Cannaregio     Castello     Dorsoduro     San Marco     San Polo     Santa Croce     Giudecca   
 The Islands     The List     The Lost Churches     The Scuole
The Veneto: Padua and Verona               Emilia-Romagna: Bologna
and Ferrara


San Domenico
Piazza San Domenico


Dominic Guzman from Spain, founder (in 1216) of the Order of Preaching Friars (aka The Dominicans) died here (having come to preside over the second General Chapter meeting of his order) on the 6th of August 1221, two years after establishing the monastery on this site and building a small church, a convent having been established for Dominic at the Mascarella church by the Blessed Reginald of Orleans in 1218. Dominic was buried here, in the church then called San Nicolò delle Vigne. Following the death of Saint Dominic, between 1228 and 1240, the church was expanded and a new complex built. The apse of the old church was demolished and the nave extended as the church became the late-Romanesque Basilica of Saint Dominic, dedicated to the saint by Pope Innocent IV in 1251. It had two distinct interior spaces: the east end, with its choir stalls and high altar, for the friars, with its vaulted ceiling suited to singing; and the west end for the laity, with a flat wooden roof whose acoustics were suitable for preaching.
The saint's burial place in the choir soon became famous for miracle cures and Ex voto offerings began to accumulate - wax images of the eyes, hands, feet, and other parts that had been cured of afflictions. The friars found all this inappropriate to the humility of their order and removed and destroyed the offerings and forbade these offerings and drapings with silk textiles. This state of affairs lasted for 12 years, before a chapter meeting of 1233 decided to move the saint's body to the right aisle of the church and placed in a plain marble sarcophagus. During translation it was found to be perfectly preserved, of course, with an 'odour of sanctity' about it. His canonisation naturally followed upon this discovery, in 1234, thirteen years after his death. The saint's new resting place was in a less holy but more accessible position, west of the tramezzo screen, where he remains, to encourage lay devotion and, it was hoped, a cult to rival that of Saint Francis. This was only slowly achieved, Dominic being a more retiring founder, having not written a Rule for his order, and only slowly appearing in works of writing and art. The original modest sarcophagus was replaced by the famous shrine detailed below in 1267, with many additions over the centuries. When the saint's bones were removed to safety in 1943 it was found that only 125 of the 208 bones in the human body were present, so it was assumed that the rest had been distributed as relics to other churches.
The dividing screen (or tramezzo) between the area for the brothers and the area for the laity, and containing the pulpit for preaching to the laity, was demolished in the early 17th century, when the the choir was also moved behind the altar. Between 1728 and 1732 the interior of the church was rebuilt in Baroque style by Carlo Francesco Dotti.

The façade
Restored in 1910, after the postcard photograph (see far below right) was taken, which still shows traces of the lost portico, built by Dotti during his rebuilding from 1727-35, and visible in the print and painting further down. This restoration removed the portico and reinstated the rose window.
To the left of the façade is the Latin cross shaped Ghisilardi chapel, designed by Sienese architect Baldassarre Peruzzi c.1530, but it's rarely open.

Long, narrow, baroque and white, with chandeliers, and dating from its remodelling by Carlo Francesco Dotti from 1728–31. A nave and two aisles, with 17th/18th-century art in the chapels and in the ten high lunettes facing into the nave. Moving from the back there are five bays, three low and two high then a transept effect, with the chapel of Saint Dominic as the right arm. Then four more bays, two shallow and two deep, with the first left-hand deep bay leading to the enclosed, tall and large. Then there's the real transept and a long sanctuary with a choir.
The mid-14th-century marble tomb of Taddeo Pepoli, a law professor from a wealthy banking family, has reliefs commemorating his endowing and decorating six side chapels here, on which he presents each chapel to its dedicatory saint..
Left side

Starting on the left, in the north aisle, over the second altar is Saint Raymond of Penafort, riding the waves from Majorca to Barcelona using his habit as a sail, originally by Ludovico Carracci, but the original was lost and this is a copy from 1734. The very decorated Chapel of the Rosary (opposite that of Saint Dominic) overpowers an altarpiece incorporating  fifteen small and dark paintings of the Mysteries of the Rosary from the mid-1590s by Ludovico Carracci, Lavinia Fontana, Bartolomeo Cesi, Denys Calvaert, Alessandro Tiarini, Guido Reni (who is buried in this chapel) and Francesco Albani. Legend has it that the Virgin gave a rosary to Saint Dominic as protection against the Albigensian heresy, and for much of the Middle Ages Confraternities of the Rosary were under Dominican control. In this chapel is also the organ that Mozart practiced on whilst in Bologna to take the entrance exam for the Bologna Philharmonic Orchestra.
In the north transept, an inscription of 1731 marks the tomb of King Enzo. The adjoining (fenced off) chapel has a c.1250 painted Crucifix signed by Giunta Pisano (see right). The Dominicans thereby followed the lead of the Franciscans in Assisi in their commissioning of Giunta to paint a Crucifix with the more Byzantine-influenced iconography of a dead (or dying) Christ, rather than the then more usual triumphant representation.

