The building of the Cathedral of Ravenna dates back to bishop Ursus when he built it, toghether with the Baptistery and the Bishop’s Palace, from the end of 4th and the beginning of 5th century. The church is called Ursiana due to Ursus’ name, and it is dedicated to Hagia Anastasis: in greek Holy Resurrection. The basilica was located in the so-called Regio Hercolana (south east area of the town) close to the urban walls. The ancient cathedral was huge and it had five aisles supported by 56 columns, its apse had a semi-circular shape inside and polygonal shape outside, according to the typical style of Ravenna. Many marbles and mosaics richly adorned the cahedral. During Middle Ages, the church was considerably restored and its original appearance deeply changed. In the 10th -11th century, the cylindrical belltower and the crypt were added. In 1112 the apse was decorated with wonderful mosaics by archbishop Geremiah.
The new Cathedral
In 1734 the archbishop Niccolò Maffeo Farsetti decided to replace the crumbling early cathedral with a new one and he assigned the task to Giovan Francesco Buonamici, an architect from Rimini. The new building should keep the presbyteral medieval mosaics and the two lateral chapels built during the previous century and dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament and Madonna del Sudore (Madonna of Sweat). Unfortunatly the apse collapsed and the few saved fragments of mosaics (in particular The Paying Virgin) became the first nucleus of the Museum in the archbishop palace founded by Farsetti himself. The architect Buonamici designed a totally new building, saving only the few remainings of the ancient Ursus’ basilica as the crypt (unfit for use because of constant water from underground) and the belltower built with reused bricks. It is 35.17 mt high and it shows different building phases through its windows: narrow windows, mullioned windows, three mullioned-windows. The final part (bell cell) was remade after that a fire of 1658 had destroyed it.
The actual cathedral is preceeded by a wide portico of Doric order where the central arch stands on two columns of pink granite coming fom the central nave of the ancient Basilica Ursiana. The archbishop Antonio Cantoni commissioned to Giuseppe Pistocchi, an architect from Faenza, the elliptic dome ended in 1781. It replaced the octagonal one erected by Buonamici. It is 47,40 meters high.
The church which is wide and full of light, shows a latin cross plan and it has three naves supported by pillars of Corinthian order and by marble columns with decorated capitals (re-used after the demolition of basilica Ursiana).
Right nave: the main chapels
The so-called chapel of the Crucifix: a sarcophagus (5th cent.) is placed here as an altar, it is from the destroyed church of St Agnes (located in the actual piazza Kennedy). On the front the figure of Christ appears in a praying attitude while handing the rolls of the Laws to St Peter, holding a cross, and St Paul, holding a book. On the sides there are two palms symbol of martyrdom and christian victory. The urn contains the relics of the two archbishops Esuperantio and Maximian – the latter ones were kept in the church of St Andrew.
The ambo of archbishop Agnellus.
Under the third arch in the right nave there is the ambo of the archbishop Agnellus (557-570), as we read on the dedicatory epigraph on the hem of the parapet. The sculpture (second half of the 6th century) shows a characteristic pyrgo shape (tower-like). The original stairs miss. The ambo is decorated with 36 panels; inside each panel a symbolic animal is engraved: doves, peacocks, fish, deer, ducks and lambs; they represent the joy of creation in Heaven. The relief is nearly flat and it lacks three-dimensionality as Byzantine taste imposed in art.
