Santo Stefano, Bologna

 'To enter such a church is like entering a paradise. And it presents a vision of great majesty, and wonderful holiness. For this reason all sorts of people, from the region and from afar, come often to visit this holy place.'
The Chronicle of the mysterious and devout church and abbey of S Stefano of Bologna, anciently called Jerusalem. Francesco Patricelli, 1575.


Santo Stefano is knows as the 'Seven Churches'. The fact that there are only four gives some indication of how much this extraordinary place has changed over the years. This complex of buildings was, by the thirteenth century, the most complete version of Jerusalem's  Holy Sepulchre church, creating what amounted to a virtual pilgrimage. The pilgrimage did not end here: further sites around Bologna were intended to mirror significant places in Jerusalem, making Bologna a New Jerusalem. 

  The history of Santo Stefano is clouded in myth and mystery. There is evidence that it was built on the site of a Roman temple to Isis. Legend has it that the first complex of churches was built by St Petronius in the fifth century. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna, had, it is claimed, visited Jerusalem and modelled the site 'after the holy sites he had visited in that city'. * The problem is that the present buildings date, for the most part, from the eleventh and twelfth century, and little evidence remains to show what went before.
  A glance at the plan below shows how the essential features of the pre-crusader Jerusalem church were mirrored here. There is much more to see here, but I'm going to focus on the numbered places. 6 on the plan originally represented the site of the crucifixion: 3 represents the rotunda containing the aedicule. Between the two places is an open courtyard (5). Measurements suggest that the distance between the two buildings is almost identical to that between the equivalent buildings in Jerusalem.
  The entrance to Santo Stefano is at the bottom of the plan; here we enter the Chapel of the Crucifix. (1). Click on page 2 to enter. 

*Vita Sancti Petronii, written in 1180

1. Chapel of the Crucifix (Once dedicated to John the Baptist.) 2 Raised presbytery, with crypt beneath. 3. Church of the Holy Sepulchre. 4. Church of Saints Vitale and Agricola. 5) Courtyard of Pilate. 6) Church of the Trinity or Martyrium. 

Santo Stefano page 2

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