|The Franciscan presence
The Franciscan order was born in 1209; it was confirmed by the Pope Onorio 3rd in 1223. In a few decades it spread prodigiously all over Europe and all over the districts of Italy.
In 1230, in the general Chapter, the Franciscan Abruzzo became a self-governing province, taking on the name of “Province of Penne”. The Friars arrived in Lanciano in the 1240s – 1250s and they were liking welcome. They were guests of the archpriest. They were living in a precarious way and cooperated humbly with the clergy of the town.
They wanted to settle in Lanciano and they made a proposal to the archpriest: they would like to build a church by their own. Their purpose was to devote it to Saint Francesco and to set up a chapel, in order to keep the very precious Eucharist Treasure of the Holy Relics. They wanted to pay omage to the instructions of the church, contained in a letter written by Saint Francesco and addressed to every clergyman: "Wherever the Holy Body of our Lord Jesus Christ will be left without decorum or dignity, it will be removed, placed and kept in a precious place".
The archpriest was in favour of the new election of the bishop of Chieti, whose name was Landolfo Caracciolo, a great esteemer of the Minor Conventual Friars. He was writing a letter of concession of St. Legonziano’s church, from Perugina. It was addressed to the friars of the poor man from Assisi, on the third of April, in 1252.
Later, in order not to revoke the gift, he asked and obtained the ratification by the Pope Innocenzo IV. The Pope, while giving his “grateful approval ” to all that the bishop Landolfo had “carefully” granted, confirmed, "with the apostolic authority, the perpetual grant to the Minor Friars (on the 20th April 1252), by St. Legonziano’s church".
Saint Francesco's Church
Started in 1252 and finished in 1258, in a Gothic style, this church was built in a "higher, adjacent area" to the one of St. Legonziano. The church is one of the first convents born in Abruzzo. The rectangular façade has got some square stones and it’s a wonderful example of the simple and solemn architecture, typical of the French Borgogna origins.
The upper part of the façade has been rebuilt, owing to a bad earthquake, in the first half of the eighteenth century. They used some stones coming from different countries and some materials taken from St. Angelo’s chapel (it was said of the Lombardi’s), which was inside the church.
The works, carried out in order to adapt the sanctuary to the aesthetic canons of the baroque style, were finished in the period between 1730 and 1745. They have given us the present appearance, as a big, tall single room. Nowadays, you can just see two altars of the six lateral ones, which there were in the past, near the presbytery.
In the second half of the eighteenth century, the decoration of the vaults was entrusted to a painter, Teodoro Donato. The choir organ and a wonderful wooden pulpit , are inspired by the precious arts and by the scenes, them too. They were given by the Pope Clemente XIV to the Sanctuary. They were made by Modesto Salvini, from Orsogna.
Through the works of restoration carried out for the great Jubilee in 2000, the old appearance of the church, typical of the eighteenth century, was given back to it.
By keeping their sight on the left side, people who enter can meet the ca nvas devoted to the Virgin Mary of Graces, to St. Antonio from Padova and to the Virgin Mary of the Rosary.
On the vault of the aisle, you can admire some chromium-plated scenes, devoted to some biblical heroines, such as Judith, Esther and Rachel. They were painted by Donato Teodoro from Chieti. A venerable big wooden Crucifix of the eighteenth century is also well known.
The marble monument, which surrounds the very precious Relics, gripping them just like in a soft hug, was inaugurated on the 4th of October, in 1902. The masterpiece, carried out by Angelo Rocca from Carrara, made on commission of the engineer Filippo Sergiacomo, was reconstructed, lightened and lowered, in order to allow an easier entry to the Eucharist Miracle. The two statues, on the two sides, depicting the faith and the charity, have been made by Giovanni Scrivo from Naples (1904).
The two reliquaries are a goblet (it dates back to the seventeenth century) and an artistic silver monstrance, made by some artists from Naples (1713).
The monstrance, subsidized by Domenico Coli from Norcia, is a true jewel in its genre. Two angels are depicted on it: they are kneeling, as in a devout prayer. Each angel has got a flying about ribbon on his hand, where you can read the following Latin words:: “Tantum ergo sacramentum – veremur cernui”.
The Chapel of the Reconciliation
If you enter by the central portal, in the middle of the nave, towards your left, you can find the Chapel of the Reconciliation. It was built, adapted, turned into that, thanks to the restorations of the Jubilee, from the old rooms of the Chapel of the Rosary.
