The Basilica of San Petronio is one of the most important churches in Bologna, the largest city (and the capital) of the northern Italian administrative region of Emilia-Romagna.
The basilica is often mistaken for the city’s cathedral, due to its central position on the Piazza Maggiore, and enormous dimensions. Additionally, this basilica is the 15th largest church in the world, though it was originally planned to be the world’s largest.
The construction of the Basilica of San Petronio commenced during the final decade of the 14th century, though its current form was attained around the middle of the 17th century. This basilica is dedicated to St. Petronius, who “takes precedence over St. Francis” in Bologna. By the way, the feast days of St. Petronius and St. Francis of Assisi (one of the patron saints of Italy) are on the same day, i.e. October 4th.
The Basilica’s Construction
During the time of the basilica’s construction, Bologna was an independent city state. This means that the city was ruled by its own citizens, rather than by a noble family, the Papacy, or even by a foreign power.
Therefore, the basilica might have been constructed in order to symbolize the freedom that the people of Bologna enjoyed at that time. In 1388, the Commune of Bologna passed a resolution to build the basilica, and in 1390, the first stone of the basilica was laid.
As its name suggests, the basilica is dedicated to St. Petronius, the patron saint of Bologna. This saint is said to have been of Roman origins, and served as the Bishop of Bologna. Whilst his date of birth is unknown, he died before 450 AD. Little historical information is known about St. Petronius, though there are numerous legends surrounding this holy man. In one of these, for instance, the saint is said to have built a church in Bologna that replicated the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. According to the tale, this was done in order to attract Christian pilgrims to Bologna.
Apart from allowing the pilgrims from avoiding the longer, more expensive, and more dangerous trip from Europe to the Holy Land, the church also helped fill the city’s coffers. Amongst other things, the money obtained from the pilgrims was used for the city’s urban-planning needs, and the needs of the city’s poorest.
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