East end
To the left of the sanctuary is the chapel of SS Sacramento, to the right is the small Casali Chapel containing a lovely Mystic Marriage of St Catherine with Saints John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and Sebastian of 1501 by Filippino Lippi, a late work. The Casali coat of arms can be seen on the pietra serena overdoor in the painting.
Through here you can access (after making a €1 donation) a sequence of special spaces.
Firstly the bright choir with its famous intarsia stalls and lectern (1528–51) by Fra Damiano da Bergamo, with help from his brother Stefano. Panels depicting episodes from the New Testament are on the left, with the Old Testament on the right right, with 7 further episodes in a recess in the centre of the back wall. The lectern has illusionistic panels. The huge altarpiece here in a big gilded frame is an Adoration of the Magi by Bartolomeo Cesi, flanked by panels depicting Saint Nicholas of Bari and Saint Dominic, also by Cesi. Below is a predella with a Last Supper by Vincenzo Spisanelli.
The usually-closed two-room museum is next. Aside from the usual cases of reliquaries, copes, chalices and monstrances it contains a fine bust of Saint Dominic by Niccolò dell’Arca - a polychrome terracotta half-length figure of the saint reading. Also the 14th century Madonna of the Velvet by Lippo di Dalmasio, frescoes by Ludovico Carracci (depicting The Charity and Saint Francis) and Bernardino Luini, and intarsia panels by Fra Damiano of the Life of Saint Jerome. Also Saint Louis's finger in a gold reliquary given by Philip IV after (his father) the saint's canonisation
Beyond the sacristy, through a door off the right transept, where there is a painting by Guercino of Saint Thomas Aquinas bothered by angels from 1662, before you return to the main church, is the 14th/15th century Cloister of the Dead, its fourth side protruded into by the the apse of the Chapel of St Dominic (see photo right). This cloister is where foreigners who died in Bologna were buried - an easily- missed slab opposite the aforementioned apse marks the burial place of  persons from Britain.

Right side
Chapel of Saint Dominic
Back in the church the highlight Chapel of Saint Dominic, off of the south aisle, was originally Gothic (built 1413) but was rebuilt in 1597–1605 by Floriano Ambrosini and restored in the 19th century. It has Saint Dominic in Glory by Guido Reni (an artist much-employed by the Dominicans) in the apse semi-dome, and provides a very decorated setting for the famous tomb (Arca) commissioned in 1264, where the saint is buried. The sarcophagus has high relief scenes from the saint’s life, carved in 1265-7 to designs by Nicola Pisano, with the help of Fra’ Guglielmo Agnelli (a Pisan Dominican friar), Pagno di Lapo and the much more famous Florentine Arnolfo di Cambio. On the front two episodes flank a statuette of the Virgin and Child, one shows the miraculous resurrection by the Virgin of a young man who had fallen from his horse, and the other the saint with a holy text written by him which has survived the flames of the fire below (where pagan texts are burning). The latter episode happened after some judges were unable to solve a dispute between Dominic and an erudite pagan and so ordered that both texts be burnt. (or Saint Dominic throws a book of orthodox learning into a fire to show some Cathars, when it doesn't burn, the error of their ways.) These episodes show how Dominic is more often portrayed as an intercessor, in contrast to Saint Francis's more active role as alter Christus.

The lid of the sarcophagus and its crowning sculpture, added two hundred years later, was designed by Niccolò dell’Arca, who took his name from this very tomb (arca). It has eight statuettes of the protectors of Bologna. Three years after Niccolò’s death in 1492, the young Michelangelo, who was staying for a year with Gianfrancesco Aldovrandi, carved two of these statuettes - Saint Petronius holding a model of Bologna (with his right leg extended) and (behind) Saint Proculus, with a cloak over his left shoulder (next to Saint John the Baptist, which was the last sculpture to be made for the monument in 1539). Michelangelo also carved the right-hand angel, kneeling and holding a candlestick, as a pair to the left-hand angel by Niccolò dell’Arca, which is much sweeter than Michelangelo's beefier version.
The small reliefs between the two angels are by Alfonso Lombardi (1532). They illustrate (on either side of a central Adoration of the Magi) the birth of Saint Dominic, the penitent Dominic asleep on the hard floor, his selling his books to help the poor, and his climbing to heaven on a ladder held up by the Redeemer and the Virgin. The altar beneath is 18th century. A illuminated niche around the back contains a sparkly reliquary of 1383 by Jacopo Roseto da Bologna, made to house the saint’s skull. The sarcophagus is crowned by a figure of The Redeemer Holding the World, standing on a terrestrial globe. Below are festoons of fruit, representing the Earth, held up by putti, and eight dolphins representing the sea. Two angels kneel on either side of Christ in Pietà and at the four corners there are figures of the Evangelists, in exotic head-dresses. This upper part of the monument is also the work of Niccolò dell’Arca.

Gothic in style, from 1313, and recently restored.

