Romanesque: Modena Cathedral

Modena Cathedral

Hi everyone! We are in the second episode of the Romanesque series, by the way if you missed the first one here the link. So we are during the mysterious Middle Ages and today I want to talk about a World Heritage Site: the Modena Cathedral.

Cathedral of Modena - facade
NAME Modena Cathedral
LOCATION Modena, Italy
YEAR 1099 – 1319
TYPE Architecture
MATERIAL Marble and bricks

Modena Cathedral

It’s an ancient, really ancient, Roman Catholic Church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Geminianus.

Saint Geminianus is the Modena’s patron saint and the discovery of his burial site led to the building of this Cathedral starting by 1099. The architect who designed and started to direct the work was Lanfranco. And it’s interesting that, even if this construction was so important, very little is known about him: at one moment he “disappeared”.

During the next decades, his project was reviewed by other architects. However, the main structure was preserved. As you can see in the floor plan, the Cathedral is divided into three naves. The main entrance called “Portale maggiore” and, on the sides, there are Porta della Pescheria and Porta dei Principi.

(Sorry: in Italian “porta” means “door”) 🙂


Actually there is a fourth door. Can you see it in the interactive image below?

The façade Modena Cathedral

The façade is a perfect example of Romanesque building: perfectly symmetric, we can identify the 3 naves and the majestic rose-window added in the 13th century. On the side is visible the huge Torre della Ghirlandina: the Cathedrals’ bell tower.

Cathedral of Modena - facade
Cathedral of Modena - façade

But I want to stop very fast on the Porta della Pescheria because, as you can see, the archivolt is highly decorated with what it is possibly the earliest monumental sculpture to feature the legend of King Arthur.

We can identify in fact some knights attacking the castle defended by two towers. On the right one in particular, a knight is fighting against an opponent in the attempt of stopping them.

Inside the Cathedral

And, once inside, this is what we can admire. The first surprise is the lack of plaster that shows all the bricks used to build the Cathedral in contrast with the white marble of the outside. Millions and millions of red bricks that make the inside a bit dark focusing our attention on the apse completely covered on gold and with Jesus and Mary depicted at the center of it.

If we look the Cathedral’s walls we can notice also another interesting detail: on the lower levels the arches are clearly round, but on the top they are pointed making the famous Gothic ribbed vault. Modena Cathedral wikipedia

Modena Cathedral - inside - Romanesque architecture
Modena Cathedral - inside

How is it that possible? Well one word: fashionable. It took 3 centuries to finish it and, in the meantime, the Gothic style started to be more popular than Romanesque and the architects have been influenced. So, the more they were building the more the style was changing.

Another surprise is the presence of a terrace where there is the altar surrounded by a marble parapet. The reason is that below it there is the crypt where the Saint Geminianus’ remains are exhibited.

Cathedral of Modena - crypt


This is the Cathedral’s heart and we can tell that because here the decorations are way richer in contrast with the Romanesque austerity of the inside.

So we are learning a lot about the Romanesque style and in the next episode we will see a very important painting example. Check my Facebook and Instagram if you want more pictures. Ciao!

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