Sunday, July 22, 2012

Basilica of San Zeno, Verona, Italy

The Basilica of San Zeno, known as San Zeno Maggiore, is located a bit away from all the other attractions in Verona, making it a place you really need to visit on purpose and not just take in as you are enjoying Roman ruins or pseudo-Shakespearean homes.

Built between 1120 and 1138, it is dedicated to the patron saint of Verona, Saint Zeno. More about him later. The church is one of Italy's finest examples of the Romanesque style.

The exterior of the church is quite exquisite, boasting of a 273 foot bell tower.

San Zeno in Verona

The bell tower of San Zeno

The west doors are also amazing. Built in the 12th century like the rest of the church, it has 24 bronze plates depicting various scenes from the lives of the saints. Flanking the door are two massive marble bas reliefs, as well as another above the doors depicted San Zeno himself.

The bronze-paneled doors

Marble sculpture on right

Marble sculpture on left

Saint Zeno flanked by the Veronese population

Inside is a high-vaulted nave that leads up to the raised area for the main altar. This layout follows the style of the Roman basilicas, which were halls of justice that lead to the judge's raised seat. Just before the altar is a shrine to Saint Zeno.


Zeno's coffin? Everything else says he is buried below in the crypt.

The main altar features an altarpiece by Mantegna (c. 1457) and an amazing ceiling.

Main altar


Off to the left of the altar is a statue of Zeno from the 12th century. He features a delightful Romanesque grin and seems to be using his shepherd's crook for some fishing.

Front view of St. Zeno

Fisher of men, indeed!

A smiling saint

Going down into the crypt is slightly spooky, with the forest-like columns supporting the main altar. Zeno's remains have been buried here since the 10th century.

Stairs up to the main altar and down to the crypt

Not as well lit

Just as well decorated

The main body of the church features dozens of frescoes from different eras. Some of the frescoes have even been painted over other frescoes!

Even the columns!
Madonna and Child, not just for statues

Fresco on fresco

Ever popular St. George and the dragon and the princess

Another Madonna and child

St. Christopher is big, really big, here

Here's some other stuff that I thought was cool.

It's all Greek to me

What's more dangerous than a lion who reads?

Unidentified saint down in the crypt

Who was Saint Zeno?

Details of Zeno's life are sketchy. He was born in northern Africa and came to Italy as a young man. He became a monk in Verona until he was appointed bishop in 362. He was the eighth bishop of Verona and died 380. Legends say he had a zeal for converting pagans and Arians to the true faith and worked tirelessly for the people of the town. About 90 of his sermons have been preserved. In addition to being the patron of Verona, he is also the patron of fishermen and anglers, newborn babies, and children learning to walk and talk. His feast day is April 12.

See the Butler's Lives of the Saints entry on him here.

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