The Church of Saints Simon and Jude

Written by  Costanza Cavicchi
A restoration in progress.
The little Church of Saints Simon and Jude has very ancient origins. Situated in via Belfiore in the heart of the Byzantine castrum which is regarded as the first urban centre of Ferrara, the first records date back to the 12th century. In 1278 it acquired a parish, and a little later, in 1282, became a canonical prebend. In 1422 it was reconsecrated and rebuilt in typical late Gothic style, with ogive doors and windows, a central rose window, brick cornice with arches decorated with shells. The existing façade of this church is the result of a careful "stylistic restoration" carried out in 1904, well documented in reports and drawings, aimed to remove the XVIII century alterations.

After the Napoleonic suppression and subsequent sale of the church and its adjoining house by the state to private individuals, it was acquired by don Luigi Serravalli, who transferred the right to use it to the Brotherhood of the Sacred Heart in perpetuity. By the beginning of the 20th century the church had a façade and an interior so radically altered that it was difficult to discern its late gothic origins. But the early 20th century was the period of revival, and many of the restoration projects carried out in Ferrara in these years were aimed at reinstating and reconstructing late Gothic churches and façades. The façades of the church of Saint Gregory, Saint Julian or the Corpus Domini were cases in point.

Thus in 1904 the engineer Lorenzo Dotti carried out a project to restore the façade, a restoration which focused on reinstating and reconstructing the Church's 15th century appearance.
In the final report, Dotti wrote that the coping cornice was restored by replacing the original materials from the side elevation, after rebuilding the tympanum, whilst the brick used in the central rose window and those in the Goth arches of the side windows was new. The windows were provided with circular coloured leaded lights, and the façade was finished in facing brick coloured with oil-based red pigment.

During WWI the church was once again closed to services and used as a military store.
Barely ten years after the restoration, the building thus began its downward slide, used as a warehouse until recent years and leading to years of deterioration and abandon until the drastic demolition of the dangerous roof in 1998. For more than two years the church stood open to the sky and continually exposed to rain and snow.

The remains of the stucco decoration were seriously damaged, while the wooden roofing beams, exposed alternately to sun and rain, suffered irreversible harm. The masonry was also damaged further, showing signs of decay and crumbling in places, while tall shrubs grew unchecked through the floor, surrounded by rubbish of every kind.

The sorry spectacle of the ruined church did not go unnoticed by the Ferrariae Decus, a historical civic society for the protection of monuments and local history, which worked to bring this serious problem to the attention of the authorities.
The Architecture Faculty at the University of Ferrara also took an interest in this little monument, holding the practical part of its architectural restoration courses there in 1999.
At last, in 2000, the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara acquired the building from the Sacchi Brotherhood, which was quite unable to meet the enormous cost of restoration.

In the autumn of 2001, as soon as permission had been obtained, the roof was immediately rebuilt and the dangerous masonry was repaired to prevent any further deterioration in the condition of the church.
At this stage, a new and appropriate use for the building was sought, and it was decided to make it into a sort of small study centre attached to the Cassa di Risparmio di Ferrara, specialising in the art and history of Ferrara, where the fine collection of books on the art in Ferrara published by the Cassa and now regarded rare books, as a could be preserved and consulted by scholars. On this basis the project went ahead, with the aim of restoring what remained of the church and rebuilding those parts which had fallen down, such as the service area and the little sacristy on two floors.

The service wing and the two rooms of the sacristy were reconstructed on the vestiges of what remained, using traditional materials such as wooden lofts, a roof in beams and brick tiles, and flooring in reclaimed brick. In the first floor room, wooden flooring was chosen, as suggested by the archived documents, and the vanished spiral staircase connecting the two floors was also replaced.
Unfortunately, the church had been plundered to such as extent that not only all the furnishings but even the brick floor tiles has disappeared, with the exception of broken fragments. It was therefore decided to use a reclaimed brick flooring, including in the apse and the main hall, because recently produced flooring would have looked too "new" and out of context.

The façade of the church, which has a significant crack at the top, was reinforced and linked to the roof structure. The rich coping cornice and all the brick decorations, covered in thick deposits and black crust, and showing signs of crumbling, were cleaned with chemical compresses and scalpels, plastered and strengthened, refixing the sections which were coming loose, and finally treated with a lightly coloured protective coat.

The brick cladding was cleaned by hand, plastered and dusted. The main doorway, in Istrian stone, which was in a bad state of preservation and had undergone numerous operations of plastering, replacement and repair, some rather ill-conceived, was cleaned using various compress programmes. The fine wooden main door in neo-Gothic style, probably dating to the 1904 recontruction, is now it the last stages of restoration and will shortly be re-hung.

The work is now almost finished, and should be complete by the first quarter of 2004.