When the Carmelite order arrived in Pavia at the end of the thirteenth century, it had a first monastery outside the city walls, thanks to the help of the Franciscan order. However, in 1364, the lord of Milan Galeazzo II Visconti decided to extend his palace and so the monks moved away and came into possession of the church dedicated to St Faustino and St Giovita, situated instead of the present church of Carmine. The first historical pieces of news about the construction of a new church consecrated to Santa Maria del Monte Carmelo date 1370, but the construction of the building was proceeding very slowly, because of many obstacles. About 1390, Gian Galeazzo Visconti helped the building works with a considerable donation, but, when the building of the Certosa started, the construction of the church suddenly stopped, to be resumed after thirty years. In 1461 the façade was built, with a shape very different from the original project, while the interior flooring was a work in progress until 1490.
Santa Maria del Carmine is one of the major churches of Pavia and one of the most beautiful examples of Lombard Gothic architecture.
The wide, solid gabled façade is divided by six rectangular buttresses in five vertical sections, marked with three nineteenth-century portals decorated by sculptures of Luigi Marchesi, while the sides of the rose window contain two terracotta statues representing the Announcing Angel and the Virgin.
The church has a Latin-cross plant with a square choir and a longitudinal body divided in three naves. The perimeter of the church with the addiction of the side chapels takes a rectangular shape, with the only exceptions of the overhang of the presbytery and of the buttresses, corresponding to the walls that inside divide the side chapels. Close to the choir there is the bell tower, with a square plant. The monastery is composed of two cloisters: the western one (with porticoes all around the perimeter) is close to the north aisle of the church. The ogival cross vaults are highlighted by many brickwork groins, whereas the alternation of the supports between major well-built beam pillars and minor pillars, with semi-columns turned to the central nave, join and match different materials and colours. Close to the choir you can see the high bell tower, with a square plant, spired crowning and elegant windows with two lights on the sides. On the transept there are some votive frescoes, restored in the sixties; on the western wall of the right arm, there are three representations of the Virgin with the Child among saints and donors, datable about the beginning of the fifteenth century; the northern arm hosts the portraits of St Christopher and Albert with knelling donors, also datable about the half of the fifteenth century.
St Liborio’s altarpiece
The altarpiece painted by Marco Antonio Pellini depicts St Liborio, the bishop performer of miracles against the calculus, interceding for the sick. The frontal of the altar repeats the iconography represented in the altarpiece. Down, in the foreground, you can see the saint’s emblem, a plate full of stones.
The monument of Gerolamo Olevano
The plaster funeral monument is datable at the first decades of the seventeenth century. The central polished black section, without inscriptions, is placed between panoplies, to allude to the military tradition. On the upper shrine, with columns supporting a tympanum destined to contain the family coat of arms, an oval niche frames the bust of the marquis Gerolamo Olevano, beside a female figure with a mirror (the Prudence) and an armed figure (the Fortress), allusion to his Virtues.
The altarpiece depicts a law professor of the University of Pavia, Contardo Ferrini (1859-1902), beatified in 1947. Painted in 1964 by Mario Acerbi of Pavia, the painting represents the teacher in Aula Volta, holding a lesson.
St Teresa of Avila
St Teresa of Avila, the Spanish mystic lived in the sixteenth century and reformer of the Carmelite order, is represented during the trance, held up by two angels. The iconography is unusual: the arrow is not shot by an angel, but by a young Christ. Close to Christ, there are also his parents, like a Holy Family: Joseph seems to encourage him putting his hand on Christ’s shoulder, the Virgin Mary holds the reserve arrow, while in the sky God the Father and the Holy Spirit look at the scene, surrounded by musician angels. Attributed to Guglielmo Caccia called Moncalvo, the altarpiece can be compared to that of the church of Santa Teresa in Turin.
Altarpiece of Bernardino Lanzani
The work of art is signed by Bernardino Lanzani of San Colombano and dates the 4th of August 1515. The Child is standing on a classic plinth, decorated by a bronze medal with an equestrian monument similar to the Regisole. On the sides there are St Anna and the Virgin, St John Evangelist and Joachim; in the foreground, two little musician angels. In the lower part, two panels show the Meeting of Joachim and Anna and the Birth of the Virgin. The little side circles depict the portraits of two Carmelite monks: St Angel martyr and St Albert of Sicily.
