The San Giovanni Evangelista complex in Parma consists of the basilica, the convent and the Antica Spezieria di San Giovanni. The biggest attraction inside the church is the dome, which was frescoed by Correggio. The Antica Spezieria behind the church was founded in 1201. The convent has three cloisters.
San Giovanni Evangelista Basilica Parma
Address: Piazzale San Giovanni, 1 – Parma. Phone: +39 0521 508532 or 0521 1651508. Opening times church: Monday through Saturday from 08:30 to 11:45 and 15:00 to 18:00; Sunday from 15:00 to 17:30. Opening hours monastery: From 09:00 till 11:30. (The church is open every day, the monastery is closed on Thursdays and Sundays.)
History and description
The San Giovanni Evangelista Church was constructed in 1510, but the baroque facade and the bell tower date back to the early 17th century.
What to see
The best known artwork inside the church is the dome fresco, “Passage of San Giovanni” (Correggio, 1520-1523). By using perspective, the apostles surrounding Jesus are made to seem as if they are resting on the clouds. The effigies in the pendentives represent church fathers and the evangelists.
The “San Giovanni” in the lunetta above the door to the the sacristy was also done by Correggio. In the sacristy itself there are some early 16th century cabinets decorated with inlay work.
Parmigianino painted the saints on the arches of the 1st, 2nd and 4th chapels on the left.
Michelangelo Anselmi, supervised by Correggio, decorated the vaults and the candelabras around 1520.
Correggio also designed the frieze around the central nave. The actual painting was done by Francesco Maria Rondani (1523). The theme of the work is the “Hebrew and Pagan Sacrifice”. The pagan sacrifice is personified by an altar with the inscription Dio ignoto (“unknown God”), the Jewish one with a sarcophafus with a sacrificial lamb. Inbetween there are human figures in classical garments. At the ends of each frieze Gods and Sybils are depicted.
Rondani also painted the trompe-l’oeil coffered ceiling between the arches.
The inlay work of the choir in the apse was done by Marcantonio Zucchi and the brothers Gianfranco and Pasquale Testa (1556). The “Transfiguration” was painted in 1556 by Girolamo Mazzola-Bedoli.
Bedoli also painted the “Wedding of Santa Caterina” in the 4th chapel on the left.
The four statues in the two transepts are the work of Antonio Begarelli.
The three cloisters of the monastery date back to the 16th century. They are the San Giovanni Abate Cloister, the Chiostro del Pozzo (“of the Well”) and the Chiostro Grande. The latter is also known as San Benedetto Cloister. The portal of the Chiostro del Pozzo was sculpted by Antonio d’Agrate.
The Chiostro del Pozzo gives access to the Sala Capitolare, with two frescoes by Correggio that were taken from the presbytery of the church itself.
The Library of the Monastery has sixteenth-century frescoed rooms. There are about 20,000 volumes, including illuminated manuscripts of the 15th and 16th centuries.
Spezieria di San Giovanni
The San Giovanni pharmacy is an ancient pharmacy that has been active since 1201.
In the first room (“the Room of Fire”) you can see scales that were used for weighing the ingredients, which were stored in wooden or ceramic vases. The ancient benches that were used as counters are also still there.
In the second room the medicine was prepared. This was done with mortar and pestle, hence the name Sala dei Mortai.
The third room is the “Room of the Sirens”, and exhibits a collection of medical publications. The fourth room was the laboratory. It had access to a well and included a cellar where the ingredients were preserved. This was the “Room of the Well” or “Room of the Alembics”, an alembicco being an alchemical still for the distillation of liquids. The Speziera was closed in 1766, and reopened to the public in 1959. The frescoes adorning the walls were painted in the 16th century.