The church, consecrated on September 2nd 1629 by the Bishop Volpi, is a building of the 17th century according to the typology of the churches of Friars Minor of the period, therefore without the typical painted transect, with a unique body, with choir and four side chapels on the left. The Romanesque façade is introduced by a portico with Palladian window and oculus, the lateral parts include the chapels on the left and the entrance to the first cloister of the convent on the right. A painted lunette, representing San Francesco and the Virgin Mary, decorates the gate.
The choir was renovated in 1708, at expenses of Father Fabrizio Agazzini of Ameno.
The realization of the lunettes with the Franciscan saints was commissioned to the painter Antonio Valentino Cavigione from Ossola. He settled in Orta where he founded a studio with his son Pietro and his nephew Luca (1708-1770). This last one became the most famous of the family. The lunettes represent the saints Antonio, Francesco, Bonaventura and Pietro from Alcantara. They still exist, while the picture of the Virgin Birth, situated on the bottom of the choir, was destroyed in the middle of the 20th century to make space to the painted glass window with the episode of the receiving of the stigmata by San Francesco on the Verna mountain. The art of Cavigione can be recognized in the large features of the faces and in the soften colors. The models to which he gets inspired are the usual ones of the figurative Lombard culture. For example Sant’Antonio with the Baby employs a widely diffused typology in the studio of the Nuvolone brothers, who worked in several sacred buildings in Cusio region.
The choir was equipped with bank benches and small doors, realized in 1708 for the Mesma church and now missing, at expenses of Father Agazzini, provincial father of the order. On the contrary, the present bank benches date back to the 19th century, after the complex returned to its monastic use following to the Napoleonic dissolution. A homogeneous outfitting of the presbyterian area dates around 1843.
The wooden sculptures
The Mesma church boasts a series of wooden statues with sacred subjects. Among them the Crucified Christ and the Virgin Birth are worth to be mentioned.
The Crucified Christ
It returned to the Church only recently, over the triumphal arch. The sculpture was mentioned already in the second half of the 18th century. It was moved in 1810 to the church of San Bernardino in order to save it from the Napoleonic suppressions but later it was no more repositioned in its original location. The work initially found place in the chapel entitled to the Crucified Christ and established between 1625 and 1634 by the Company of citizens of Ameno who moved to Lucca and Camaiore and with the support of Obicini himself. The original apparatus of the Chapel included a painting – now missing – portraying the Lucca’s Holy Cross and the saints Bonaventura, Bernardino, Ludovico and Diego. This painting was replaced in 1712 by the Cruficied Christ. According to the capuchin sources, the sculpture is attributed to the Lombard sculptor Giovanni Battista Antignati (1663-1742). He was a member of the second Accademia Ambrosiana. He was father of Giuseppe, who is considered among the most famous wooden sculptors of the diocese of Milan and author of the model of the Madonnina of the Duomo.
A small group of works is assigned to Giovanni Battista Antignati. The recent attribution includes four Crucified Christs, witnessing the great ability and fame of the artist for this type of sculptures where he shows to realize new iconographies, updating them according to the devotional themes of the period in reformed environment. The artist was iconographically inspired also by the Dominican Pietro Frasa. The Crucified Christs by Antignati are the following ones: a first one that he realized in 1708 for the Milan church of Santa Maria del Giardino, which arrived then to the oratory of San Gaudenzio in Galliate. The example which is now in the Mesma church and which is a copy of the first one at a few years of distance and dating to 1712. A third Crucified Christ, which is very similar to the Mesma one and whose payment appears in the documents of 1713, is kept in the church of Castello di Pisogno,. A fourth sculpture is kept in Oggebbio. Works by Antignati are also a Virgin Birth in the church of San Francesco in Trecate and a Lady of Mount Carmel in the Nosate parish church.
The Mesma Cruficied Christ keeps iconographical characteristics of a strongly emphasized pathos due to the presence of the highly pathetic subject of the “exploded” chest. This subject is related to the first forms of worship towards the Sacred Heart, which were fed in Milan by the preaching of the oblate Father Martinelli. Towards the half of the 18th century the image of the Crucified Christ will be adjusted according to the ideas of the age of Enlightment, following therefore the new modes of moderate piety introduced by Ludovico Antonio Muratori. All the Crucified Christs by Antignati depict the perishing Christ and portray him in the agony’s spasm. In particular, the examples of Santa Maria del Giardino and of Monte Mesma show the arched body, in a dynamic and nervous sudden movement.
The Virgin Birth
In the side chapel of the Church, which hosted originally the Crucified Christ, there is the statue of the Virgin Birth, once on the high altar. This work, such as the two altar’s paintings of the side chapels, are not mentioned in the documentary sources of the second half of the 17th century as well as in the 18th century sources and in Cotta’s too. Therefore, they probably come from other suppressed places and positioned here presumably within 1820, when the complex was opened again and newly set up in the interior too. With the Napoleonic events the Mesma Church suffered an almost complete dispersion of his decor with a few exceptions such as an ancient statue of Sant’Anna and the Crucified Christ, which were carried to San Bernardino in Ameno. As it often happens in such situations, at the reopening of the sacred building, the friars had to provide to set up again the decor and therefore it is not surprising that the new furnishings were bought from other convents, which were closed and dismantled in their turn.
