Santo Stefano, Bologna

4.5 out of 5 stars 33 Reviews

Via Santo Stefano, 24 051 223256

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    Santo Stefano: Cortile de Pilato

    by leics Updated Dec 4, 2014

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    The Cortile de Pilato...Pilate's courtyard...is an open space surrounded by cloisters which lies behind the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. From there you can get an excellent view of the intricate brickwork patterns of that church's rear wall.

    The arcades on each side of the courtyard are made of brick in the Romanesque Lombard style. underneath the arches lie many memorials and memorial fragments, including a 14th-century sculpture of a rooster to remind people of the three times St Peter denied Christ as the cock crew.

    But the highlight of this courtyard, for me, is the vast marble basin in the its centre. It dates from the mid-700s and has a long inscription carved around its circumference. There have long been disagreements about the meaning of the inscription, although it is certain that the basin (or at least the inscription) was created during the reign of King Liutprand when one Barbato was bishop.

    It is thought that the name 'Pilate's basin' started in the 14th century, when the whole complex became Bologna's 'Jerusalem' (and was promoted as such), the name being a reference to Pontius Pilate 'washing his hands' of the matter of Christ.

    From the courtyard go into the Martyrium

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    Santo Stefano: steeped in history.

    by leics Updated Nov 30, 2014

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    The complex of Santo Stefano is such and ancient an fascinating site that it is impossible to describe in just one tip. So I'll be making a separate tip about each of the main areas accessible to the public. It is also a site with a hugely complex political history, with various factions taking control of Bologna over the past 2000 years and each affecting how the site developed. I won't even attempt to do more than give brief details here. There is an excellent guide to the site which can be purchased in the museum; it is more than worth the 5 euros it costs and is available in several languages.

    Information about the earliest history of what is now known as Santo Stefano is, of course, somewhat sparse. It derives from archaeological investigations as well as a few remaining documents.

    The earliest holy spot known in the complex seems to date from around the first century AD, when Bologna was a Roman colonia. A small temple to Isis was built over what was almost certainly regarded as a holy (and possibly a healing) spring. The same spring still rises today and runs underneath what is now the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre.

    In 393 the bishop of Milan (later St Ambrose) visited Bologna. During his visit, amazingly, the remains of the two martyrs (San Vitale and San Agricole) who were killed around 304 were discovered. It is thought that a small holy place, a 'sacellum' was built over the post where the remains were found.

    In the 400s, the remains of the temple to Isis were converted into a baptistry. Later, in the 700s, the Lombards built a church nearby and this is one of the three churches whose facades face onto the triangular Piazza Santo Stefano.

    All three churches can be visited, along with the ancient courtyards and cloisters which lie behind them. Plus yet another church, the Martyrium (or Holy Cross or Trinity) church, which has a hugely complex archaeological and architectural history and almost certainly lies on the site of the 'sacellum' I mentioned above. Plus the Capella Della Benda ('chapel of the bandage'), a small museum and shop (staffed by monks).

    The complex is open, according to the official Bologna tourist info site from 1000-1900 but you'll see from the photo that the times displayed by the entrance are entirely different. Although entrance is free there is the opportunity to make a donation and, given the immense historical value of this site and the cost of its upkeep, I had no hesitation in doing so.

    If you visit only one historical site in Bologna, Santo Stefano must be that site. You'll begin your exploration with the Chiesa del Crocifisso

    From Piazza Santo Stefano
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    Santo Stefano: Chiesa del Crocifisso

    by leics Updated Nov 30, 2014

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    You enter the complex of Santo Stefano through the Chiesa del Crocifisso (church of the crucifix), which has the largest frontage of the three churches which face P Santo Stefano. This church was originally built in the 700s by the Lombards but has been greatly altered over subsequent centuries.

    The church is all one open space, now rather austere, with no aisles or side-chapels. A (modern) staircase leads up to the altar and presbytery, in front of which hangs a 14th-century crucifix painted by Simone di Filippo Benvenuti, known as 'dei Crocifissi'.

