In the city center there’s a little square, with some shops, a cafè, a newstand and a statue dedicated to one of our greatest sons, Parmigianino.
The square is called “della Steccata” (of the Steccata) taking its name from the church that closes the square on one side.
The origin of the Steccata Church has roots in its apparition in 1392 from an image of St. John the Baptist on the wall of a house in via St. Barnaba (currently via Garibaldi) where the church is found today: the cult for
this image motivated the creation of an oratory, and a little after a congregation of lay followers and clergy started to manage the small church. The image of the Virgin nursing Christ appeared only at the end of the 1400s on the wall of the oratory, which is now found on the altar of the Steccata: the Congregation took the name of the Madonna Annunciata (the Heralded Virgin). Its apparition provoked an incredible cult following, to the extreme point of necessitating the protection of the fresco and disciplining the zealous crowd by making a steccato (railing), which gives the same name to the painting and the church. After only a few years, at the beginning of the 20s in the 16th century, the congregation decided to elevate the miraculous Virgin giving it a more dignified hospitality.
The present church’s construction emerges between 1521 and 1527, and the project was given first to the architect Bernardino Zaccagni of Torrechiara, and after to Francesco Ferrari d’Agrate, a sculptor and architect who probably built the upper part of the construction and the pilaster strips with external leafy capitals. However, it is not clear how much, what, and who did the details of the project and the church structure, nor is it clear what role the consulting commissions made up of Correggio and Araldi played in the project plans. The project of the dome in Roman style done in 1526-27 can definitely be attributed to Antonio da Sangallo, the Younger. The plan is a Greek cross, with the arms positioned in cardinal beams and closed by apsidal niches. Between the arms four huge parallel chapels were immediately created, and even now used for the devotion, which gives the plan a similarity to many constructions with a central plan that were in fashion at the time in Italy following the ideas of Bramante and Raphael.
The interior was frescoed according to a precise marian iconographic plan and even now it is difficult to decode it in all its details. Other than the oriental soffit painted by Parmigianino, there is the dome with the Assumption of Maria painted by Barnardino Gatti (1560); the twelve scenes from the Old Testament of the Apostles of the column drum and freize under the cornice (of Gatti and Lattanzio Gambara); the conches of the southern niches with the ”Adoration of the Shepherds” and north with the Pentecost painted between 1547 and 1555 by Girolamo Mazzola Bedoli; the conch of the western niche with the Adoration of the Magi by Michelangelo Anselmi, but completed after his death by Gatti (1556); the conch of the eastern niche, projected first by Parmigianino and then completed by Michelangelo Anselmi upon the drawing of Giulio Romano (1541); Mercurio Baiardi (1568), Antonio Seghizzi, Giovanni Maria Conti delle Camere, Angelo Omobono Guazzi, and Antonio Bonviso (all between 1668 and 1670) did the chiaroscuri of the pillars. The external baluster on the attic and the external statues were positioned at the end of the 60s of the 17th century following the trend set yet again in Rome. In these years, one of the masterpieces of cabinetmaking in the church was created, the Noble Sacristy (access to the corridor from the north chapel) on the design by Carlo Rottini and Rinaldo Torri, and engravings by Giovanni Battista Mascheroni, decorating the cabinets with masks, female females, angels and vases containing even now the sacred historical heirlooms of the church.
The organ in the presbytery was built in 1572 by Benedetto Antegnati, amplified in 1592 by Costanzo Antegnati, and further amplified in the mid-1700s and electrically wired in 1970 by the Tamburini Company.
The Adam von Neipperg Funeral Monument, Morganic husband of the Duchess Maria Luigia of Austria and first minister of the Duchy, can be found at the church’s entrance and comes from the ex-Ducal chapel of St. Ludovico, as well as a Pietà honoring Maria Luigia, both in white marble.
In 1718, Clement XI took the Steccata Church away from the founding congregation donating it to Francesco Farnese, the Duke of Parma and Piacenza who turned it into the conventual church of the Constantinian Order of St. George, an order of knights of Byzantine origin taken over for the order of knights under the Ducal family of Parma.
In the church’s crypt, which is open to visitors, since 1823 there are the remains of fourteen princes and dukes of the Farnesian-Borbonic dynasties, including that of Alessandro Farnese, Ranuccio I and II Farnese, Francesco Farnese, Filippo of Borbone. The last one was Carlo Ugo di Borbone in 2010.