanfrancescodelprato.it). In Piazza Garibaldi in Parma there will be an important installation where they will be placed: one of the railings removed from the façade, a casket with the casket, some panels to learn more about the history of the Church and ways to contribute to popular fundraising. Crédit Agricole Italia will give visibility to the campaign itself, setting up the city branches with posters of "Liberiamo San Francesco del Prato" also placing communication totems with the casket, physically inserted in a display case. For informations, sanfrancescodelprato.it.
The restoration of the façade, which extends over approximately 600 square meters, will end between June and July 2019. Only on weekends, from mid-summer to completed, will it be possible to participate in a series of guided tours to learn and admire at better the façade, from the bottom to the top, with a first preparatory part dedicated to the illustration of the history of the church and a second one at high altitude. The visits from above will offer an exceptional opportunity to admire up close the large 16-spoke rose window and the refined decoration of the polychrome panels, but also to enjoy an extraordinary view of the historic center with an unprecedented view of the nearby cathedral. In this regard, an elevator will be set up to reach the rose window and an info point in the churchyard to receive all the necessary information regarding San Francesco del Prato. The visit will be open to groups of 10 people with online booking only. The fee of 10 euros per person will go entirely to support the restoration of the church.
Such a significant and suggestive project could not but receive due proof of esteem from the world of culture. Thanks to the partnership with the Teatro Regio Foundation, San Francesco del Prato will host the premiere of Luisa Miller, as part of the Festival Verdi 2019, directed by Lev Dodin, whose debut is scheduled for 28 September 2019 (replicas on the 5th, 12 and 19 October). The work will be set up during the restoration work, transforming the church-yard into a theater and offering a unique opportunity to watch the performance in a unique setting, of which even the scaffolding will be an integral part. But that of the exhibition that has in effect become an international lyric festival, capable of attracting a very numerous and heterogeneous audience every year, is just one of the many cultural initiatives that surround a construction site that promises twists and turns.
In 2019 the Tortellata of San Giovanni of June 23, the visit of Cardinal Ravasi of September 29 and the Transit of Saint Francis of October 3 are added to compose a calendar of events that gives new life to the stone of this giant for too long remained dormant . A committee of experts is also being trained which will have the role of curating a publication on the church and the preparation of an inherent exhibition. Finally, the concert by Massimo Quarta and Orchestra on music by Niccolò Paganini, with entry to pro-restoration free offer, still to be confirmed. From now until the end of 2019, the promotional or supporting events of the initiative will be flanked by the preparation of an itinerant and “green” informative gazebo. Volunteers will be available who will have the task of communicating updates on the status of the restoration and on how to donate.
Swifts are a species used to settle in the pontaia pits of ancient buildings. The intervention on the complex of San Francesco del Prato has created the conditions to save those present in the church structure, which has only 300 in the apse. At the suggestion of prof. Andrea Beseghi (Liceo Ulivi di Parma) and prof. Francesco Mezzatesta (Rondoni Group Italy) artificial nests were installed on the scaffolding site. These allow the swifts - authentic natural mosquito repellents and builders of nests too small for pigeons and other infesting birds - to return to nest even this season. These are the first experiments in Italy on an active site. Furthermore, the workers have devised a technical solution and designed an innovative framework to be inserted right in the aforementioned holes to allow nesting, once the work is completed.
Fundraising to date has reached 3.5 million euros, thanks to the intervention of the Cariparma Foundation, which has already made available 2 million euros, of the Crédit Agricole Italia Banking Group, Chiesi Family, Barilla, Faac and many others partner. Now we await the generosity of all those who care about the "rebirth" of the church.