The church of San Lorenzo has had historical references as a parish as early as 818. The current building dates to the 13th century, although it has only held 'cathedral' status for the past 117 years. The original Romanesque building has undergone several restorations and reconstructions over its 700+ year history to evolve into the church we see today.
The façade of the cathedral dates to the very early 16th century, and is considered a masterpiece of renaissance Lombardic art. It includes a rose window and extensive carvings around the doorways, which depict saints and various events from the Bible as well as notable Renaissance scholars. From the terrace here, there are wonderful views across the old city and the lake.
When you enter the building, what strikes you first is the brilliant use of color. Unlike the Protestant cantons to the north, Ticino has remained a largely Catholic region, and the churches of this region were not stripped of ornamentation as they were elsewhere in the country. Cattedrale San Lorenzo therefore is a wonderful textbook of artistic styles from the past thousand years. Although the original building has been reconstructed and incorporated into the building that became the current cathedral, the central pillars of the present-day church date from the original building, and you can inspect the 13th and 14th century frescoes painted there.
The rest of the interior is a blend of medieval, baroque and rococo, including a 1632 altarpiece by Giovanni Baptist Carloni of Rovio. The stone tabernacle dates to 1500, and the oldest baptimal font in the building (north chapel) was created in 1430. The two baptismal fonts by the main doors date to the 16th century, as does the lovely organ. The marble high altar is 17th century work, and the allegorical frescoes that decorate the choir are the work of the Torricelli brothers in 1764. There is a lot of artwork to be seen here, and the church is well worth a visit.
November 26, 2005
From journal Lugano - Gem of Southern Switzerland