The chapel of Madonna del Sudore (Virgin of Sweat)
It is located in the right arm of the transept. It was erected in 1630 as a vow of the town in the hope of holding back plague that, actually, didn’t touch Ravenna even if it had spread in all Italy. The chapel was consecrated in 1659. Around the year 1759, it was enriched with an altar designed by Domenico Barbiani from Ravenna and with a glory of angels carved by Pietro Bracci in Carrara marble in 1752. He designed also the Tabernacle which contains a little tablet depicting The Virgin carrying the Baby in her arms . It dates back to 14th century and it is by Giotto’s school in Rimini. The dome is frescoed by Giovanbattista Barbiani (1656) and it represents The Virgin between the celestial chorus . The Four Evangelists in the pendentives were frescoed by Andrea Barbiani in 1758. The stuccos are by Pietro Martinetti. In the lateral niches of the chapel there are two monumental sarcophagi standing on lion-paws. The left one, on entering the church, is probably of the first half of the 5th century (420-430) and it was reused to keep archbishop Rinaldo da Concorrezzo’s relics; he lived in Ravenna in the same period of Dante Alighieri; Rinaldo died 25 days before him: on August 18th, 1321. In the front there is Christ on the throne holding an open book as in the scene of God’s judjment. The Redeemer is on a rock under which the four mystic rivers of the Earthly Paradise (Phison, Geon, Tigris, Euphrates) gush out. On the sides St Peters, carrying a cross on his shoulders, and St Paul with veiled hands offering a laurel wreath, symbol of martyrdom and victory. Two date-palms conclude the scene. Stylized clouds start from Christ’s monogram in his halo and give to the scene a delicate natural touch. The lid is of the barrel type, covered by lanceolated leaves. The sarcophagus on the right side is so-called St Barbaziano’s, because it has contained the relics of Galla Placidia’s confessor since 1658. The ark – second half of the 5th century – comes from the destroyed church of St Lorenzo in Cesarea. Five niches decorated by shells on the upper side embellish the front of the sarcophagus: in the central niche, the Redeemer is carved between St Peter with a cross and St Paul with a book and two handle urns are in the extreme niches. On the sides four tripod candlestik are sculpted with lit candles. It is a very uncommon setting in sculpture in Ravenna. The lid is also of a barrel-type and it is adorned on the sides by refined bejeweled crosses, while in the middle there is a garland surrounding Christ’s monogram.
The chapel dedicated to St Ursicino is located here. The altar was erected in 1821. On the upper side a precious painting Martyrdom of St. Ursicino by Cesare Pronti (1626-1708) from Cattolica and an active painter in Ravenna. On the opposite side of the chapel, a sepulchral epigraph in latin hangs on the wall bordering the presbitery: it was written by father Antonio Cesari (1760-1828) from Verona who enriched The Accademia della Crusca Dictionary with many new items.
The apsidal chapel
The main altar is coated by different kind of marble (ancient green marble, alabaster cotognino oriental black and white marble). It was built on behalf of archbishop Ferdinando Ronualdo Guiccioli in 1760, the artist who designed it is unknown but it could be Giuseppe Antonio Soratini. The golden bronzes are of Bartlomeo Borroni from Vicenza. The apse houses four paintings of some of the main painters in 18th – 19th century. The canvas shows important episodes of the Church of Ravenna. From the right to the left:
St Ursus consecrates the basilica built by himself by Vincenzo Camuccini (1771-1844)
St Pier Crisologo dying near the altar of St Cassiano in Imola by Pietro Benvenuti (1769-1844) from Arezzo
St Apollinare makes a temple of Apollo collapse by Giuseppe Collignon from Siena (1778-1863)
St Severo enters into his wife’s sepulchre by Giuseppe Gioacchino Serangeli from Rome (1768-1852)
The apse houses also in its midpoint the canvas The resurrection of Christ – dedication of the Cathedral – painted by an anonymous author from Rome in 18th century. The bishop’s chair made by walnut wood is in the midpoint of the choir and it was carved by sculptor Ilario Fioravanti from Cesena (1922-2012). The ambo, on the right border of the presbitery, was designed by architect Diego Rinaldini from Ravenna. It consists in a stainless steel framework covered on the front with a portion of floor mosaic dating back to 3rd century and depicting Moses’ Knot, symbol of the Alliance with God. On the left side of the presbitery there is an ancient Cross (13th century) supposed to be miraculous. During the Sack of Ravenna in 1512, the statue was supposed to drip blood – in the same time the Madonna del Sudore was sweating – and to pull back its feet to save itself from fire set to the town by soldiers from France and from Ferrara. The work was initially kept in a lateral chapel of the church of St Domenico. The Cross shows the peculiar “Y” shape.
