The beating heart of Bergamo’s historical center is Piazza Vecchia (Old Square). One side of this square is occupied by Palazzo Nuovo (New Palace), which is an outstanding example of a project that ran amok—construction began in the early 17th century and ended in 1958. The deconsecrated church by the name of Ex-Chiesa di San Michele all’Arco maintains its Baroque entrance beside Palazzo Nuovo, but the actual church is enclosed within the walls of the palace.
When this church was first mentioned is a matter of debate, with some historians claiming it was in the 8th, and some in the 9th century. It is also unclear whether the location of the church mentioned in these documents is exactly where the church is located today. Finally, the appellation “all’Arco” (at the arch) refers to a structure that no longer exists, but historical sources suggest the church was in proximity of an arch in honor of Emperor Nero.
More accurate information on this church dates back to the end of the 15th century, when an official decree requested the closing of the church’s doors, due to unwholesome sights and noise caused by a nearby brothel and a prison. A point was made, especially, regarding the disturbance caused by prisoners that were being led to the scaffold.
Due to the church being located within Palazzo Nuovo, religious service was discontinued in 1805, and the building became a repository of newspapers, but it was not until 1955 that the church was deconsecrated altogether. To this day, the Ex-Chiesa di San Michele all’Arco is used to house a vast collection of local daily and periodical publications. Overloaded metal shelves form narrow corridors and arise as high as the dome. The juxtaposition of new elements and the old building is striking, and so is that of the spiritual versus the secular use of the space.
In spite of the shelves overcrowding the place, it is possible to appreciate the dome, which was painted by Carlo Innocenzo Carloni between 1757 and 1760. At the center is Saint Michael, brandishing his sword and chasing rebel angels from heaven. The serene posture of the angels in the sky contrasts starkly with the image of the rebel angels, whose angelic wings have already turned into wings of a bat. The painter also decorated the plumes contiguous to the dome, where archangels, saints, and prophets are portrayed.
Know Before You Go
Ex-Chiesa di San Michele all’Arco is not usually open to the public, but visits can be organised by visiting the website www.visitbergamo.net or by contacting the front desk of Bibblioteca Angelo Mai (public library), adjacent to the church.