Monuments of Verona: Santa Maria Antica Church
Discovering S. Maria Antica, retracing all the Italian artistic styles that have left their mark here and have contributed to its incomparable beauty!
The church of Santa Maria Antica in Verona is one of the best-known churches that will reserve a magnificent surprise. You can find it just past Piazza dei Signori (or Piazza Dante), next to the Gothic Arche Scaligere.
It was built in the first half of the 8th century as a Lombard church, it was destroyed by an earthquake and later rebuilt in 1117. With its Romanesque style, this church has a millenary charm, all to be discovered.
It was consecrated in 1185 by the patriarch of Aquileia and it later became the private chapel of the Della Scala family, during the Scaliger period. It was this family who built the Arche Scaligere (or the family tombs) next to it.
The church underwent various architectural interventions over the years: around 1630, its interior was modified according to the Baroque style, and it is only in the late nineteenth century restorations that it was restored to its original splendor.
The Della Scala family
Since the history of this church is strongly linked to that of the Della Scala family, we briefly tell you the history of this family. The Della Scala family, also known as the Scaligeri, was a powerful dynasty that ruled over Verona for 125 years, from 1262 to 1387. The head of the family was Jacopino della Scala, a wool merchant without noble titles, who nevertheless became a skilled politician. He was the father of Alberto, Manfredo and Mastino I della Scala. The latter became Captain of the People in 1262 and tried to mitigate the contrasts that arose between the various families and factions of the city at the time. When Mastino I was assassinated, he was succeeded by his brother Alberto with whom the city passed from free municipality to Signoria. Alberto died in 1301, leaving three children: Bartolomeo, Alboino and Canfrancesco Cangrande. Bartholomeo was the first to assume power, but soon it passed to the brothers Alboino and Cangrande. When Alboino died he was the only Cangrande twho had controlled the city for over 20 years. He was an enlightened and respected Lord, and during his reign, he hosted in his palace many poets, scientists and artists – including Dante Alighieri. He died in suspicious circumstances at the age of 38 and he did not leave direct heirs. His successor was Mastino II della Scala, son of Alboino, under which the Lordship of Verona reached its maximum expansion. The Scaligeri lost powers later, but still built the buildings for which they are still famous today: Castelvecchio, Ponte Scaligero and the Arche. Mastino II’s heirs continued to rule the city until Verona was offered to Venice and the Scaligeri fled to Bavaria.
Description of the Church of Santa Maria Antica
If you look at it from the outside you can see the alternating bands of brick and stone and the splay windows with which the facade was built. Noteworthy is the square bell tower in Romanesque style, entirely built in tuff and with mullioned windows.
To access the church you have to go through a side entrance, surmounted by the ark of Cangrande I Della Scala. Passing under the ark of Cangrande has the symbolic value of paying homage to the lord of Verona. The sarcophagus is surmounted by an equestrian statue representing the prince, a faithful reconstruction of the original one that is kept in the museum of Castelvecchio. The prince is portrayed smiling as he rides his steed whose gualdrappa seems to sway in the wind. Cangrande’s head is covered with an iron mesh, while the helmet falls on his back. His arm seems to put the sword back in its scabbard as a sign of peace.
Inside, the church seems austere. It is divided into three naves, separated by two rows of seven red stone columns. The square capitals support the raised arches, ending in small apses carved into the wall.
The lateral apses are decorated with tuff and red brick bands, while in the central one are still visible the remains of fourteenth-century frescoes.
The columns of the central nave seem to have been recovered from other churches which were destroyed and then reused, as the Templar tradition wanted.
A fragment of black and white stone mosaic, probably dating from the original 8th-century church, was discovered in the 19th century and can be seen next to the altar on the left side. Although it is devoid of particular works of art, in this church you can admire marble tombstones, paintings, statues, and a large crucifix. It is thanks to its austerity that this small church is so full of charm and mysticism, and by visiting it, you can get an idea of what it was like in medieval times.