Duke Rinaldo I founded the church in 1723, on an edifice built in 1190; and where a second one of the 16th century dedicated to Saint Michael formerly stood. The church takes its name form the Saint John of the Good Death’s Brotherhood, to give assistance to those condemned to death, establishing themselves here in 1774.
It’s the only Modenese church which is not annexed to other edifices. The typically neoclassical design is by Girolamo Frigimelica Roberti.
The round interior is 22 metres high. The balcony conserves an organ by Agostino Traeri of the 18th century.
Near the presbytery, Decollation of Saint John by Francesco Vellani (18th century); in the left chapel, a canvas by Antonio Consetti (1734) commissioned by the shoemakers’ guild; in the right one, by the same author, Virgin and Saints (1723), for the coachmen’s guild. The balustrades are by the famous Giovan Battista Malagoli.
On the wall, there are many eagles, symbol of the Este family. On the right of the main altar, Madonna della Mercede o delle Catene (1897).
However, the most interesting work in the church is the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Guido Mazzoni. It is the oldest in the world, as it dates back to 1479. The terracottas have an intense expressiveness and were probably copied from true persons of the time.
In the small room before the sacristy there are many blood-thirsty instruments, once used for capital punishment (the friars drugged and forced the condemned to repent). In the area behind the main altar, high-backed wooden chairs were used by the friars during cerimonies.
In the sacristy, reliquaries, coffins and an arras used in processions with the Latin verse from the Qohelet book of the Bible «vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas» (that is «vanity of vanities and every vanity»).