Saint of the Day – 23 June – Saint Lanfranco Beccari (c 1134-1198) Bishop of Pavia, Italy, Defender of the Rights of the Church, Apostle of prayer of the poor and those in situations of distress, miracle-worker – born in c 1124 at Gropello, Pavia, Italy and died on 23 June 1198 at the Vallombrosan Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre near Pavia, Italy of natural causes.Also known as St Lanfrancoof Pavia.
Born of a noble family in Gropello in the province of Pavia around 1134, Lanfranco was assigned the role of Bishop for his city by Alexander III.
Very kind to good people but uncompromising to the unjust, he led an exemplary life, characterised by devoted life of intense prayer and charity towards the needy.
He had heated discussions against the city civil authorities who wanted to take possession of various ecclesiastical goods. For this reason, finding himself almost forced to leave Pavia, he went to Rome to find comfort and support from the Pope.
When he returned to Pavia, now tired of the constant problems that public life was giving him, he decided to retire to the Vallombrosan Monastery of the Holy Sepuchre, where he remained until his death, which took place on 23 June 1198.
The above passage comes from what is written in the letter sent by Pope Innocent III to the Bishop of Faenza, Bernardo, on 8 August 1198, in which the passage to the Diocese of Pavia, Bernardo was proposed as successor to the late Lanfranco. And it was Bernardo himself who, as successor Bishop, wrote the first biography of Lanfranco.
There is little information relating to the first years of the Monastery’s life. The most significant period coincided with the years in which Lanfranco Beccari was Bishop of Pavia. Lanfranco, Consecrated Bishop of Pavia by Pope Alexander III in 1159, was often a guest of the Monastery. Lanfranco decided to spend the last years of his life in the Monastery and was buried here, in a reputation for holiness. After his death on 23 June 1198, the Church and Monastery were dedicated to him.
In the Church there is a sepulchral marble ark which houses the body of San Lanfranco Beccari. It is the work of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo , the great Italian sculptor and architect who worked in Pavia for both the Certosa and the Cathedral together with Bramante. The construction of the ark dates back to 1489 and took place on commission of the abbot and cardinal Pietro Pallavicini de ‘Scipione.
The sarcophagus is divided into squares with depictions of the Saint’s life:
On the left: Lanfranco heals a mute young man.
On the front: In the Atrium of San Siro he receives the consuls (you can see the two cathedrals and the statue of the Regisole). On his return from exile, he is welcomed by the new consuls (the character on the right, half hidden by a figure from behind, would have the appearance of Amadeo). Praying to the Virgin in her retreat with the Vallombrosan monks .
Right: The young Gelasia condemned on the false charge of poisoning her brother comes out of the stake .
In the back: Healing of the Pavese jurisconsult Pietro Negri; Giovanni Brunelli attacked by brigands and tied in the bush, manages to untie himself with the help of the Saint. Alberto da Novara, a repentant criminal, is saved from hanging .
There are also other relief panels with scenes from the life of Christ and the Blessed Virgin – the Annunciation , the Visitation , the Nativity , the Presentation in the temple , Jesus healing the sick , the Crucifixion.
In the central nave, in the middle of the right side, a fresco, unfortunately only partially extant, painted between 1173 and 1198 is particularly interesting. It depicts the assassination of the Archbishop of Canterbury St Thomas á Becket on 29 December 1170 in Canterbury Cathedral, at the hands of some assassins sent by King Henry II of England. The king decided to commission the murder as Becket, much loved by the people and once his special adviser, had begun to reproach him for his dissolute and violent life and divorce choices. In the fresco there are three knights with a sword in the act of killing the Archbishop.
The fresco was created to indicate the parallel between the events of the life of St Thomas á Becket and those of the Pavese Bishop Lanfranco Beccari – as Becket had opposed King Henry of England who limited the freedom of the English clergy, an opposition that pushed him to Rome to ask help to the Pope and who, in the end, paid with his life. In the same way, St Lanfranco, a few decades later, came into sharp conflict with the Pavia authorities and was forced to ask the Pope for help – he was not killed but retired to the Monastery leading a solitary life.
Next to Becket’s fresco, on the left, the figure of the same Bishop Lanfranco is repeated, with red chasuble and pallium, mitre and pastoral, in a blessing gesture with ring finger and little finger joined to the Greek.