Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore is a magnificent church in Verona, dedicated to Saint Zeno, an early Christian Bishop of the city. One of the Romanesque masterpieces in Italy, the church develops on three levels, and the current structure dates back to the 11th century.
It is believed that Saint Zeno of Verona died between the years 372 and 380, and tradition has it that he was buried near the place where the basilica rises today. A first church was built in his honor above his tomb, and by 589, the structure was already restored and enlarged.
At the beginning of the 9th century, Pepin of Italy, King of the Lombards, decided to build a larger and more beautiful church, and that the body of the old one to be transformed into a crypt. The consecration of the new building took place on December 8, 806, while on May 21 of the following year, the body of Saint Zeno was moved to the crypt.
It seems that the church suffered considerable damage during the Hungarian invasions that took place between 899 and 933, and the city decided to rebuilt it. The reconstruction was commissioned by Bishop Raterio, who obtained the necessary funds from the German Emperor Otto I. In the first decades of the 11th century, the church was completed. In 1045, the abbot Alberico began the construction of the bell tower.
Around the end of the 11th century, a huge renovation project was begun. Despite the destructions reported following the devastating earthquake of 1117, which damaged countless other city buildings, the work continued. The church was completed in 1138.
At the end of the 14th century, the architect Giovanni da Ferrara was comissioned to enlarge the church and make other changes. Da Ferrara began the work on March 24, 1386, and completed it in July 1398.
At the beginning of the 16th century, many works were carried out, including demolition, transformations and displacements, which contributed to the current appearance of the church.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
The facade of the church, built of tuff, is divided into three vertical parts. The central one is surmounted by a triangular pediment in white marble, which creates a contrast with the rest of the facade. The two lateral parts have sloping rooflines, with small blind arcades under. The intersections of the three parts are marked by pilasters ending in foliate capitals.
The rose window, known also as the Wheel of Fortune, the work of Brioloto de Balneo, is decorated with six statues depicting the alternating phases of human life.
The Porch of Nicholaus is signed by the architect Niccolò and dates back to the 12th century. The column-bearing lions are guarding the church. The roof of the porch rests on two crouching telamons, on which the bas-reliefs of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist are carved.
The portal of the church is decorated with 24 square bronze tiles for each door leaf. The tiles are tied together by bronze frames.
The interior of the church has three levels: the crypt, the central part, also called the plebeian church, and the presbytery, which contains the high altar.
The central part has three longitudinal aisles. The aisles are bordered by pillars with a cross-shaped section, alternating with columns surmounted by capitals with zoomorphic motifs and Corinthian capitals. The ceiling is made of wood and dates back to the 14th century.
Between the central part and the presbytery, there are numerous pictorial works of art, from the 13th to the 16th century, and sculptures from the 12th to the 14th century.
The presbytery is elevated above the floor of the basilica, and can be reached via two stairways located in the aisles. The most important work of the presbytery is the altarpiece by Andrea Mantegna, Pala di San Zeno, considered a masterpiece of Italian Renaissance painting.
The crypt dates back to the 10th century, where the body of Saint Zeno is kept since 921 in a visible sarcophagus, with the face covered by a silver mask. The crypt has a particular structure, being divided into nine naves with arches, supported by 49 columns, all with different capitals.
TIP: According to tradition, in the crypt of the basilica, Romeo and Juliet married in William Shakespeare’s famous opera.
HOW TO GET THERE
Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore is located about 2.2 kilometers from the Verona Porta Nuova railway station. The closest bus stop is near the church, in Via Da Vico 14 III, on the bus Lines 30, 31 and 91.