The simulacrum with the Virgin Birth, of 17th century workmanship, is now in the third chapel on the left. It was placed on the high altar inside of the same wooden ancon of the 19th century which hosts it nowadays. Such positioning has to be meant in the context of a homogeneous setup of the presbyterian area, with the annexed small doors to divide it from the behind area. It dates probably around 1843 considering that the wooden furniture seems to be very similar and contemporary to the ancons holding the two statues of Sant’Antonio and San Francesco, placed exactly in that year. We do not know in which context the Virgin Birth was moved to the present site. According to the tradition the statue should come from the church of the convent of the Giardino di Milano. If the origin of the statue from the Milanese convent would be sure, it could correspond to the work by Turcazzani that the artist realized immediately after the middle of the 17th century. Its arrival at Mesma should be consequence of a purchase of the friars following to the Napoleonic suppressions. The structure of the wooden ancon containing it is of the 19th century craftsmanship and was probably realized by one of the carver friars who did such kind of works in the Franciscan churches. The work of the carver Turcazzani, supposed author of the sculpture, is not object of studies and for this reason there are a few possibilities of comparison with our icon. The sources about the Milanese carvers mention him vaguely and even the biographical data of the artist are unknown. The works that are attributed to him are, in order of time: The iconostasis with the Crucified Christ, the Virgin and San Giovanni, realized between 1638 and 1645 for the Carmine church in Pavia. Two angels for the tabernacle of the Milanese church of San Vittore al Corpo of the year 1652. The San Contardo urn of the parish of Broni (Pavia) of the year 1664. Parallel to such work there is his intervention in 1666 for the celebrations in honor of the visit of the Maria Teresa.
Sant’Anna and the baby Holy Virgin
La più antica scultura lignea attestata a Mesma era la statua con Sant’Anna, citata in occasione dell’inaugurazione della chiesa, nel 1625, probabilmente posta sull’altare della cappella intitolata alla santa, protettrice particolare a cui si era rivolto il fondatore del convento p. Obicino, per poter giungere alla sua opera di creazione del complesso conventuale. La stessa cappella intitolata alla madre della Madonna, fa parte della prima fase costruttiva della chiesa, anche se non è noto l’arredo originario. Nel 1762 fu realizzato ex novo un dipinto per la cappella, ora disperso, raffigurante Sant’Anna e san Innocenzo da Chiusa. Non si precisa però la presenza della statua originaria. La conferma del permanere dell’antica statua della santa è riscontrabile in fonti ottocentesche. Per essere sottratta al rischio di dispersione, la statua di Sant’Anna venne portata in tempo di soppressioni napoleoniche nell’oratorio di San Bernardino, da dove nel 1820, con una solenne processione, fu riportata in chiesa, dopo la riapertura ufficiale del convento, avvenuta nel 1819. Priva di possibili riscontri risulta la recente e non documentata informazione che riferisce la scultura a certo Giacomo Vaselli di Lugano. In effetti la scultura citata dalle fonti non corrisponde l’attuale gruppo presente nella cappella di Sant’Anna, per la quale, alla luce dell’analisi stilistica, va esclusa una datazione così antica, mentre l’ancona lignea, di evidente fattura settecentesca, può aver costituito la cornice del citato disperso dipinto eseguito per la cappella nel 1762 e solo in un secondo tempo adattata per contenente la statua.
La notizia che segnalano dei restauri, negli anni 1919 e 1924, nella cappella di Sant’Anna, potrebbe porta a suggerire per il gruppo ligneo un’esecuzione riferibile a tale epoca, cui sembrano corrispondere anche considerazioni di ordine tecnico-stilistico.
I santi Francesco e Antonio
At the sides of the presbytery, positioned inside two recesses, there are the simulacrums of the saints Francesco and Antonio from Padua. The statues were carved in 1843 in Varallo upon commission of the guardian Father Farina from Garlasco and they costed 400 milanese liras, and were probably realized by the Barolo studio.
San Francesco with the stigmata
The wooden statue of San Francesco in the side chapel comes from the convent of the saints Francesco and Pasquale in Ornavasso. This convent was established in 1891 as a reply to the event of the shutdown of the one in Cerano, thanks to the donation by parish priest of Omegna, don Pasquale Ronchi, and of his sister Annetta of a house of their own that they left to the Franciscans for free. The statue could come from Cerano. The figure is positioned on a cloud as a base, with a cherub head in the middle. Due to its setting and its execution, the realization could be referred to the middle of the 17th century. The face typing and the emphasizing of bloody details such as the insisting on the bleeding lesions of the stigmata correspond to the requests of the reformed Franciscan environment.
In 1752 the sacristy was enlarged with the positioning of some important closets. Giovanni Battista Cottini from Miasino, known as Gattonetto, realized the refectories and the cabinets. Such sacristy furnishings were moved – following to the Napoleonic suppressions – to the sacristy of the collegiate in Gozzano, where it seems to have a much more appropriate positioning.