One of the most celebrated attractions of Bologna is the ‘sette chiese’ meaning the ‘ seven churches’. The Church of Santo Stefano is also known as the Holy Jerusalem. In reality the Church may date back to 350 AD.
According to legend, Bishop Petronius (who in the 11th century became the Patron of the city) wanted that the church be built in a manner so as to recall the passion of the Christ and so he devised the complex in the 5th century AD.
The complex is intriguing as we can witness the skilful incorporation of various architectural structures and styles that gives rise to what locals call ‘ le sette chiese’ – the Seven Churches. Visiting the complex today you can see only four of the following remaining.
The first temple was believed to be a Temple dedicated to the goddess Isis and that holy water from the Nile River was brought to Bologna for purification purposes.
The Temple of Isis was incorporated into the Christian Baptistry by Bishop Petronius. This dates back to 5th century and where the remains of San Petronio (except his head) are laid to rest. One of the columns is said to be an original from the Temple of Isis. The Balcony dates back to the 13th century.
On the far left you have the Basilica of San Vitale e Agricola named after the relics of the first martyrs of Bologna. A golden Urn holds the remains of St Vitale and Agricola. This church was constructed in 737 when the Lombards invaded the city. The Lombards dedicate the church to John the Baptist.
Next to this, you have the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre (the Cavalry Basilica) with the small temple at its centre is supposed to represent the sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem. Until 1804, the Cupola had affrescos on it but today we only have faint traces of them.
Next to this you have the church of the Crucifix which together with Pilate’s Courtyard. The marble basin dates to 739 – 740 and is located in the courtyard is said to be a replica of the basin used by Pilate to wash his hands of Christ.
Leading out of the courtyard there is the Benedictine Cloister (11-12th century), the Holy Trinity Church and the Santo Stefano museum.
The resting place of San Petronio below.
The Holy Trinity Church houses the adoration of the Magi (Simon dei Crosses c. 1370).
In 983 the Benedictine Monks erected the bell tower, built the cloister and established a large monastery together with a Church. In 1493, the Benedictines were replaced by the Celestines who were summonsed by Pope Alexander VI.
Legend has it that Dante came to Santo Stefano and spent his time here to mediate. The towers were added at the end of the 16th century.
The Church has undergone major restoration work from 1870 – 1930.
The Cript of Santo Stefano is constructed with many materials from roman ruins with one column apparently as tall as Christ.