|Fresco, 'Annunciation', Basilica di San Petronio - by Lorenzo Costa|
|The Basilica (not shrouded in scaffolding as it presently is)|
|Fuzzy snap of the workmen|
carrying off San Petronio.
Its facade is mostly plain brick, and its soaring vaults are bare, though they were meant to be covered in frescoes - a few initial efforts can be seen on some of the pillars. Making the best of this bare-ness, the Church’s guide books says:
“The Interior of the church is solemn and imposing...The whole has a very beautiful impulse of masses and lines which develop like a symphony and which rise towards the sky.”However, this doesn’t mean that the Basilica is without any interesting art. Inside there are 22 side chapels - 11 on each side - and although a few are rather bare, most have their own collection of frescoes, art, marble, gilt and stained glass, generally provided by a benefactor - a rich Renaissance Bolognese.
|Interior of the large Basilica.|
|Chapel of the Magi|
Above this gilded and painted panel is some beautiful stained glass, depicting Christ crowning the Virgin, and the Twelve Apostles (St Paul replacing Judas Iscariot - I always wondered what they did about Judas in these commemorations of the Apostles...)
But I digress. Around all of this are scenes from the life of San Petronio- and I know you’ve been waiting to hear his story: in a nutshell, he journeyed to far lands and successfully retrieved and brought back - to Bologna - the remains of Saint Florian, who had been martyred. Petronio was the Bishop of Bologna, and he’s the city’s patron saint today. His skull is kept in one of the Basilica’s chapels, though it was only moved there from the Church of San Stefano in 2000 (there’s an inscription on the outside of the Basilica, from 1734, corresponding to this chapel, speaking of the “treasure” within.)
|San Petronio (imagined?)|
Actually, I had a bit of trouble finding the full history of San Petronio. Wiki finishes rather abruptly, before telling us of anything saint-like about him; so I turned to catholic.org which says:
“His two main achievements were the repair of the many buildings and churches destroyed by the Goths during their invasion of the Western Empire and building the monastery of St. Stephen in the design of the sacred sites of the Holy Land. Petronius figured in a fictitious life which was immensely popular during the Middle Ages.”Delving deeper, I realised that we must not confuse San Petronio with the Roman writer Petronius who lived in the first century AD, and wrote a famous comic novel, "Satyricon."
This website says of the Saint that “He enriched the city with the relics of many saints, particularly those of the holy martyr St. Florian, who seems to have received his crown under Dioclesian [that is to say, Emperor Diocletian had Florian killed for being Christian]... his relics were brought from Vicenza, and deposited by St. Petronius in the church of St. Stephen.”
But it seems that the popularity of San Petronio is owed principally to the revival he brought to the city of Bologna after an unfortunate series of sacking by Vandals and Goths; and to publicity: in the twelfth Century there appeared a legendary life of Saint Petronio, after his relics were discovered in 1141.
|Did I say grotesque? Hell, and Lucifer.|
|Helpful guide book.|
It’s said that one of the figures being tortured in Hell in this fresco is Mohammed, though I’m not sure how the identification is made. This was enough, however, to attract a couple of extremist threats to blow up the Basilica, in 2002 and 2006, both thankfully thwarted. The audio guide book didn’t mention this, but Wiki comes through.
And I should mention the artist responsible for these marvellous frescoes in The Chapel of the Magi. The audio guide insisted upon Giovanni da Modena, hailing him as a genius. The guide book, however, says it is more “probable” that they’re the work of Jacobo di Paolo.
|The Magi returning home. In little ships.|
A Meridian Line Sundial: inlaid in the paving of the left aisle in 1655 (replacing an earlier one laid in 1575). It was calculated and designed by the famous astronomer Giovanni Domenico Cassini, who was teaching astronomy at the Bologna University: at 66.8 meters it is the longest sundial in the world, following measurements that were for the time uniquely precise.
Carvings and reliefs: the basilica is famous for these, but I’m afraid I can’t report much about them, since many are external and all presently shrouded in scaffolding for a restoration project. The few I could see over the internal entrance doors looked very fine.
Chapel of San Sebastian: Once called the Vasari Chapel, this features a a large painting by Lorenzo Costa of the very unfortunate saint surrounded by archers doing their dastardly work, from the end of the 15th century. But the real beauty in this chapel, IMHO, is the wonderfully delicate ‘Annunciation’ scene to the left and right of the central picture, also attributed to Lorenzo Costa. That beautiful angel kneeling before the columns reeling off into the perspective distance...
|Once more. Because I love it. Lorenzo Costa, 15th C.|