The Basilica of Santo Stefano, also known as the Seven Churches (Sette Chiese), is a complex of religious buildings in Bologna, located in the homonymous square.
Around the year 100 AD, a pagan temple dedicated to Isis was built on this site.
In 393, Ambrosio, the bishop of Milan, discovered the tombs of the first Christian martyrs of Bologna, Vitale and Agricola, and a small chapel was built near the temple of Isis to preserve their remains. The church is known today as the Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola.
In the 5th century, Petronius, the bishop of Bologna, converted the temple of Isis into a baptistery. Around the year 450, he was buried here. Now, the structure is known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Basilica del Sepolcro).
In 727, Liutprand, king of the Lombards, invaded the city and built, to the right of the Holy Sepulcher, a prominent basilica, naming it after San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist). Later, the religious building became the Church of the Holy Crucifix (Chiesa del Crocifisso).
The complex was devastated during the invasion of the Hungarians at the beginning of the 10th century, and was largely rebuilt by the Benedictine monks in the early 11th century.
On this occasion, Chiesa de’ Confessi (today, the Crypt of the Church of the Holy Crucifix) and the Church of the Trinity (also known as the Church of the Martyrium) were built, together with the bell-tower, the Courtyard of Pilate (Cortile di Pilato) and the Cloister.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
From Piazza Santo Stefano, you can see the facades of three churches – the Church of the Holy Crucifix, the Holy Sepulcher, and the Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola. Despite the different typologies, the complex presents a stylistic homogeneity that make it the most important Romanesque monument in Bologna.
The most prominent is the Church of the Crucifix, which has a facade built in bricks, marked vertically by four pilasters. The facade has a balcony on the left, a central oculus, four single lancet windows below, and a large portal.
The interior consists of a single nave with a trussed vault, at the end of which a central staircase leads to the raised presbytery, while two descending lateral stairways lead to the crypt. The side walls are marked by eight blind round arches supported by brick pilasters. In the nave, on the left, you can see the 18th-century polychrome papier-mâché statuary complex of the Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Angelo Gabriello Piò.
To the left of the Church of the Crucifix, there is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which has a central plan with an irregular octagonal base perimeter, in the center of which stands a dodecagonal colonnade. Between the external walls and the internal colonnade, there is an ambulatory with variable width and cross vaults.
To the left of the Holy Sepulcher, stands the Church of the Saints Vitale and Agricola. The church has a salient facade with a single portal, a central mullioned window, two lateral mullioned windows, and is decorated by rows of hanging arches under the eaves line. The interior of the church has a basilica plan with three naves and five spans, without a transept.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Basilica of Santo Stefano is located about 2 kilometers away from the Bologna Centrale railway station. The closest bus stop is in Strada Maggiore, about 200 meters away, on the bus Lines 14, 15, 19, 25, 27 and 62.
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