The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Orvieto is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy and the world and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
The building of the Orvieto Cathedral was started in 1290 by the will of Pope Nicholas IV.
The church was designed, probably, by Arnolfo di Cambio, but it is not known for sure. At the beginning, the project was entrusted to Fra Bevignate from Perugia, and later, before the end of the 13th century, to Giovanni di Ugguccione, who introduced the first Gothic forms.
At the beginning of the 14th century, the Sienese sculptor and architect Lorenzo Maitani assumed the role of the master builder, changing the design of the church into something similar with the Cathedral of Siena. At the Maitani’s death, in 1330, the works were far from over. The role of master builder was obtained by various architects, who succeeded each other over the years, often for short periods.
The Chapel of the Corporal was built between 1350 and 1356, and the Chapel of San Brizio was built between 1408 and 1444. The works of the facade continued over the years, and were completed in the second half of the 16th century by Ippolito Scalza.
The facade of the Cathedral is divided in three sectors by four vertical buttresses, each ending with a spire. The vertical lines are well balanced by the horizontal lines of the base, the frame that limits the reliefs and the loggia with trilobed arches. The three triangles of the gables are doubled by the three triangles of the cusps.
The portals, the bas-reliefs on their sides, the loggia, the rose window, the statues, the pillars, and finally the spiers create relief motifs that contrast well with the flat and shiny surface of the mosaics. Overall, the facade is harmonious and balanced.
The interior dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries, consisting of three wide and luminous naves, covered by a wooden trussed ceiling. 10 large round pillars and round arches are dividing the space in six bays.
The transept consists of only three spans covered by cross vaults. On each side of the transept are found the chapels of San Brizio and the Corporal. The plan of the church ends with a square presbytery.
On the right transept, opens one of the cornerstones of Italian Renaissance painting, the Chapel of San Brizio, dedicated to the patron saint of Orvieto. The chapel was built between the years 1408 and 1444 and frescoed between 1447 and 1504.
The pictorial decoration was started in 1447 by Beato Angelico, who is responsible for the decoration of two of the eight sectors of the two cross vaults. The work was completed half a century later, by Luca Signorelli, who painted the six remaining sectors.
On the left transept, opens the Chapel of the Corporal, built between 1350 and 1356 to preserve the precious relic for which the entire Cathedral of Orvieto was built, the white linen cloth used in the miraculous Mass of Bolsena, stained with blood spurted from the Host at the time of the Eucharistic celebration. The corporal is preserved in a tabernacle built in 1358-1363 by Nicola da Siena.
HOW TO GET THERE
Piazza Duomo, the closest bus station, is right in front of the Cathedral, and can be reached with the buses 1, A and CC. The Cathedral is about 1 kilometer away from Piazza Cahen, the end of the funicular line that connects the town with the Orvieto Scalo Train Station.