The interior of the lovely Modena cathedral

In a recent post, I looked at the exterior of this beautiful church; today I want to focus on the inside.


Inside the Cathedral we find other important works, in particular from the 15th and 16th centuries: the Altare delle statuine by Michele da Firenze (1442 ca), the Intarsia of the Choir by Lendinara (1465), the Bellincini Chapel (1475 ca), the “Table of Saint Sebastian” by Dosso Dossi (1518-1522) and the Nativity by Antonio Begarelli (1527).

Interior of the Modena Cathedral


The interior of the Duomo is entirely built in brick, apart from some elements (like the capitals), which are in marble. Reflecting the exterior – they were planned as one – it is divided into a nave and two aisles. Looking down the middle, pillars and columns alternate, creating four cross vaults and a dummy transept near the choir, just before the apses. At half height, windows with three lights open on a false women’s gallery, never carried out. Higher, big windows give light to the church.


Starting from the left aisle, on the wall the tomb of bishop Roberto Fontana by Tommaso Loraghi and Ercole da Ferrara (1652); then, a wooden statue of the Patron Saint Geminiano, from the first part of the XIV century by the Campionesi and a marble door leading to via Lanfranco. The great Altare delle Statuine (1440-1) was entirely made in terracotta by Michele da Firenze; on the altar, the Madonna della Piazza or delle Ortolane, a fresco removed from the wall of the Cathedral, painted in 1345 (the name is due to the fact that it was put in the square for the devotion of the market people). In a sculptured marble altar, Saint Sebastian between the Saints Jerome and John by the famous artist Dosso Dossi (1518-21) surmounts a frontal in silver and gold copper of the early XIX century.


On the portal of the nave, the tomb of bishop Francesco Ferrari (1510), among various reliefs, is under the wonderful rose window, the stained glass designed by Giovanni da Modena. Two holy-water stoups originate from really ancient Roman capitals. The most important families of Modena also have their coats of arms cut in the keystones of the vaults (finished in 1453). On the left, around the second pillar, the Pulpit by Enrico da Campione (1322), painted in the following century with stories of Saint Ignatius’ life and sculptured with standing figures along the parapet (XV-XVII century). Over it, Madonna col Bambino, a fresco of the middle of the XIV century; under it, Madonna del latte. Near the second pillar on the right, a little wooden seat, today folded up, is known as the seat of the executioner, probably because he used it during cerimonies. The symbol of the Modenese archdiocese hangs from the third arch.


In the right aisle, after the funeral monument of Lucia Rangoni by Marco Antonio da Morbegno and Anelino da Mantova (1515), there is the imposing Cappella Bellencini: in a beautiful frame of terracotta, the Last Judgment was painted by Bartolomeo and Agnolo degli Erri or by Cristoforo da Lendinara in the XV century (notice the half-naked men at the bottom, the triptych, the angel with sword and scales and the Saints). In the chapel there is a nice baptismal font in rose marble. Then, the interior of the Porta dei Principi, the subtle Crib in terracotta by Antonio Begarelli (1527) and the grave of Francesco Molza (1516, by Bartolomeo Spani).
At the end of the aisles, descending some steps, there is the crypt of the Patron Saint Geminiano. Here many graves fill the walls and the floor, but the characterizing elements are the capitals of the numerous columns (sometimes recuperated, sometimes preceding Wiligelmo himself). In the right apse, the Madonna della Pappa or Porrini crib by Guido Mazzoni in painted terracotta (1480-5). A parapet indicates the area of Saint Geminiano’s grave, visible under a crystal shrine: the columns which substain it (IV century AD) once allowed the believers to pass under it as a sing of devotion. The whole apse was decorated in the XVIII century with marble work. Finally, the left apse conserves a Crucified and a golden urn.


Back in the nave, the wonderful parapet and ambo were sculptured and painted, in the years 1165-1225 by the Maestri Campionesi. In the first, from the left: the washing the feet, the Last Supper, Judas’s kiss, Pontius Pilate and Jesus, the flagellation and Cyreneus. In the second, from the left: the Learned Men of the Church and the benedictory Redeemer among the Evangelists, Jesus and Saint Peter. The whole structure is borne by four column-bearing lions (one of them being bitten on the neck by its prey, two are clawing at knights in armour with swords, the fourth traps maybe a dog) and by two telamons, symbolizing the pain of hard work. Capitals, reliefs and marble roses fill the entrance to the crypt.


With backs turned to the rose window, one can go up to the third level of the church, through the left stair way: this raised area is occupied by the presbytery. On the wall, the tomb of Claudio Rangoni, by Niccolò Cavallerino, based on a project by the famous Giulio Romano (1542). Then, two pieces of sculpture: a marble Madonna col Bambino and Saint Geminiano saving a child falling from the Ghirlandina by Agostino di Duccio (1442). Under a modern organ, four pieces of inlaid woodwork with the Evangelists by Cristoforo da Lendinara (1477) and the wooden high-backed chairs. In the apse, a precious Polittico con Incoronazione di Maria, Corcifissione and Saints by Serafino Serafini (1385) surmounts an altar dating back at least to the X century. The door which is opened near the stair conducts, through a raised passage, to the astonishing sacristry, painted in 1507 by Francesco Bianchi Ferrari and furnished with stalls inlaid by the Lendinara (XV century). There are also canvases by Modenese artists such as Francesco Vellani and Bernardino Cervi.


In the nave, there is a XIII-century enclosure with little pink and white columns; on the top, the latin inscription “IESUS CHRISTUS HERI ET HODIE IPSE ET IN SAECULA”, and near it a beautiful spiral marble column. The floor, decorated with marble designs, the XVII-century wooden lectern and the monumental wooden Crucified hanging from the vaulting (second half of the XIII century) are unforgettable. On the wall, the high-backed chairs inlaid in wood by Cristoforo and Lorenzo da Lendinara (1465), of which the central two have also a little cupola. The main altar, dating back to the XIII century, supported by six pairs of columns and by a bigger spiral one, symbolizing Christ among the Apostles. The painting in the apsidal conch is recent: it was carried out in the XIX century by Forti and Migliorini, inspired by the classical themes of the Roman mosaics.


In the right apse, apart from the many windows opening into the dummy transept over Piazza Grande, there are rich candelabrums, a marble altar and the golden XIX-century tables with Santa Lucia and Sant’Eligio. The handrail finishes with the head of a lion, whereas on the wall there are still now remains of the paintings which once covered the interior of the Duomo (XIII-XIV century). Here opens the Porta Regia, the main access to the church from Piazza Grande.

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