    It was the crypt of this church which most interested me. Accessed underneath the modern staircase, it is more like a church than a crypt, with two aisles and a nave, its arches supported by columns with a variety of carved capitals from different periods. One wonders if it was the original church on this spot; certainly there was once access from the adjoining courtyard. Dimly-lit, and with people deep in prayer in front of the urn which contains the remains of S Vitale and S Agricole, it was not somewhere for me to take photos.

    Spend a while exploring this church before moving onwards into the ancient Basilica del Sepolcro

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    Santo Stefano: Basilica Del Sepolcro

    by leics Updated Nov 30, 2014

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    This is the second church you will enter, through a small doorway to the far left of the Chiesa del Crocifisso.

    The basilica is a round church, the oldest building still existing on the site. For me, round churches are always very special indeed. Their shape alone so very strongly links to the past, to ancient temples and to pre-Christian religious practices.

    The basilica is built on, and includes part of, the pre-Christian temple which stood in the first century, later converted into a baptistry and then, eventually, into a church.

    The building has an octagonal base with an interior domed structure supported on twelve columns.This interior structure was created in the 1000s and is a reconstruction of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Creating it changed the structure of the existing building but the earlier (Roman?) columns of black marble from Africa were retained, interspersed with brick columns..

    A grating near the central structure covers the place where the remains of San Petronio were discovered in 1141 and his relics are now preserved within the structure itself.

    I found this ancient church deeply atmospheric, rendolent of two thousand years (possibly more) of worship and prayer on this spot.

    From here, walk though into the adjoining Basilica of S Vitale & S Agricole

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    Santo Stefano: Basilica S Vitale & S Agricole

    by leics Updated Nov 30, 2014

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    This is the third of the three churches whose frontages face Piazza San Stefano, and the oldest in its entirity. It is dimly-lit and has a damp, chilly atmosphere but...of all the structures on site....it is the one which most retains its original form.

    The basilica is very old indeed, dating back to the time when the remains of the martyrs were first discovered (304AD). It is dimly-lit and largely bare, its walls testament to the damage wrought by the passage of over a thousand years.

    The building was certainly in existence by 393, when the remains of the two saints were transferred to Milan (they came back to bologna later) but what you see today is largely a Romanesque Lombard structure, with intricately carved column capitals and the remains of early mosaics and frescoes.

    One of the carved (Roman) sarcophagi was discovered in the 1400s and, from its inscription, was (wrongly) identified as belonging Simon Peter, St Peter. That identification brought many pilgrims to the church, and no doubt quite a lot of money as well. Two other sarcophagi, beautifully carved with animals and birds and dating from the early Medieval period, were thought to contain the remains of the two saints after whom the church is named.

    Do take the time to look closely as you explore this church. There is much to see, and much easily missed.

    From this church you'll go back through the church of the Holy Sepulchre and on into Pilate's Courtyard

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    Santo Stefano: Chiesa della Trinita or Martyrium

    by leics Updated Nov 30, 2014

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    This fourth church lies to the east of Pilate's courtyard. Again, this is a structure with very ancient roots but with a history which is unclear.

    It is suggested that the original structure was built. sometime in the 4th-5th centuries, over the 'sacellum' created to house the remains of saints Vitale and Agricola when they were discovered in 304. Later it was rebuilt in an attempt to recreate the five-aisled Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre built by Emperor Constantine in Jerusalem. That building was never completed and some believe the structure was abandoned for a while before being converted first into a baptistry during the Lombard period.

    It was turned into a three-aisled church in the 700s and further enlarged over subsequent centuries with side-chapels and monuments added. It was restored during the 1900s and again in the 20th century.

    This is a small, peaceful church with some rather lovely 14th-century frescoes, and a super Romanesque column capital showing what I think is a mermaid. One of the side-chapels holds a large and impressive painted wooden group (the Adoration of the Magi), carved in the 1300s by Simone de Crocifissi. The carvings have been restored so that their original Medieval colours show clearly.

