Alberto Belli

Alberto Belli

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San Pietro in Bologna: the Metropolitan Cathedral of Bologna

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The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro is a place of spirituality and unity for the citizens of Bologna. Are you ready to discover it with us?

How can I recognize the Cathedral of San Pietro?

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro is placed in one of the principal streets of the city, St. Indipendenza: it is impossible not to notice it. It was built between the 10th and the 11th century. The Cathedral is dedicated to San Pietro, head of the apostles and first Pope. The Cathedral establishes a direct reference of loyalty of Bologna to the Catholic Church.

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro is easily recognisable thanks to its typical Baroque red facade, that also has some white marble decorations. At the top, it owns two sculptures that adorn the sides: on the left San Pietro and on the right San Paolo.

Moreover, a few steps away from the Cathedral you can reach another very important symbol of Bologna: the Neptune fountain. Did you know that this fountain is one of the Seven Secrets of Bologna? If you want to know more about these, read our article A Journey Through the Seven Secrets of Bologna.

What can I find inside?

As you enter the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro, you are stroken by the majesty of the central nave that is 42,8 meters wide and 89 meters long.

For every lateral nave, we can find five chapels. Starting from the left we find: the Chapel of the Baptistery, the one of the Holy Hearth, the one of the Saint Sacrement, theone of the Relics and the one of S. Ambrogio. On the right we can see: the Chapel of S.Carlo Borromeo, the one of S.Rocco, the one of S. Apollinare, the one of S. Anna and the one of B. Nicolò Albergati.

At the end of the nave, on the presbytery, there are the Major Chapel and the crypt, with frescoes of the typical catholic iconography. Among these, we notice Prospero Fontana’s fresco, which represents the eternal Father surrounded by the glory of the angels. In the crypt there also are some reliques of the two Saints Vitale and Agricola, to which was dedicated one of the Seven Churches of the complex of Santo Stefano. On the basin of the apse there is Christ who gives the symbolic keys of Paradise to San Pietro: the fresco was painted by Giovanni Battista Fiorini and Cesare Aretusi. At last, there is also the fresco of Maria’s annunciation made by Ludovico Carracci. 

Altare maggiore della Cattedrale di San Pietro, dove è possibile vedere l'Annunciazione del Carracci nel lunettone dell'abside.
Source: Flickr

These are some of the many artworks of the Cathedral: to find out more information and to know better the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro you just have to visit it.

What is a bell tower doing inside a bell tower?

Not everyone knows that the bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro has a paleochristian bell tower inside. It is older the the external one for one century more or less. We can define it as the soul of the bell tower: it was built in the 10th century and is 40 meters of high.

Over time and with the construction of the new bell tower, it was entirely incorporated on his interior so the foundations were made.

Therefore we can notice two bell towers: the antique one on the inside and the latest one on the external. The detail of this bell tower is that, with its 70 meters of height, it is the highest structure after the famous Asinelli Tower, which reaches 97 meters.

Campanile della Cattedrale: una specialità bolognese.
Source: Corriere di Bologna

What a bell!

The bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro also has one of the bigger bells that can be rung “in the Bolognese way of ringing”

What does “in the Bolognese way of ringing” mean?

The bolognese system is different from the others because it uses bronze bells that are lightweight compared to the other bells in the world. In spite of this, it can produce oscillations that cross the bell tower and are called “waves”.

This bell weighs 33 quintals and, with the other ones on the bell tower, forms a complex of 66 quintals. The bell ringers, thanks to their abilities, modify the sound of the bells so, without their presence, it coul not be so clear in the entire city.

The adventures of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro

During his history the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro was subjected to lots of calamities.

In fact, the origins of the Cathedral of San Pietro are very old: some researchers say that it was one of the first structures designated to the cathedral and it dates back to the 4th century A.C.

The church that is placed outside the walls, in 906 AC, was hit by an unexpected fire that led to its rebuild inside the walls. These protected the ruins of the ancient city of Bononia (name that the Romans gave to the city of Bologna when they conquered it) and they are still visible today. 

The rebuilt church, that measured 57 meters in length, had short life. In fact, another fire completely destroyed it in 1141, so the works of total reconstruction were started once again. These works started immediately and in 1184 the new church was finished and consecrated by Pope Lucio III. He was born as Ubaldo Allucingoli, who entrusted to God the destiny of the cathedral. Not even God was enough…

Unfortunately, in 1222 another calamity, an earthquake, hit Bologna and led to the fall of the roof of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro, that was rebuilded later thanks to additional reconstructions.

Did you know that in 1433 in the Basilica of San Luca the “miracle of rain” occurred? If you are curious to discover what happened, read our article The Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca between sacred and legend. Furthermore, it is important to point out the fact that the Sanctuary and its porticoes are part of the Unesco Heritage, since 2021.

Why is the Cathedral of San Pietro called “Metropolitan”?

It is very important to know the meaning of the word “Metropolitan Church” to understand better the relevance of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro. 

First of all we define the meaning of Cathedral: it is the most important church of the diocese and its name descends from the fact that inside there is a “desk” or a throne used by the bishop. While the term “Metropolitan Church” is used when a church is the episcopal headquarters with jurisdiction over the bishop. The word metropolitan is also used concerning a bishop that presides over an ecclesiastical province and who has under him other bishops called suffragans.

To sum up, a Metropolitan Cathedral is the most important ecclesiastical province that has a metropolitan bishop like proponent who depends directly from the Holy Faith.

Moreover, if you want to know better the difference between Church, Dome and Cathedral, we recommend you this article: Everything you need to know about the Church of San Petronio in Bologna.

The flaw of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro

The Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro, although it is a majestic and sublime work with numerous pieces inside, seems to have a flaw. Although it is placed in a wide street like St. Indipendenza, it is difficult to take a complete picture of it.

Esterno della Cattedrale, dove si rende visibile la difficolta prospettica nel fotografare la chiesa.
Source: WikiCommons

But how is it possible? It is due to the height of the church’s facade that imposing itself in St. Indipendenza makes it difficult to take pictures. The only possible pictures of San Pietro are the ones shot from below, using a wide angle camera, or shot from a window or balcony of the houses nearby.

These two methods can make the sight of the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro clearer and easier.

When can I visit the Metropolitan Cathedral of San Pietro?

The church can be visited from Monday to Sunday from 7.30 a.m to 6.45 p.m. On Sundays you can visit the Cathedral from 8 a.m. to 6.45 p.m.

How much does it cost to visit the Cathedral of San Pietro?

It is completely free!

Additional information: the visit of the Treasure is possible with reservation and the visit to the tower bell is every Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. and it costs 5 euros. During summer the visit schedule is extended also from 7 to 11 p.m.

If you are curious to know more about the Academic tradition of Bologna, read the article Bologna: The Oldest University of the Western World! And you cannot miss to visit the Salaborsa Library, characterized by many stories and curiosities!

For further details, it is important to remember the story of the Botanical Garden as well, dedicated to Ulisse Aldrovandi and managed by the University, but that once was in the actual building of the Salaborsa Library. Moreover, speaking of history, you cannot miss the visit of the ancient jewish ghetto of Bologna, a few steps from the Two Towers.

Bibliography

  • Fanti M., Degli Esposti C., La Chiesa cattedrale e Metropolitana di San Pietro in Bologna, guida a vedere e comprendere, Firenze, Vallecchi, 1995.
  • Fanti M., Riccomini E., Rubbi P., Tassinari O., Le Chiese di Bologna, Bologna, L’Inchiostroblu, 1992.
  • Raule A., La Chiesa metropolitana di San Pietro in Bologna, Ravenna, Nanni, 1957.

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