Also buried here

The funeral of painter Elisabetta Sirani was held here in 1665. She was a celebrated and successful artist, and teacher of many female artists, who died after two days in great pain at the age of 27. Rumours then started to circulate that she had been poisoned, but she most likely died of peritonitis after a ruptured peptic ulcer. She is buried, along with Guido Reni, her father's teacher, in the Rosary Chapel here.

Conversion Controversy
In the mid-19th-century a famous case of Edgardo Mortara, a Jewish child baptised a Christian by his nurse, and then taken away from his parents when she revealed her actions became a cause célèbre. At the instigation of the Inquisition the nurse, Anna Morisi, was interrogated by the Dominican friar Pier Gaetano Feletti at this church. An unsurprising choice of venue given the Dominicans reputation for toughness on heresy. The affair became an international scandal, murkily mixed up in the fall of the papal states and the Unification of Italy, with Feletti later standing trial for his actions.

Lost art
in the Pinacoteca
A large polyptych by Simone dei Crocefissi of c.1365/70, showing the Coronation of the Virgin in the centre with 18 Saints, a Crucifixion and a Resurrection.  A Last Supper panel by Andrea di Bartolo (c.1420) (see right) from the room of the inquisition here.
An Adoration by Giovanni Francesco da Rimini. A Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine with Saints (featuring an adult Christ) from the choir here, by il Bagnacavallo.
The Massacre of the Innocents by Guido Reni, (1611) was commissioned for the Berò (later Ghisilieri) chapel here. It was looted by Napoleon for the Louvre in 1796, was returned in 1815 and since 1817 has been in the Pinacoteca.

Lost art
An altarpiece depicting The Virgin Appearing to Saint Hyacinth by Ludovico Carracci, formerly to be found in the St Rose of Lima chapel (first on the right),  is now in the Louvre. Saint Hyacinth was a then-only-recently-canonised (male) 13th-century Polish Dominican.
An altarpiece by Girolamo da Treviso of the Virgin and Child with Saints Joseph, Philip and James, and Filippo Fasanini at Prayer is in the National Gallery in London. It was painted c.1532-3 and used to be in the chapel of Saint Philip and Saint James which adjoined Saint Dominic's shrine here. The painting was removed during Dotti's rebuilding of the interior between 1728 and 1732.

Lost art (mostly from tombs) in the Medieval Museum
A fine 13th century French stained glass panel depicting The Crucifixion (see right) is now in the Medieval Museum.
As is an
opus anglicanum embroidered cloak from the early 14th century with scenes from the life of the Virgin and Christ, and a panel showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. The latter reflects the patron's recognition of the authority of the pope as Becket had been murdered for refusing to admit the superior authority of the king.
The spectacular tomb of law professor Bartolomeo da Saliceto by Andrea da Fiesole from 1412, and parts of the 1383 tomb of jurist Giovanni da Legnano by Venetians Jacobello and Pierpaolo dalle Masagne, once in the right transept here. From the left transept the tomb of Giovanni d'Andrea, another jurist, who died in the plague of 1348, is also in the Medieval Museum's room of tombs. The tombstone of the Bolognese knight Filippo of the Desideri, from the first half of the 14th century, by Arriguzzo Trevisano. From the cloister here both the 1330 tomb of Matteo Gandoni, made by the Ventura studio and the early 14th century tomb of Bonifacio Galluzzi, the latter by Bettino da Bologna. The early 15th century limestone tomb slab of master Pietro D'Ancarano.
An early 16th century illuminated psalter, on display in the Medieval Museum, the work of Giovanni Battista Cavallotto.

Lost tomb stonework elsewhere

A group of
Three Acolytes from the sarcophagus of Saint Dominic here by Arnolfo di Cambio(?)(c.1267) is in the Bargello in Florence.
Brackets from the tomb of Giovanni da Legnano, mentioned in the section above, were re-employed as balcony supports in the 19th century castle of Rocchetta Mattei, just outside Bologna. Built by Count Cesare Mattei, the inventor of electrohomeopathy, this castle also has, inset above an external door, the Ludovisi tondo, depicting a man in armour on a horse brandishing a sword (
see right). This sculpted tondo has recently (Burlington Magazine January 2021) been ascribed to Jacopo della Quercia and said to be from the memorial to Niccolò di Lego Ludovisi, erected by his son Giovanni in the family vault in the cloister here.

The church in art
Friars in the San Domenico Choir in Bologna 1892 by Giovanni Masotti (see above right). Piazza San Domenico in Bologna c.1880 by F. Mironi (see below).

Opening times

Monday to Friday 9.00 - 12.00 and 3.30 - 6.00
Saturday 9.00 - 12.00 and 3.30 - 5.00 Sunday 3.30 - 5.00













The 1310 tomb of Rolandino de' Pasageri  following an allied bombing raid
in 1943,  despite being protected by a brick hut.

An 18th-century print by Pio Panfili.


Cannaregio :: Castello :: Dorsoduro :: Giudecca :: San Marco :: San Polo :: Santa Croce :: The Islands :: Demolished