The Ancient Butchers’ Guild – Locanda Sant’Ambrogio

Author: Giancarlo Gonizzi

The large Medieval building with terracotta walls, angular towers and arched windows that stands on the corner of via Repubblica and borgo Sant’Ambrogio, today known as Palazzo Fainardi, was for centuries the Butchers Palace and housed all the city’s butcher’s shops.

L’Arte dei Beccaj was one of the four Major Guilds making up the “Guild of Merchants”[1], which had great influence over the administration of the commune of Parma during the Middle Ages.

A very great number of provisions about the Butchers’ Guild, including ones about public health and hygiene, are cited in the Municipal Statutes: the Beccaj were required to slaughter and sell cattle, pork, goat and sheep meats; each butcher had to consider it a sacred duty not to sell the meat of sick or infected animals and had to agree to a weekly inspection of its shop by the people acting on behalf of the Consul. The Butchers’ statute, one of the most important ones, even though it is a copy, dates to 1309 and was confirmed in 1448 by the podestà.

On the Feast of the Virgin in August, all the butchers immediately followed the podestà in the procession towards the Cathedral, something that was considered a privilege. It was forbidden to sell to the public or privately on Sundays and holidays. Meats could not be slaughtered and sold on the same day. Butchers with stalls or shops in public places could not rent them to anyone but other members of the Guild and it was forbidden to associate with one’s own apprentices. The podestà, who was in office for a year and received a compensation of 6 Parma pounds, was chosen by six electors nominated by all the members of the Guild. All these had to be recorded in “a large book” by the podestà, who also had to keep a second book with the names of all those serving the Corporation, and a third one with the names of the owners of the butcher’s shops.

In order to make room for the fortification of Piazza Grande,[2] where the butcher shops were located, in 1347 the beccherie were moved near the Church of San Giorgio (Piazza Cesare Battisti area), which also housed the Palazzo dei Beccaj. The butcher’s shops then were all municipal property and were rented out at regular intervals; in 1478, when the contracts were renewed, they numbered fifteen: twelve near the square and three in Capo di Ponte (the other side of the river).

On February 4, 1545, a proclamation was issued for compensation to the owners of houses demolished for the construction of the town’s new butcher’s shops. Numerous other proclamations specified in turn the behaviour and care required of butchers. In 1707 the Guild was reformed and a new Statute was approved.

The Guild was now governed by an Elder, the Mayor and a Farmer. Nobody could practice the trade outside of the designated area for butcher’s shops. During Lent only one shop – chosen by auction – could be kept open, and the amount it raised during that time had to be handed in to the Guild’s fund. Applications to join had to be submitted in the period from the first day of Lent to Holy Monday. In order to avoid “murmurs and discord“, the Tripparoli (tripe sellers) could only stop in the Butcher’s Shop for the time necessary to collect the entrails.[3]

After the removal of the butcher’s shops, the Palazzo dei Beccaj held the tribunal and the prison and took the name of Palazzo del Criminale.

The Locanda Sant’Ambrogio, an inn adorned by rich 15th century windows with terracotta mouldings,[4] has medieval origins, and is mentioned in a 1520 contract: «Hospitium sub signo Sancti Ambroxii… in civitate Parmae».[5]

Originally a hospice, it was converted into an inn and hotel of the same name,[6] until the end of the 19th century, when it was turned into a restaurant that operated until the 1980s.[7] The inside had a large stone fireplace and many arches, and its medieval structure preserved the charm of a bygone era. The inn gave its name to the street where it was located.[8]

Gianfranco Gandini, who succeeded Cesare Lottici, was its last manager, from 1964 to 1981. The building, once the property of Pepén Clerici, was purchased on July 28, 1977 by Banca Emiliana, to accommodate its pressing need for new spaces. Thus on July 15, 1981 – despite some attempts to avoid it – the ancient inn permanently closed its doors.[9] The restaurant has now moved to Borgo Torrigiani, near the Courthouse, and continues its old gastronomic tradition in different premises and with a different name.

[1] Statutory organization of the Guild of Merchants was completed by the end of the consular period of the commune of Parma, in 1179, and it was organized in a hierarchical structure with “Mercanzia” at the top and “Ministeria subiecta Mercadancia” at the bottom. The Guilds gathered under the umbrella of Merchandise eventually separated into Major Guilds (which at the time of the commune under a podestà were four: Butchers, Blacksmiths, Furriers and Saddlers, Leather workers), Middle Guilds (eleven at the same period, with the Corporation of Tailors leading them), and finally the Minor Guilds (nine at the start of Giberto da Gente’s rule as Signore, thirteen when the Crusaders’ Society, or Guelph side, seized power). This subdivision also had political implications. The Guilds had been differentiating themselves according to their economic weight, thus creating a sort of divide between those practising a proper trading or high-level artisanal activity (bankers, furriers, blacksmiths, wool and linen merchants, butchers) and small craftsmen. This polarization became more entrenched over time, creating a clear division between traders and craftsmen. (COMUNE DI PARMA, Parma e il suo Comune, Parma, Step, 1989, p. 50).

[2] The Guild’s Church, the Church of San Pietro, where the feast of its patron saint, Saint Rocco, was solemnly celebrated, is also located in Piazza Grande. The Butchers’ seal showed a Bullock inside an oval and the legend: «+ S. COMUNITATIS BECARIORUM PARMAE».

[3] MICHELI G., Le corporazioni parmensi d’arti e mestieri, in “Archivio Storico per le province Parmensi”, 1896, pp. 41-47.

[4] State Archives, Parma, Sanseverini Collection, Vol. 1.

[5] Notarial Archives, Parma, Rogito Giulio Banzi, 1520.

[6] GAMBARA L., PELLEGRI M., DE GRAZIA M., Palazzi e Casate di Parma. Parma, La Nazionale, 1971, pp. 110-111.

[7] PELIZZONI L., Albori e sviluppi dell’artigianato alimentare, in Arti e Mestieri a Parma. Parma, Step, 1987, pp. 154-158.

[8] SITTI G., Parma nel nome delle sue strade, Parma Fresching, 1929, p. 14.

[9] Sta per chiudere il Ristorante S. Ambrogio, in “Gazzetta di Parma”, 8 July 1981, p. 5.