Tuesday, March 13, 2007

February 2007 - Bologna, Italy - So Many Churches

Bologna has many important churches, some are more beautiful that others, some are more sacred, and some are just plain eerie. We start with the eerie one - Santa Stefano.

Here we are in front of it. It doesn't look so scary from here. This is a complez known as "le siete chiese" 7 churches built over several hundred years beginning in the early Christian period. The churches were built over ancient buildings and founded in the 5th century by Saint Petronius (patron saint of Bologna) as a reproduction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Then it was rebuilt and enlarged by Benedictine monks from the 10th century forward.

As one church connects to the next, we entered through the Chiesa del Crocifisso which seemed pretty benign, and then we passed into the spooky Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro (above) built over the ancient temple of Isis in the 10th-11th centuries. We then passed into the scariest church of all, the Chiesa dei Santi Vitale e Agricola, This church was rebuilt in the 11th century but contains traces of earlier construction such as a 3rd century B.C. ionic capital on a column and the 6th century A.D. mosaic fragments on the floors. All we could focus on was the large stone table sitting on the altar as if waiting for a virgin sacrifice.

Then we stepped into the Cortile di Pilato with stone and terracotta mosaics decorating the courtyard. This open space separates the Santo Sepolcro and the Chiesa della Trinita. The basin in the center dates back to the 8th century A.D. The Chiesa della Trinita is made up of about 4 chapels and it is by far the most peaceful of the churches with light entering throufh the arched doorways shining off bright marble columns which separate the chapels.
The Chiesa della Trinita leads into the Benedictine cloister, a romanesque cloister with overlying loggias from the 10th-12th centuries and a 17th century well in the center. Just off the cloister is now the basilica museum containing important works of medieval religious art.

The holiest site in Bologna - San Luca - is actually about 3.5 km outside of the historic city center, atop Monte della Guardia overlooking the city. You can actually see it from the top of the Asinelli Tower that we had climbed earlier (and described in a prior posting). To get there, you have to walk under an arched portico that continues, uninterrupted, in a zig-zag path all the way to the top of the mountain. The starting point is the gate below, Porta Saragozza, one of the remaining gates of the ancient wall that enclosed the city.

Knowing that our excursion to San Luca involved walking under a portico of 666 arches, very much like the ones we've been walking under all over the city, somehow made climbing the mountain seem very doable. The construction of this long portico began in 1657 and was not completed for 60 years and it was financed by a fund raising campaign of the citizens of Bologna.

We began our walk in the mornng. It started out like every other leisurely walk we'd taken through the city. Here's us on the portion of the portico that connects its flat section, which extends from Porta Saragozza, to the ascending section that continues up the hill to San Luca. Notice how bundled up we were - the temperature was in the 40s. At this point, we are under the Meloncello Arch designed by Carlo Francesco Dotti, architect of San Luca, and finished in 1732.

Once we crossed over to the inclining section of the portico, our walk to San Luca got significantly more difficult, as it involved climbing several hundred steps. Along the way, there were several paintings, the Mysteries of the Rosary, within chapels built into the portico walls placed strategicly almost as if to distract us from how out-of-shape we felt. Below is us on a landing at the bottom of the home stretch of steps leading to top of the mountain. Notice Casandra is glowing and her jacket is removed and mine is open and my scarf unraveled. If you look closely at the white dot above our heads in the picture, you can see a cross. Though we first gazed at this daunting staircase and weren't sure if that was just another turn of the portico to the left, the cross gave us hope that it was the top of portico looking out over the other side of the mountain.

And it was. We made it to the top in one piece (holding several pieces of clothing).

The church was built for the cult of the Madonna and Child, a Byzantine painting considered the work of St. Luke the Evangelist. According to legend, a Greek monk brought the painting from Constantinople to Bologna and this massive church was built to house it. The present day circular church was designed by Carlo Francesco Dotti in the mid 16th century. We entered during a mid-day mass, but I still managed to snap several photos of the impressive interior. The building is basically round with a huge dome over its center. Below you can see some of the massive columns that lend support for the dome.

Below is a close-up of the high altar (and the priest to the right leading the mass). The frescoes that covered the walls and vault of the apse were exquisite.

The most important art in this church is the Madonna of the Rosary and St. Domenic by Guido Reni which he painted when he was only 20.

On our way home from just about anywhere in Bologna we passed through the square containing San Martino.

San Martino is a simple gothic church which is most beautiful for the way that it's orangy exterior looks against Bologna's bright blue sky.

The only ornate chapel in San Martino, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, shows the huge contrast between the gothic and baroque styles of architecture.

By far our favorite Italian church was San Bartolomea e Agata located very close to our apartment in Bologna and just under the 2 towers. This copper-domed baroque church was exquisitely decorated with marbles and frescoes and gilded wood but not at all over done.

This is the amazingly frescoed interior of the copper dome.

This is the frescoed ceiling over the main nave. The beautiful golden-hued art covered every inch of the ceiling.

This is the apse behind the main alter where frescoes cover the walls and the vault.

These are the domes in the side aisles on either side of the main nave each frescoed with a different theme.

Finally, below are the gilded columns of the arched wall that divides the main nave from the side aisles. The glow in the sunlight which pours in from windows in the domes is ethereal.

The church of Santa Maria della Vita has a tall dome which can be seen all the way from Piazza Maggiore even though it is a block away and hidden behind Palazzo dei Banchi (famous spot for commerce).

This church is important because it houses the terracotta sculpture group by Niccolo dell'Arca, Lamentation, completed in 1463.

This beautiful little church appears squeezed in between the palazzos that surround it leaving the church no choice but to be elliptical in shape with a beautifully frescoed dome over its main nave.

San Francesco is another gothic church in Bologna. It was built by Francescan monks from 1236 to 1263. The romanesque-gothic facade was rebuilt after WWII bombings.

The main nave contains gothic vaults in the colors of Bologna (red & white). This is like a smaller version of St. Petronio (the main church of Bologna) where we were not allowed to take pictures.
Behind the high altar is a late gothic masterpiece executed by Pier Paolo delle Masegne in 1388-93. This screen carved out of white marble depicts the life of St. Francis and biblical scenes.

One of the church's most beautiful features is the colorful and detailed stained glass over the main entrance.

Here is a side view of the church showing it's rather large size.

The French gothic style introduced by the Franciscan monks, is evident in the flying buttresses and the radiating chapels in the apse behind the main altar. The larger of the two bell towers on the left was designed by Antonio di Vincenzo 1397-1404.

San Giovani in Monte is yet another example of Bolognese gothic architecture.

San Giovani's main nave also resembles a miniature of St. Petronio.

We visited San Domenico on a detour from a day of shopping in Bologna's shopping area off Via Ferrini. The facade was built in the 1300s and its major feature is the large rose window with its elemental tracery. The facade was restored in the early 20th century.

San Domenico was built in 1228-38 dedicated to St. Domenic who died in Bologna. The present day interior was designed by Dotti the same as San Luca in 1726-32.

Interior frescoes on dome.

In the Apse of Capella di San Domenico is Guido Reni's masterpiece, Saint Domenic in Glory.

Above you can see the centerpiece of this chapel which is the Arca di San Domenico which dates from the 13th to the 18th centuries. The lid of the sarcophagus was sculpted by Niccolo da Bari. The statutes of San Petronius, San Proculus, and the angel supporting the candelabrum are by Michelangelo.

Above is Michelangelo's angel.

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