    From the Martyrium you'll go into the cloisters

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    Santo Stefano: the cloisters.

    by leics Updated Nov 30, 2014

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    It would be very easy indeed simply to wander through the cloister and courtyard which lead from Cortile de Pilate into the shop, museum and Cappella della Benda. But do stop and take a closer look.

    This cloister, like all cloisters, was constructed to provide a quiet place where the religious (monks & nuns) could think, contemplate and pray without distraction. Even now, sheltered behind the high walls of surrounding structures, the noise and bustle of modern Bologna fades away to nothing.

    The cloister has two levels. The lower part was intended for ordinary folk (it is said that Dante visited and was inspired in this courtyard) whilst the upper was for the religious. As it happens, the two levels in this cloister date from two different periods: the lower part form around 1000, the upper from the 1100s.

    And it is the upper level, with its 52 twin columns, which deserves the closest look, because it is there (one the side which backs onto the Basilica Crocifisso and bell tower) that you will spot some wonderful Romanesque carvings which act as column capitals. I particularly like the bare-buttocked man.

    The well in the centre of the courtyard is not particularly old. It is made of sandstone and dates only from 1632. It replaced a much older well, or wells.

    Underneath the arcades there are numerous fragments of memorials and suchlike, including quite a lot from Roman times. There is also a modern memorial to those who died in the First World War.

    From the cloisters you go into the Capella delle Benda and the museum

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    Sant Stefano: Cappella della Benda & Museo

    by leics Written Nov 30, 2014

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    The Capella della Benda (church of the bandage) gets its name from the relic of the 'bandage' worn on the forehead by Middle Eastern women when mourning. No doubt someone thought that this particular bandage had been worn by the Virgin Mary, and it is still kept in the church today along with many other relics of various types.

    Most of the church is now used as a museum, with many of those relics on display as well as some important artwork and sculptures. I particularly liked the paintings on wood of various creatures.Discovered during restoration work in 1999 they were originally in the Scriptorium (the part of the monastery where monks set about their copying and writing work). They are not particularly old, probably dating from the 13 or 1400s, but they are lovely.

    I was also very taken with the enormous and hugely-detailed reliquary in the chapel itself. Dedicated to the 'forty martyrs, its carved battle scenes are extremely skilled.

    A small shop adjoins the museum, staffed by the monks. It sells a number of rather lovely little bits and pieces, including essential oils, rosaries and suchlike. This is where you can buy the guide for the whole complex. It is published in a number of languages and costs just 5 euro. That is money very well spent, imo, because on my way back through the complex the guide allowed me to spot many things i'd missed first time round.

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    Bologna's jewel: the churches of Santo Stefano

    by Trekki Updated Nov 7, 2014

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    In my humble opinion this church complex of Santo Stefano is the utmost highlight of Bologna, apart from the foodie delight. Hence I strongly suggest visiting it even if you have only one day or less for sightseeing.

    In the little 32 pages booklet I bought in the church, D. Sergio Umberto, of the Olivetan Benedictine Monks who live in the complex, writes “It is not easy to produce even a short guide of Santo Stefano in so few pages”.
    I agree and therefore I won’t even try to attempt describing this complex, just give my personal impressions why I consider it a must.

    Santo Stefano complex consists of five churches today, but these were built on two older ones, one of which dates back to the first century before Christ. It is said that people came here to build a temple devoted to Egyptian godess Isis, near a spring. In the little book I’ve read that it is believed they brought holy water from the Nile to sanctify the temple. The spring is still there, in or better under the church Santo Sepolcro. Just behind the centrepiece is a sign for it. Later, relics of the martyrs Agricola and Vitale were found nearby and it was decided to build a church in their honour. This is how the church San Vitale & Agricola was built next to Santo Sepolcro. The third, visible, church is Chiesa della Trinità, in the courtyard called Pilate’s Yard, behind Santo Sepolcro. From there the walk continues into a cloister, a very peaceful part of the complex. It is two storeys high, with fascinating pillars in the upper one. Pieces of old Langobard decorations are embedded in the wall. The Pilate’s Yard gives free view to the back side of Santo Sepolcro, fascinating too with mosaics of all kinds of colours (last photo).

