The Franciscan Friary in Bolzano was founded in 1221. According a legend, young Saint Francis accompanied his cloth merchant father, Pietro Bernardone, on a business trip to Bolzano. While there, the young Francis took Mass in the Chapel of Saints Ingenuinus and Erhard, and the bells rang out. The Chapel is today part of the friary complex.
However, the original structure was destroyed by fire in 1291 and the friary was rebuilt in 1322. In 1348 the Franciscan church belonging to it was ready to be consecrated.
The start of the 16th century saw a loss of discipline, notably with regard to the Franciscan Vow of Poverty. Following years of conflict and division within the Franciscan Order, 1514 was a year of important monastic reform in Bolzano which adopted the 'Observants' principles. In 1580 the friary at Bolzano became part of the newly-established stand-alone Franciscan Tirolean Province.
In 1780 the Empress Maria Theresa inaugurated the city's Franciscan Gymnasium (school) for which the friary was mandated to provide the teaching and leadership. During the time of Bavarian occupation, in 1810, the friary found itself abolished and some of its lands forfeit, shortly after which the buildings were used as a military barracks till 1813. However, the region was restored to Austria following the defeat of Napoleon and the Franciscans were able to return to their friary.
The church was destroyed on 29 March 1944 by aerial bombing, but was rebuilt after the war. During the immediate postwar years the South Tyrol was one of the few German-speaking regions of Europe not under the direct military control of the winning powers, and the friary was one of a number of establishments in the region used as a temporary hiding place for high-ranking Nazis heading for more permanent refuges outside Europe.
The church tower is 44 metres high and was completed in 1376. It is topped off with an octagonal pyramid above eight little acoustic windows.
The Gothic church itself comprises a three-aisled nave and a choir section with a polygonal plan, under a ribbed arched roof, all primarily constructed out of pink sandstone. The apse is dominated by three large windows of modern stained glass, which are the work of the Innsbruck artist, Josef Widmoser.
The choir accommodates an elaborately carved and painted late Gothic 'winged altar' constructed around 1500 by Hans Klocker. This was originally housed in the St Anna Chapel that was built at the same time as the church and in 1373 donated by the Vintler family of Bolzano.
The Gothic cloisters date back to the 14th century, and are decorated by a succession of frescoes of the Giotto school, although the surviving display is fragmentary. There are also fragments visible from later centuries of 17th century interventions and additions by Ludwig Pfendter and others.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.