On the rose window, the central part of the glass with the Virgin on the throne and the Child is attributed to Vincenzo Foppa. Renewed in 1832, the altar is overlapped by a little circular temple protecting the triumphant figure of risen Christ, between the announcing Angel and the Virgin, still pertaining to the previous altar. The white marble frontal contains a central scene with the Veronica, between two new medals with Christ in the Garden of Olives and the Ecce Homo (on the left). The Neo-Gothic tribune according to a Moresque taste holds a big organ divided in three parts, built in 1836 by the Lingiardi brothers and modified in 1872. On the left wall there is a Gothic stone tabernacle, with the representation of the Annunciation, referring to the dedication of the church.
The big room, built by the count Camillo della Pietra, was projected as a chapel inserted in the right transept of the church, with a plaster façade. Beside the portal, into symmetrical niches, there are St Francis (with the stigmata) and St John the Baptist; the niche inside the tympanum contains the statue of the Virgin with the Child. Besides, there are big erased coats of arms (on the left, the insignia of the Pietra family), supported by angels. The dedication of the chapel, clearly declared by the epigraph on the façade, was completed by the presence of an altarpiece representing the Assumption of the Virgin, painted by Bernardo Cane in 1576 and transferred in 1962 in the fifth chapel on the right aisle.
Attributed to Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, the Renaissance marble lavabo wasn’t originally placed in the Sacristy, but in the corridor carrying to the choir. Linked to the monastic use, it’s provided with three bronze taps shaped like dolphins, coming out of the mouth of three cherubs. The relief with the Coronation of the Virgin is placed between two medals with monks’ portraits; on one of the two fine candelabra pilasters there is a little coat of arms, maybe the Visconti’s, unfortunately erased.
The Virgin’s altar
Owned by Leone XIII, the gilt and wooden altar was donated to the church of Carmine by the pope Pio X in 1904. In Neo-Gothic style, with niches, spires and bas-reliefs, it’s a reliquary: when the statues rotate, an amazing collection of relics appears; also the painted parts hide tiny remains of saints. In front of the altar, there is the remarkable triptych with the Virgin Mary and the Child between St Ambrogio and St Augustine, datable about 1507 and attributed to Bernardino Lanzani.
St Giulio of Orta
The cobblers renewed the chapel in 1592 and dedicated it to their protector, St Giulio of Orta. On the walls there are some frescoes with episodes of the saint’s life: St Giulio changes a lie into the truth, making dead who pretended to be dead; upper, the saint crosses the lake on his cloak and frees the isle from the snakes.
From 1471 the chapel belonged to the wool Merchants and was dedicated to their protective saint. In 1618 Guglielmo Caccia called Moncalvo painted the new altarpiece with St Anna, underlining the connection between the commissioning and the patron saint: indeed, back to the saint there is the representation of different moments of the wool production, starting from the Joachim’s flock, the shearing, the carding, the spinning and finally the weaving. On the lunette of the upper part of left wall, Anna and Joachim relieve the church, the poor and who turns to them, according to the Legenda aurea written by Jacopo da Varazze. On the opposite lunette, the prophet Elias (recognizable by the Carmelite clothes: brown habit and white cloak), with the stick on fire on his hands and standing on a cloud, shows to many onlookers the Virgin, “St Anna’s daughter, future God’s Mother”.
The Bible heroes
On the four gores of the vault, there are painted by Guglielmo Caccia called Moncalvo four heroes of the Ancient Testament, with their concerning biblical texts: Giael with the nail on her hand (“Iudicum IIII”), the Maccabei’s mother refusing the pork at the presence of her sons (“Mach. VII”), Judith with the sword pointing to the Oloferne’s head (“Iudit XIII”) and Susan in the garden between two trees (“Daniel XIII”).
Our Lady of the Assumption
Once the chapel was dedicated to the Carmelite nun St Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, lived in the second half of the sixteenth century (1566-1607). From 1962, the chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption. The altarpiece was painted about 1575 by Bernardo Cane of Pavia and it was transferred here from the Sacristy.
The Guardian Angel
At first, the chapel was under the patronage of the Ricci family, as showed by the three husks on the keystone. In 1691, it was given to the Bonati, that placed here their tombs and commissioned to the painter Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) the new altarpiece with the Guardian Angel. This painting on canvas is inside an imposing gilt and wooden frame, with two angels supporting the bracket on which there is the crowning, with angels holding up the client’s coat of arms. On the frontal of the altar, made of gilt wood, the central shield shows the iconography of the guardian angel (Raphael) with the little Tobias.
The miraculous Virgin Mary on the counter-façade
Since over four centuries, the churchgoers are turning to this Virgin Mary with the rose between St Giulio and St Antony abbot; her miracles were already described by the historian Antonio Maria Spelta at the end of the sixteenth century. With a fine play of symmetries, the remarkable architectural frame made of carved and gilt wood, is repeated on the frescoes on the right, with five miraculous episodes among which the rescue from a shipwreck on the Ticino river in flood.