A visit by Saint Francis of Assisi to Bologna in 1222 sparked interest in building a major church for the Franciscans serving the city. The Gothic Basilica of San Francesco was completed in 1263.
Enhancements added later include a Venetian marble altar sculpted by Jacobello and Pier Pabla dalle Masegne.
Pope Alexander V (1339-1410), one of the “antipopes” reigning during the time of the schism resulting in competing popes ruling from Avignon, is entombed here. He died unexpectedly one night in Bologna while in the sole company of one of his cardinals. The cardinal was elevated to become Pope John XXIII (1370-1419), leaving a cloud of suspicion lingering in the minds of some.
Aside from a few takeovers for usage as military barracks or weapons storage, including the French in 1796 and an Italian war in 1842, the church has remained under the auspices of the Franciscans since then.