    The entrance to the complex is in the church Crocifisso. I liked the plain interior, but when I walked into Santo Sepolcro, I was struck by the sheer mystical atmosphere inside. Luckily not many people were visiting the complex, so there was peace and silence. It was so magic that tears started running down my cheeks. I sat on a bench for a while to find out what it was but could not place it. So I decided to let it go and just wander around on what I felt as an invisible cloud.
    Most magic!

    Inside the cloister are a museum and a little shop where monks sell products manufactured at the various Italian abbeys. Both were closed when I was there, but given the fact that the museum shows a model of the whole complex I would love to go back.

    The remains of San Petronio, Bologna’s most relevant bishop, are no longer there, despite many books and websites (including VT tips) still assert this. The remains are in Basilica San Petronio since 2000.

    For more visual impressions – here are my albums about several parts of the complex:
    Santo Sepolcro
    Santo Sepolcro, details
    Santi Vitale & Agricola
    cloister
    cloister details
    Cappella della Consolazione
    Pilate’s Yard

    I also found a video with detailed interior view. However, I recommend to turn off the sound, the creator has selected a strange music:
    video, approx. 4 minutes

    Location of Santo Stefano on Bing Maps.

    © Ingrid D., November 2014 (So please do not copy my text or photos without my permission.)

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    Complex of San Stefano

    by croisbeauty Updated Jan 29, 2013

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    San Petronio's tomb (431-450) is preserved in the church of San Sepolcro which was built during the 5th century and later resored in the 12th century. Petronio was a bishop of the town and is patron saint of Bologna. The courtyrd adjacent to the church is called "Cortile di Pilato" and has lovely marble basin in which believers would throw coins.
    The following church is Chiesa della Trinita, famous for its heavy ornate crosses placed in the three niches and representing Christ and the two thieves.
    Human remains of Saints Vitale e Agricola are kept in two sepulchres made of stone in the 5th century church Chiesa di San Vitale e Agricola. In addition, a magnificent Roman cloister is located very close to the complex of the seven churches.

    Complex of San Stefano Chiesa di San Vitale e Agricola Chiesa di San Sepolcro

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    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Part V, The Interior

    by von.otter Updated Nov 1, 2010

    “Never one of the more beautiful cities of Italy, Bologna is nevertheless a place of some interest, chiefly because of its school of painting. But at first sight what strikes the traveller as most characteristic is the arcades, that give to this old-world city a curious individuality. There are indeed really miles of them, so that it is said to be possible to pass through the whole city under cover.”
    — from “Italy and the Italians” 1903 by Edward Hutton

    The buildings of Santo Stefano represent the places where Christ’s Passion played out. Originally there were seven churches in the complex; now following renovations carried out in the late 19th and early 20th centuries there are only four.

    In Chiesa del Santissimo Crocefisso you will see columns and capitals from Roman construction.

    Basilica dei Santi Vitale e Agricole is thought to be the city’s oldest church, with the remains of sixth century mosaic floors.

    Chiesa del San Sepolcro, also called Chiesa del Calvario, is round and holds the tomb of San Petronio (see photo #4), patron saint of Bologna. A replica of Christ’s tomb, including the Angel of Good News and the sleeping Roman soldiers, is on view at this church. At Easter the stone is rolled back to help the faithful recreate the discovery of the Resurrection.

    Chiesa della Trinità church, restored between 11th and 12th century, has a 14th-century crib made of painted and gold wood by Simone dei Crocifissi you can admire.

    Opening Hours Weekdays: 9 am - 12.30 pm / 3.30 pm - 6.30 pm; Holidays: 9 am - 1 pm / 3.30 pm - 7 pm. During Mass, tourist visits could be limited or suspended.

