The first mention of the church of San Francesco della Scarpa dates back to 1241, when its construction had already been completed. In 1290, by order of King Charles II of Anjou, it was rebuilt and enlarged so as to be much more impressive than it had been previously, with the intetnion that it should be "the most important medieval Franciscan church of Abruzzo".
The renovated building presented complex and articulated, typically Gothic, compositional schemes. The longitudinal floor plan had three naves covered by cross vaults and polygonal apses with arches and spans connecting the walls along the length and breadth of the presbytery.
The present church does not match that of the Angevin period as it largely collapsed following several earthquakes, and was subjected to an 18th century restoration.
The earthquake of 1456, in fact, had seriously compromised the structure, but what caused irreparable damage was the earthquake of 1706. The upper span collapsed at the front and the rose window and internal structures of the three naves were all lost.
The bell tower and the entire presbytery were ruined, of which now only a part of the perimeter of the polygonal apse remains, plus the monumental side entrance overlooking Corso Ovidio. These have remained isolated from the main body of the new church, which was rebuilt smaller and with a nave .
Exterior The facade, which originally had a horizontal capstone, now has two protruding curved wings which were the result of the substantial downsizing of the internal structures. The transformation of the church, which originally had three naves, has created a unique internal environment. It is divided horizontally by a string course carved with acanthus leaves.
The 14th century portal, perhaps by the same Nicholas of Salvitto who built the facade of the cathedral of San Panfilo, is well preserved.
On a high plinth, stands the semicircular arch which is supported externally by two columns. These are flanked with alternating pillars and columns. The series of capitals is decorated with acanthus leaves.
In the lunette is a fresco of the nursing Madonna between angels and followers (from the end of the 14th century).
The windows on the sides of the portal are later additions. In the upper span of the facade only the frame of the canopy remains, in bas relief, while the entire work of the vaultl which decorated the interior has been lost.
On the left-hand side of the church there is the outline of a further portal from the late Renaissance (now walled in) in which, in the middle of a broken pediment, we can see a coat of arms with the emblem of the Franciscan Order.
On the left there is also a smaller portal, with simpler lines, built in the 19th century to allow access to a small oratory owned by the Brotherhood of Santa Maria degli Angeli.
InteriorRebuilt after 1706, the church was converted into a single hall with adjoining lateral spaces. The shape that resulted is a central Greek cross where full walls and side chapels alternate creating an ecclesiastical courtroom. The transept has two side altars - in line with the dome above - and the presbytery features two deep, side chapels.The opening up of the space within the 18th century church which features composite pilasters and high entablature, together with the stucco decorations of the altars, is one of the most interesting examples of the Lombard workers during the 17th century in the post-earthquake reconstruction of religious buildings in the Abruzzo region.
The opening up of the space within the 18th century church which features composite pilasters and high entablature, together with the stucco decorations of the altars, is one of the most interesting examples of the Lombard workers during the 17th century in the post-earthquake reconstruction of religious buildings in the Abruzzo region.
The 18th century renovations included more substantial wooden furniture: the pulpit, attributed to the workshop of the famous cabinetmaker from Pescara called Ferdinando Mosca, the tabernacle of the Cappella dei Lombardi and the two confessionals from the Abbey of Sant Spirito al Morrone.
The interior is also embellished by valuable paintings: at the centre of the nave is a painted Crucifix made from pear wood from the 15th century. This has only recently been moved from the inside wall to the so-called Altar of Lombardi, or St. Elizabeth (from 1508), with representations in relief of St. Ambrose on the left, San Carlo Borromeo on the right and the altarpiece of the Visitation, by the painter Giovanni Paolo Bergamo Olmo.
The next chapel is dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels and contains an altarpiece where the Virgin and Child with Angels are represented. On the opposite wall, in a symmetrical position, there are two altars: the first is dedicated to St. Anthony, for which in 1766 Eugenio Porretta d'Arpino painted the saint in adoration of the child Jesus. The other which is dedicated to the Virgin, shows a painting of the Madonna of San Giovanni Battista and San Francesco di Paola.
On the inside wall remain traces of a cycle of frescoes, dating from the late 14th century, with scenes from the life of St. Francis.
The "Rotonda"The remains of the presbytery, which survived the earthquake of early 18th century, define the space, built in the 19th century, which is now known as "La Rotaonda", an elliptical courtyard onto which open out a series of small rooms which were used in the past as workshops. It is accessed through what was the side door of the old church, more imposing than that of its current facade, on the main road.
Reached via a steep staircase, it is characterized by finely-crafted, deep, wide, splayed capitals. Six smooth columns alternate with five pillars on each side, resting on a sturdy base which become eleven arches gradually decreasing in size towards the edge. The painting of the early 16th century, features a Madonna and Child with St. Francis and Mary Magdalene.
The monumental stone was built by Lombard master stonemasons who were present in Sulmona and had their chapel in the church. On the inner walls of the structures are barely readable traces of the apse frescoes dedicated to the titular saint of the church, painted in the 15th century by Andrea De Lithium.
The barbican's side portal was built, according to tradition, after the earthquake of 1456 to reinforce this part of the building which had been severely damaged. It is covered with cut stone arranged in regular blocks. At the top there is a statue of St. Francis, while the bell tower houses three bells.
To the left of the spur you can still see the remains of the polygonal apses and a single lancet window that illuminated the presbytery.
Today "La Rotonda" is used for exhibitions and cultural events .
The convent building (Palazzo San Francesco)The palazzo that remains today shows a floorplan centred around two courtyards, similar to other Franciscan buildings. Everything else - the internal layout of the building and the facade which is covered with rusticated stone shaped into diamond points - dates back to later interventions.
After the convent was closed in 1809, the building had various uses: first as a school, then a barracks, a market, and now as the town hall, thus losing all ties with the past.