As one walks into the Basilica di San Petronio they can hear the splendor of the ringing church organs. Each pipe with their own majestic metallic voice, as if to try to converse with you. Each note has its own importance and phrase that speaks to you. Along both sides of this extensive church lie 22 chapels, 11 on each side of the altar. According to Paola, our tour guide, these chapels belonged to wealthy families from the nearby area. These chapels were a signal of wealth for each family. When people came to church, they would know who owned the chapels.
When people built churches back in the middle ages, they were built with the purpose of glorifying God and displaying the grandeur of the church’s wealth. Today in most churches in the United States, we build our churches as a temple of worship and service. Simply, we build churches to worship in and do not try to show off the wealth of our city or church. The Basilica di San Petronio is dedicated to the city’s patron Saint, Petronius, who was the bishop of Bologna in the 5th century. San Petronio is the 6th largest church. During its construction, Bolognese had ambitions to construct the largest church in the world. However, Pope Pius IV, halted the finances of the project resulting in the incompletion of the front facade. Although the front facade is not finished, one can still be impressed by the tremendous facade and size of the cathedral.
Towards the end of our tour, one chapel contained a splendid fresco of heaven and hell. This chapel served as a “Bible-for-dummies” depicting the Judgement day. This fresco was meant to intimidate and inspire people to live righteously. The fresco was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Hell is dominated by a gigantic figure of Lucifer, and facial expressions are all dramatically accentuated.
All in all, the Basilica di San Petronio leaves one speechless and in awe about the monumental size of the cathedral and the importance religion had in the city of Bologna.