Overlooking the colorful Piazza Malpighi, the beautiful Basilica di San Francesco in Bologna, Northern Italy is an excellent example of the interplay of Gothic and Romanesque features. This church dates back to 1236 when it was built by the Franciscans (also called the Grey Friars). This is said to be the headquarters of the Franciscan order after they first arrived in the city in 1211. As the name implies, this was built in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi. The people in Bologna listened to him speak about faith and peace and they were inspired by what they heard. They then decided to build this church in his name.
This structure was begun by two brothers – Marco da Brescia and the Franciscan monk, Giovanni. It is a French-inspired Gothic cathedral. Its portal is embellished with 18th century elements, with a single spire and an intricate network of spidery flying buttresses. The apse incorporates several beautiful arches and two graceful Gothic bell towers. The two bell towers hark back to the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. The larger bell tower is said to be the work of Antonio di Vincenzo, the same architect who had a hand in the building of the San Petronio Basilica. At the foot of the apse are three 13th century tombs. These are tombs of the noted personalities –the “Glossatori”, namely, Rolandino, Odofredo and Accursio. The Glossatori are the city’s founding lecturers and well-respected legal scholars.
The basilica has a wide church with three aisles, as well as nine chapels. Unfortunately, this basilica was completely destroyed during the Second World War. It was also used as a customs house and depot by Napoleon. The architect Alfredo Barbacci worked to restore this chapel.
The interiors, on the other hand, feature Italian Gothic with a sprinkling of French design. In Bologna and other towns nearby, it was the first to have three naves built that jutted out from the top. Six sections emerged from the upper part of the octagonal pillars. It also includes a nave, two aisles located with the corridor in the cathedral apse. The use of buttresses and arches are very much like that found in Notre-Dame in Paris.
There are a number of works of art featured in this church. Of particular note is the altar piece that hails from the late 14th century. This marvelous piece which shows scenes from the life of Saint Francis is a creation of Pier Paolo and Jacobello delle Masegne. This marble altar is prominently displayed at the high altar. The cathedral walls also house various tombs, the most famous of which is the tomb of Pope Alexander V.
The Basilica di San Francesco is open daily from 6:30 in the morning to 12 noon and at 3:00 in the afternoon until 7:00 in the evening. The Basilica is located to the west of the town center, at Piazza Malpighi. Also featured in the Piazza is a bronze statue made by Guido Reni. This features the image of the Immaculate Conception. After a mass at the Basilica, people flock the statue to offer flowers every 8th of December, which is the Festa della Concezione Immacolata.
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