Italy Basilica di San Petronio

20 images 1 contributors Shoot with care

Sue Wolfe

Shoot with care
This is a place of worship so dress appropriately—knees and shoulders need to be covered.

About this spot
Dominating the Piazza Maggiore is the Basilica of San Petronio—the largest and most important church in Bologna. Construction began in 1390 with the central nave vaults being completed in 1658. The church is Gothic in style and quite large (capacity 28,000)—earning a spot on the “Largest churches in Europe” list. It is said it would have been larger than St. Peter’s in Rome had not Pope Pius IV put a stop to construction by using the funds for Bologna’s new university, The Archiginnasio. That explains the half-finished façade—money was diverted and only the bottom half of the basilica was clad in rose and white marble from Verona.

The church was dedicated to Petronius, the city’s patron saint. There are 22 side chapels in total. The second chapel on the left contains the Saint’s relics. It contains two organs—the oldest dates to 1475 and is still in working order. Another popular chapel is the Cappella dei Magi (Bolognini). The chapel is completely covered in frescoes which represent the life of St. Petronio, paradise, and hell. One of the frescos depicts the Prophet Mohammed in hell being tortured by a demon. The painting has offended many Muslims—so much so that Islamist terrorist groups tried to blow up the Basilica in 2002 and 2006. The Basilica is now under surveillance 24/7. The chapels were decorated by various artists including Aspertini, Giovanni da Modena, Lorenzo Costa, and Francesco Francia. Each chapel is different and ranges from modest to very ornate.

On the left side of the church is Cassini’s 66.8-meter Meridian Line. Sunlight enters through a hole in the church wall and at noon falls exactly on the meridian line. The position of the projected image of the sun, among other things, accurately calculates the timing of equinoxes and solstices.

The entrance, “Porta Magna,” was designed by Jacopo della Quercia. The pillars and architrave depict events from the Old and New Testament. The tympanum depicts the Madonna and Child, Saint Ambrosio, and Saint Petronio. The right and left portals feature reliefs by Aspertini, Lombardi and Properzia de’ Rossi (one of the few female sculptors of the Renaissance). The left is the “Risen Christ with Soldiers” by Lombardi and the right lunette contains “The Deposition” by Aspertini.

The church has been the backdrop for many historical events. Charles V chose San Petronio as the location for his crowning as Holy Roman Emperor in 1530. The basilica also hosted the IX and X sessions of the Council of Trent due to the plague raging in Trent.

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