Italy

Italy Pic of the Day | Empty Basilica

Our photographic tour of Basilica di San Zeno in Verona, Italy continues with a look at the influences behind Romanesque architecture + Monk graffiti!

Even if every seat is occupied, the scale of Romanesque Architecture is overwhelming. The Basilica of San Zeno in Verona is no different. Since it still holds Liturgical celebrations, this image made me wonder if delivering a reading or a homily during service would feel like playing to an empty room.

Standing in the Basilica of San Zeno made me wonder, why were such large structures built in the first place? If you’re curious read on!

Italy Pic of the Day Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore Hall
What playing to an Empty Room looks like. Basilica di San Zeno Maggiore.

Characteristics of Romanesque Architecture

What I’ve noticed with touring Romanesque architectural structures throughout Italy is the massive scale of expensive materials. I always find myself thinking “this must have cost a fortune to build!” Thick walls, tall arcade arches, few windows, sturdy pillars, barrel vaults, but above all big, big, big.

Why so big? Was the church showing off? Was it supposed to be intimidating? Turns out no. The reason for the scale served a much more practical purpose.

“Larger churches were needed to accommodate the numerous monks and priests, as well as the pilgrims who came to view saints’ relics. For the sake of fire resistance, masonry vaulting began to replace timber construction.”

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

So back to the original question. Specifically why was the Basilica of San Zeno built to be so large?

The Basilica of San Zeno’s Patron Saint

The Basilica of San Zeno is a complex of buildings that were rebuilt after devastation from the Huns and natural disasters including a massive earthquake in 1117. Now, the relics of the patron Saint of Verona (Zeno of Verona) were moved to the basilica in 807 and the structure seen today was completed in 1138. Which means, the basilica was constructed to house large crowds and guard the body of Saint Zeno!

Ah ha! Selfishly, this is the fun part of doing these Italy Pic of the Day posts. I get to dive down a rabbit hole of curiosity and share the quick snippets of fascinating information I find. This gem, helped me better understand what I saw inside the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona. Space. Lots and lots of space.

Italy Pic of the Day Basilica San Zeno arches
Basilica San Zeno Space

For me, understand this is what makes things I saw start clicking into place. Back in the day, the body of the Patron Saint of Verona would most certainly require a building large enough to accommodate visiting monks, Benedictines and religious travelers.

If you ever get to visit the Basilica of San Zeno, be on the lookout for subtle graffiti in the frescoes. The monks did it! The graffiti offers hints to local history including floods, earthquakes, plagues and wars.

Italy Pic of the Day Basilica San Zeno Monk Graffiti
Graffiti by Monks on Frescoes of the Basilica of San Zeno

Tomorrow, I hope you’ll join me for a detour from Italy Pic of the Day. I’m finally ready to share where Paolo and I have decided to live in Italy! Then Friday, as promised, the Shrek of the Basilica of San Zeno.

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Previous Italy Pic of the Day Posts | Verona, Italy

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