    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010
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    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Part IV, The Cloister

    by von.otter Updated Nov 1, 2010

    “Never one of the more beautiful cities of Italy, Bologna is nevertheless a place of some interest, chiefly because of its school of painting. But at first sight what strikes the traveller as most characteristic is the arcades, that give to this old-world city a curious individuality. There are indeed really miles of them, so that it is said to be possible to pass through the whole city under cover.”
    — from “Italy and the Italians” 1903 by Edward Hutton

    Within the courtyard of Santo Stefano is a first-story cloister supported by delicate columns with the most amusing capitals (see photos #1, #2 & #3). This Benedectine cloister has a double open gallery dating from 10th century to the 13th century.

    Opening Hours Weekdays: 9 am to 12.30 pm / 3.30 pm to 6.30 pm; Holidays: 9 am to 1 pm / 3.30 pm to 7 pm

    During Mass, the tourist visit could be limited or suspended.

    Santo Stefano, Cloister, Bologna, May 2010 Santo Stefano, Cloister, Bologna, May 2010 Santo Stefano, Cloister, Bologna, May 2010 Santo Stefano, Courtyard, Bologna, May 2010 Santo Stefano, Courtyard, Bologna, May 2010
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    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Part III, The Courtyard

    by von.otter Updated Nov 1, 2010

    The marble basin, from AD 741, stands at the center of Cortile di Pilato with it two-story cloister. Cortile di Pilato is a remarkably peaceful place; the marble basin was given by Liutprando and Ilprando, kings of the Lombards. This is the very heart of Santo Stefano.

    Opening Hours Weekdays: 9 am - 12.30 pm / 3.30 pm - 6.30 pm; Holidays: 9 am - 1 pm / 3.30 pm - 7 pm

    During Mass, the tourist visit could be limited or suspended.

    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 von.otter at Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010
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    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Part II, The Walls

    by von.otter Updated Nov 1, 2010

    “Santo Stefano in Bologna presents the most curious and interesting collection of churches in Northern Italy.”
    — from ‘Northern Italian Details: Drawings and Photographs’ 1916 by Walter Grant Thomas, John Tiernan Fallon

    Basilica di Santo Stefano was built in part by recycling materials from the Roman and Byzantine eras. This recycling practice is my favorite feature of this collection of buildings.

    On the walls facing the courtyard, checkerboard and herringbone patterns (see photos #1, #2 and #3), and even a cross (see photo #4), were formed with re-purposed bricks and marble.

    Opening Hours Weekdays: 9 am - 12.30 pm / 3.30 pm - 6.30 pm; Holidays: 9 am - 1 pm / 3.30 pm - 7 pm

    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010
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    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Part I

    by von.otter Updated Nov 1, 2010

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    “Saint Stephen, an extraordinary church, formed by the uniting of seven chapels, is one of the oldest and most characteristic in Italy.”
    — from “Historical, Literary, and Artistic Travels in Italy” 1835 by Antoine Valery (1789-1847)

    AN AGE OLD CHURCH Locally known as Sette Chiese, Seven Churches, the Basilica of Santo Stefano is a complex of buildings in the Romanesque style that were built on the site of a temple that was dedicated to the goddess Isis. Because of renovations carried out between 1870 and 1930 today the complex contains only four churches, Chiesa del Santissimo Crocifisso, Bsilica dei Santi Vitale e Agricola, Chiesa del San Sepolcro and Chiesa della Trinita.

    After being made bishop of Bologna in AD 432, San Petronio founded the church of Santo Stefano. Our Saint had been on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and based the plan for this shrine on Jerusalem’s Holy Sepulchre. The present-day churches were built between the 11th and 13th centuries.

    Opening Hours Weekdays: 9 am - 12.30 pm / 3.30 pm - 6.30 pm; Holidays: 9 am - 1 pm / 3.30 pm - 7 pm

    Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 von.otter at Santo Stefano, Bologna, 5/2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010 Tom at Santo Stefano, Bologna, 5/2010 Basilica di Santo Stefano, Bologna, May 2010
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