At the time of Caterina Sforza, the “San Mercuriale Abbey” was the undisputed symbol of the city of Forlì. It stood on the remains of an ancient parish church dedicated to Santo Stefano, the protomartyr and on the city’s burial ground, where the bishops of Forlì were also buried. The entrance portal is surmounted by the “Lunette of the Magi” a work attributed to the “Master of the Months” of Ferrara and built around the early thirteenth century.
The ancient Pieve had been destroyed in 1173 by a violent fire caused by the riots, which at that time were frequent due to the fights between Guelphs and Ghibellines. It was then rebuilt in Lombard Romanesque style. It is very likely that on this occasion, the sacred building was rebuilt following a planimetric structure with three naves with a crypt under the main altar.
At the time of Caterina Sforza, the church was outside the inhabited main area of the city from which it was separated by the Ravaldino canal, the regimented branch of the river Rabbi that still flows covered today under the loggia of the Town Hall, creating the so-called “Ponte Buio” wanted by the Ordelaffi in the fifteenth century.
To remember inside the San Mercuriale Abbey some works of great importance: the funeral monument of Barbara Manfredi of Francesco di Simone Ferrucci from Fiesole and some valuable paintings by Marco Palmezzano, one of the artists who were part of the small Renaissance court by Caterina Sforza.