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The Basilica of St Dominic in Bologna

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On the General Calendar of the EF, today is the feast of St Dominic, who died in Bologna, Italy, on August 6th of the year 1221. He was originally buried in the floor of the choir of San Niccolò delle Vigne, the church which had then been recently given to his order, and which has now for many centuries been named after him. In 1233, his remains were moved to a major chapel added to the side of the building, which was then rebuilt in the first part of the 17th century.

The Arc of St Dominic, as it is called, which contains the relics, is actually a collection of pieces from different periods. The sarcophagus, showing six episodes from the Saint’s life, was carved by Nicola Pisano in 1267; the upper part was added from 1469-73 by Niccolò da Bari, whose work was so admired that from it he came to be known as “Niccolò dell’Arca – Nicholas who worked on the arc.” At the top is God the Father, and below, the dead Christ, with two angels on either side, and the four Evangelists at the corners. The angel kneeling on the left just above the mensa of the altar is also his work; Michelangelo added the one on the right in 1494, when he was just 19, along with the statue of St Petronius (the patron Saint of Bologna; second from left right above the sarcophagus) and a statue St Proculus on the back. The 16th century predella just above the altar by Alfonso Lombardi shows further episodes of St Dominic’s life, while his burial is represented on the front of the altar itself in a relief by Carlo Bianconi done in 1768.

Inside the arc at the back is kept this magnificent reliquary of his skull, made in 1383; it is still taken out for a procession every year on his feast day.

The chapel seen from the cloister.
The Chapel of the Holy Rosary on the opposite side of the building from St Dominic.

The choir stalls were formerly in the nave of the church in front of the principal altar, and further separated from the main nave by a choir screen. The latter was removed after the Council of Trent, the choir then disassembled and rebuilt in a vastly expanded apse behind the main altar.

In addition to numerous other decorative details, every seat of the choir has above it an inlaid wooden panel with a Biblical scene. These were executed in only 8 years, 1541-49, by Fra Damian of Bergamo, who also did the lectern shown below.

A view of the main nave from the choir.

Two details of the lectern; above, the stand for the choirbooks, showing the meeting between St Dominic and St Francis, and below, the door of the armoire beneath where the books were kept.

The large painting at the back of the choir by Bartolomeo Cesi shows the Adoration of the Magi above and the Last Supper below.

The nave seen from the back of the church.
The former Sacrament chapel, with a painting of St Thomas composing the Office of Corpus Christi. 


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