At the end of Via Fillungo, just a few steps away from Piazza Anfiteatro, we come into the small, compact Piazza San Frediano, overshadowed by the imposing sight of the basilica. The church in fact closes the view with the white colour of its limestone façade, interrupted only by an impressive mosaic. As early as 685 AD there are records of the Church of San Frediano, the biggest after the complex of the Duomo.
In that position, when it was still outside the city, there was already a religious building dedicated to the saints Stefano, Vincenzo and Lorenzo. Frediano, bishop of Lucca from 560 to 588, built the first basilica precisely in that position, where it was brought back to light by excavations. It had three naves with a unique characteristic: the façade to the East, unlike other churches, which faced West.
The change in orientation is due to the fact that the church entrance was too close to the second circle of the city walls, which were still being built at the time. In the 8th century a crypt was added to receive the body of San Frediano.
The Basilica is a fascinating sight to observe also when walking along the walls nearby. The massive bulk of the basilica seems to face Lucca's picturesque walk as an imposing, stern image, so near that you feel you could touch it! The church as it appears today is the result of the remaking which went on until its consecration in 1147.
The design provided for a lower church and it was made higher only in the 13th century, decorating the part added to the façade with the splendid mosaic of the Ascension. Christ, in an almond shape, is surrounded by the apostles; the Madonna was portrayed in the centre, but her image was cut away to open a single-light window.
The style of the mosaic is decidedly Byzantine; it may have been made by the Roman school in the upper part and by the local Berlinghieri Workshop for the lower area. On the city wall side there also rises the crenellated bell-tower; today it is near to the apse but perhaps, before the change in orientation of the church, it was on the façade, as in the case of San Martino.
It clearly shows the stages of its construction, which was carried out over a number of centuries, up to the addition of mullioned windows with two, three and four lights in the 13th century. It was also used as a defence tower over the centuries, because of its position near the walls.