If you look at it carefully, you can discover some essential signs as a recall to celebrate, with faith and devotion, the sacrament of penance.
The horizontal beam, which crosses the space and penetrates into the four confessionals, represents the wood to which we have to hang up our crosses, that is our pains.
The superior way has got the shape of a gallery and it indicates the way to penitents towards the cross. The stairs are an ascetic invitation to get on the peak of the Christian perfection.
The ambo is the place where the Words of God are proclaimed and it recalls penitents to conversion. The confessionals are the places where people can free themselves from their sins, entrusting in Lord, by means of the sacrament of Confession, administered by a priest.
The blue vault invites us to lift our sight towards the infinite. It refers to eternity, the reign of God that each penitent, after his / her reconciliation, wants to reach. The place is peaceful; furniture and colours are well attuned and it invites people to repenting, to the contemplation and prayer.
The Chapel of Adoration
At the bottom of the Chapel of Reconciliation, on the top, there is the Custody of the Eucharist and Adoration, where the true Holy Sacrament is exhibited, on Advent time, during the Lent and in lots of other circumstances.
This place has got a very great importance as the Miracle has been kept here until 1636. When the Minor Conventual Friars arrived (1252), they wanted to build a new temple on the parish youth club of St. Legonziano (where the Miracle occurred). The Relics were carried and kept in the new church, in a chapel whose showy single of those times is still visible nowadays.
The place, corresponding to the base of the bell tower, was perhaps chosen for obtaining protection. In fact, as if we were in a fortress, the purpose was to save the Miracle from the raids of the Turks, who bossed around on the beaches of the Adriatic Sea. Therefore, the Miracle was walled in this chapel for a while.
By observing carefully the ancient Custody of the Miracle (1636)), already put into the Chapel of Valsecca, in the seventeenth century, you can notice the importance of the Miracle. In its simplicity and austerity, expressed through the grating, you can appreciate the church which is very attentive to protect the precious Eucharist Treasure.
The Custody, that is a Tabernacle at the present time, and which keeps the Holy Sacrament in its small architecture and with its nice colours, has woken up admiration and a deep worship among the faithful visitors, with the passing of time.
The excavations, made under the area of the church of St. Francesco, have allowed to locate the plant of the original church of the Miracle just in this area. Close to a Roman wall, a very precious apse of Lacerta was found (sixth and seventh centuries). It was recognized as the original system of the church of St. Legonziano.
The total plant of the holy building presented an opposite guidance to the present one and should be about seventeen metres long, nine metres wide and probably articulating in three naves.
By the mysterious depths of the time, some modest (but precious for us) ruins of the high Medieval church, of the Saints Legonziano and Domiziano, have resurfaced. They testified and confirmed an uninterrupted oral tradition: in that place an event occurred, in the eighth century. It had left some “signs”. It is still admired with emotion and worshipped with ecstatic fervor. On those apse stones, we could write down, with the joy of an unexpected discovery: “Here the faith suffered a failure and the Mystery was revealed” (by Enzio D’Antonio, an archbishop).
The discovery of a fresco, depicting the Crucifixion, also deserves mention. It dates back to the end of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth century. It is a not well kept fresco, but it is one of the most evocative testimonies of this Medieval Sanctuary.
The Bell Tower
In order to have a whole sight of the Sanctuary, it’s better to give you some hints at the Bell Tower, the oldest tower of the town.
If you watch it carefully, you can realize that the construction took place in three different times.
Certainly the first part dates back to the period before 1204, that is before the coming of the Franciscans. When the church of St. Francesco was built (1252 – 1258) it was carried up to the second floor. When in the eighteenth century, there was the passage of the church from the Gothic style to the Baroque one, the bell tower overlooked with a dome and a lantern, covered with majolica tiles.
Thanks to its position in the Curtis anteana, near the palace of the Governor, the Bell Tower has also had the function of a civic tower.
It is thirty – one metres high.
Between 1730 – 1745, the church of St. Francesco was rebuilt and changed into the baroque style, owing to a strong earthquake. Next to the church the present Convent was built with a cloister. It became a centre of spirituality and philosophical, theological studies. All that explains why this construction is so majestic and wide. In fact, after two suppressions (in 1809 and in 1866), it was officially given back to the Minor Conventual Friars, in 1953.
cloister you can still see the well and a part of the floor made by some fragments of cocciopesto, a material of the Roman epoch. You can also watch some remains of some ancient frescos.