Santa Francesca Romana church was built in the second half of the 10th century, incorporating an 8th-century oratory that Pope Paul I excavated in the wing of the portico of the Temple of Venus and Roma. It was rebuilt by Pope Honorius III in the 13th century, when the campanile was built and the apse was decorated with mosaics of a Maestà, the Madonna enthroned accompanied by saints. The interior has been altered since. Since 1352 the church has been in the care of the Olivetans. In the 16th century, the church was rededicated to Frances of Rome, who was canonized in 1608 and whose relics are in the crypt. Its travertine porch and façade is by Carlo Lambardi, and was completed in 1615.
The interior, a single nave with side chapels, was rebuilt by Lombardi beginning in 1595. In the middle of the nave is the rectangular schola cantorum of the old church, covered in Cosmatesque mosaics. Another prominent feature is the confessional designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1638-49), in polychrome marbles with four columns veneered in jasper.
The church houses the precious Madonna Glycophilousa ('Our Lady of Tenderness'), an early 5th-century Hodegetria icon brought from Santa Maria Antiqua. The twelfth-century Madonna and Child that had been painted over it was meticulously detached from the panel in 1950, and is now kept in the sacristy.
The ancient oratory on which the current church was built was located by Pope Paul I on the place in which Simon Magus died. According to this legend, Simon Magus wanted to prove his powers as stronger than those of the apostles, and started levitating in front of Sts. Peter and Paul. The two apostles fell on their knees preaching, and Simon fell, dying. The basalt stones where the apostles were imprinted by the knees of the two apostles and are embedded in the wall of the south transept.
The tomb of Pope Gregory XI, who returned the papacy to Rome from Avignon, reconstructed to a design by Per Paulo Olivieri (signed and dated 1584) is in the south transept.References:
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is one of the main sights of St. Petersburg. The church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated and was dedicated in his memory. Construction began in 1883 under Alexander III, as a memorial to his father, Alexander II. Work progressed slowly and was finally completed during the reign of Nicholas II in 1907. Funding was provided by the Imperial family with the support of many private donors.
Architecturally, the Cathedral differs from St. Petersburg's other structures. The city's architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood harks back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism. It intentionally resembles the 17th-century Yaroslavl churches and the celebrated St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.
The Church contains over 7500 square metres of mosaics — according to its restorers, more than any other church in the world. The interior was designed by some of the most celebrated Russian artists of the day — including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov and Mikhail Vrubel — but the church's chief architect, Alfred Alexandrovich Parland, was relatively little-known (born in St. Petersburg in 1842 in a Baltic-German Lutheran family). Perhaps not surprisingly, the Church's construction ran well over budget, having been estimated at 3.6 million roubles but ending up costing over 4.6 million. The walls and ceilings inside the Church are completely covered in intricately detailed mosaics — the main pictures being biblical scenes or figures — but with very fine patterned borders setting off each picture.
In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the church was ransacked and looted, badly damaging its interior. The Soviet government closed the church in the early 1930s. During the Second World War when many people were starving due to the Siege of Leningrad by Nazi German military forces, the church was used as a temporary morgue for those who died in combat and from starvation and illness. The church suffered significant damage. After the war, it was used as a warehouse for vegetables, leading to the sardonic name of Saviour on Potatoes.
In July 1970, management of the Church passed to Saint Isaac's Cathedral (then used as a highly profitable museum) and proceeds from the Cathedral were funneled back into restoring the Church. It was reopened in August 1997, after 27 years of restoration, but has not been reconsecrated and does not function as a full-time place of worship; it is a Museum of Mosaics. Even before the Revolution it never functioned as a public place of worship; having been dedicated exclusively to the memory of the assassinated tsar, the only services were panikhidas (memorial services). The Church is now one of the main tourist attractions in St. Petersburg.