CATHEDRAL OF VERONA
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Journey to discover the cathedral of S. Maria Matricolare, one of the most harmonious and spectacular Romanesque churches in Verona. Find out more!
The cathedral of Santa Maria Matricolare, better known as the Duomo, is one of the main places of worship in the city and the cathedral of the diocese of Verona. It is located in a small square, called Piazza Vescovado, a few minutes’ walk from Ponte Pietra and the Church of Sant’Anastasia. The Duomo is made up of a 12th-century baptistery, the Cloister of the canons, the Church of Sant’Elena and the remains of an early Christian basilica.
History of the Cathedral of Verona
In the area where the Cathedral of Verona stands today, it is believed that during Roman times there were villas with private spas and worship temples.
The first early Christian basilica was built in the area where the church of S. Elena now stands, it was consecrated by the bishop San Zeno. A decade later the church was enlarged alongside another building. The latter collapsed in the seventh century, therefore only the remains of the mosaic floor of these two early paleochristian churches are still visible under the church of Sant’Elena and in the cloister. The cathedral was rebuilt between the seventh and ninth centuries but was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1117.
In the following years, the Duomo underwent various architectural interventions, making it a set of different styles. In the mid-fifteenth century, it was enlarged, raising its naves and inserting late Gothic elements on the facade. In the sixteenth century, the apse was surrounded by a Tornaco, and the bell tower was designed. In the 18th century, the side chapels of the SS Sacramento and the Madonna del Popolo were taken up again, while in 1880 the marble floor was redone and the bell tower was completed in 1913.
The exterior of the Cathedral of Verona
If you admire the facade of the Duomo from the outside you can see the two different styles with which it was built: the Romanesque and the Gothic. In the center stands a two-level prothyrum that protects the entrance door. The two floors are different: the lower one, in white and pink marble, is supported by two columns resting on winged griffins and holding a round arch on whose sides hunting and saints scenes are carved.
The upper part, in tuff, proposes the round arch, surmounted by a tympanum with arches resting on eight columns. The portal is carved with figures of biblical prophets and real and fantastic animals, while the lateral prothyrum has two orders of columns with decorated capitals, bas-reliefs, and remains of frescoes.
The portal is surmounted by a lunette with bas-reliefs depicting the Madonna and Child, surrounded by the Magi and the Shepherds. If you let your gaze wander upwards, you will notice the additions that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries led to the construction of two mullioned windows in Gothic style, and the central rose window, surmounted by the coat of arms of Cardinal Agostino Valier, who was bishop of Verona for about thirty years (from 1565 to 1599).
The bell tower has never been completed. According to legend, it was not completed in order not to exceed in height the Torre dei Lamberti, the tallest building in the city. The real reason was a lack of funds. The tower has ten bells, the six smaller and the larger ones, are ringed daily.
Interior of the Cathedral of Verona
The interior of the Duomo is majestic and solemn. You can immediately notice three naves with cross vaults and five spans divided by eight marble columns. The central nave, designed by the architect Michele Sanmicheli, is closed to the main chapel. All chapels are decorated in Renaissance style and one of these is the Assumption of Titian. The large oil painting on canvas, dating back to 1535, represents the Assumption of the Virgin in heaven. In the foreground, we notice the apostles grouped around the empty sarcophagus. Their clothes are in bright colors and one of the apostles holds the belt left by the Virgin. Maria, suspended in the clouds, stands in a gradually brighter sky which surrounds her face as if it were a halo.
Noteworthy are also the three pipe organs, on whose doors religious scenes are painted, and the sepulchers of Antonio Cesari and Pope Lucius III.
Adjacent buildings: Church of Sant’Elena, San Giovanni in Fonte, Cloister of the Canons, Canonical Museum and Chapter Library.
From a door in the left nave, you can access the Church of Sant’Elena, built towards the end of the 8th century on the foundations of the previous early Christian church. It was badly damaged by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1140. The Romanesque facade is partially covered by a loggia with columns and cross vaults. To the right of the entrance, there is a plaque commemorating Dante Alighieri that chose this place to publicly read his work Quaestio de Acqua et Terra, in 1320. The interior of the church is in Romanesque style, with a single nave, and with wooden ceiling. The main chapel houses the monumental altarpiece of the sixteenth century of the Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints Zeno, Stefano, Giorgio and Elena; by Felice Brusasorci. On the right wall you will see the chapel of the Holy Cross where an altar and an altarpiece are depicting the Madonna and Child with Saints Elena, Caterina and Giovanni. Also noteworthy are the polychrome stone triptych of the Madonna and Child on the throne, and the altarpiece depicting the Redeemer.
The church of San Giovanni in Fonte, built in the Lombard era and completely rebuilt in 1123, has been used for years as a baptistery for the Cathedral. Its walls have frescoes dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Furthermore, here you will find the most famous work of art, a 12th-century baptismal font with reliefs depicting the life of Jesus: the Annunciation, the announcement to the shepherds, the adoration of the Magi, Herod with the soldiers, the massacre of the Innocents, the flight to Egypt and the baptism of Christ.
Part of the cathedral is also the Cloister of the Canons and the Canonical Museum, which can be accessed out of St. Helena. In the cloister, the remains are belonging to the early Christian churches that occupied this place previously, while the Museum preserves sculptures, sacred furnishings, and paintings from the 1400s, 1500s, and 1600s. Finally, the Chapter Library, accessible from Piazza del Duomo, is one of the most famous and oldest ecclesiastical libraries in Europe. Here are preserved ancient parchments, illuminated books and multiple manuscripts of inestimable value, including the Institutions of Gaius and an edition of the De Civitate Dei di Sant’Agostino.