Monumental church of San Niccolò

History and arts

…once entered in the silent, romantic churchyard surrounded by cypresses in front of the church, you will feel the need to sit down… You will be pervaded by the same feelings expressed by Giacomo Leopardi in his poem “Infinito”: the wind rustling in the leaves of the trees, the extreme quietness

(A. Tafi)

The church of San Niccolò was built in the typical and evocative frame of the Poggio quarter. This small monument belongs to the homonymous Compagnia Laicale, which was founded in the half of the 15th century by San Bernardino from Siena and is still working in the solidarity field and in the preservation of this monument.

The history of this church, characterized by a churchyard adorned with cypresses, is quite complicated: it was built in Romanic style around the 15th century and was profoundly renovated in the 16th and the 17th century by adding the painted coffer ceiling and the orchestra stage. On that occasion the side altars were added and the main altar was renovated, whereas the wooden pews, where the brothers of the Compagnia sat in assembly, were placed on the repainted walls in order to hide the old frescoes. After a series of events related to the laws prescribing the suppression of religious companies, during the Napoleonic domination and after the Italian unification in the 20th century, a new renovation of the church consisted in building a side chapel to place the simulacrum of Jesus Christ on Calvary – which is carried along the streets of Cortona together with other holy statues during the Good Friday Procession – and restoring the frontal loggia and the side roofed corridor. The final renovation of the church and the renewal of the activities of the Compagnia took place at the beginning of the 1950s, whereas some important works of strengthening and definitive layout of the building have been finished in 2005.

We can admire important works of art in the church: above the main altar, on the front side, there is a painting representing the “Deposition of Christ”, surrounded by the saints and sustained by an angel, and on the back side we see the representation of a “Virgin and Child with Saints Peter and Paul”, made by Luca Signorelli. On the wall on the left-hand side a fresco representing an aedicule with the Virgin between two groups of saints made by the School of Luca Signorelli is still visible, even if with some missing parts. On the side altars and in the chapel you can see precious canvas of the 16th and 17th century; in a niche beside the door you can then admire an album where Futurist painter Gino Severini from Cortona – one of the brothers of the Compagnia Laicale – made a watercolor painting representing San Niccolò, leaving thus a touching evidence of his attachment to the church.