Chapel of the Holy Sacrament
It is located in the left arm of the transept. It was designed in 1612 by Carlo Maderno on behalf of archbishop Pietro Aldobrandini. In 1614 he commissioned the decoration of the chapel to the famous painter Giuido Reni from Bologna who moved to Ravenna with some scholars of his: Francesco Gessi, Giovanni Giacomo Sementi and Bartolomeo Marescotti. That painting challenge ended in 1621. Between two column by pavonazzeto is located Guido Reni’s altarpiece (maybe together with Francesco Gessi) depicting Moses and the picking of manna . The fresco of the dome The Redeemer and the archangels in glory is also by Reni and Gessi, such as the lunette over the main altar Melchizedec that blesses Abraham and his victorious people .
Giovanni Giacomo Sementi’s Prophets in the four pendentives of the dome, The Virtues and couple of angels with Eucharistic symbols in the underaraches and the eight Saints in the pillars, brought the cycle of paintings to an end.
At the bottom of the left nave we find the lunette of Elias in the desert to whom an angel brings bread and wine. Formerly the painting was in the arch above the entrance of the chapel. Last restoration during the end of the last century identified Guido Reni as the author of the painting.
Along the left nave we highlight even more: the chapel with altarpiece between two columns of pavonazzetto: here we find St Peter who sends St Apollinare in Ravenna to convert it to Christianity remarkable work by Filippo Pasquali from Forlì (1651-1697); the chapel near the main entrance built in 1818. Between two columns in verdoglio there is a very nice canvas of the painter Jean-Baptist Wicar (1762-1834) depicting Jesus between St Anthony and St James . On the background we identify a suggestive view of Ravenna.
Two funeral monuments are set against the first two pillars of the left nave. The first one is dedicated to the archbishop Ferdinando Romualdo Giuiccioli (1745-1763) a monk in Camaldoli who brought to accomplishment the building of the actual cathedral in 1745. The sculpture was designed by Ignazio Sarti from Bologna and ended by his son Ferdinando Martelli Sarti (1857). Above, there is a well done angel, symbol of the Christian virtue. A very accurate bas-relief is on the base and it illustrates the scene of architect Buonamici producing the prototype of the galilee of the Cathedral to archbishop Guiccioli. On the left side of the base in the scene of a procession we can recognize even the archbishop Agnello’s silver Cross, kept in Archiepiscopal Museum. The second monument is dedicated to Archbishop Antonio Codronchi (1785-1826). The framework is by Cristoforo Michelini; the two statues were made in 1826 by Gaetano Monti from Ravenna. The central Medallion is by Cincinnato Baruzzi from Imola.
The winter choir
At the bottom of the left nave, after the chapel of the Holy Sacrament we enter the winter choir built in 1852. Over the altar there is a painting by Giovanni Barbiani’ cyrcle Madonna, St Ursus and St Rinaldo where a view of mounts and towers appears beyond the balustrade. Above the painting there is a little oval canvas depicting St Gregory the Great . Three lunette hang in the same choir; they were painted by Carlo Bonone from Ferrara (1569-1632): Magdalene in the Pharisee’s house , Esther’s Banquet , Mardocheo’s triumph .
Along the corridor of sacristies, towards lateral entry next to Archiepiscopal Palace, we find a remarkable marble high-relief: it represents St Mark the Evangelist sitting on a chair in his office . At the feet of it there is a lion, St Mark’s symbol. The work has been recently ascribed to Tullio Lombardo an importantant Renaissance artist even if the academic Corrado Ricci had always attributed it to Matteo from Ragusa and Giovanni Antonio from Milan. The relief was first the marble masterpiece on the main altar of the curch of St Mark in Piazza del Popolo (now the building with the clock tower). As we read on the latin inscription below, the work was commisioned by the podesta Marco Bragadin from Venice in 1491. The sculpture was displayed in the cathedral in 1837 but until 2010 it has been at the bottom of the right nave , in ambulatory. Over the lateral entrance, a big altarpiece is displayed: Madonna, St Dominic and an Archangel overthrow heretics . The painting comes from the church of St Dominic.
Last restoration in the Cathedral complex, ended in 2014, allowed the setting up of a funeral and prayer area behind the apse: the archboshops’ crypt . Inside the archeological stratification in the ancient Archbishop’s Palace, the last bishops of Ravenna are buried: Ersilio Tonini (1975-1990) and Luigi Amaducci (1990-2000). Near the entrance, monsignor Guido Marchetti’s tomb has been recently located in a small room; he died in 2015, he was the parish priest of the Cathedral and director of Opera di Religione.