Orvieto Cathedral

Orvieto, Italy | C.1290

Photo Credit: Sam Jemai

There is a lot to be said about the exuberant, art-filled Orvieto Cathedral. Hundreds of workers and artists were involved in its 300-year construction. It houses supposed evidence of a miracle, a shrine to a martyr, and a museum to an artist.

Pope Urban IV ordered construction of the church to provide a home for the Corporal of Bolsena, the relic of a miracle said to have occurred in a nearby town around 1263. Legend has it that a priest was doubting the idea of transubstantiation, in which the bread and wine of the eucharist become the actual body and blood of Christ. While having these doubts, the consecrated host (the bread) began to bleed, staining a corporal (a small piece of cloth) on which the host and chalice rested. Visitors can still view the actual corporal today.

The cathedral is also dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Mosaics on the facade feature scenes from her life, as well as large bas-reliefs and statues of important religious figures. On the other sides of the structure, alternating bands of white travertine and greenish-black basalt stripe the walls.

Inside the chapel are paintings and sculptures from some of the most famous artists of the era, depicting scenes from Revelation. Of particular note are frescoes by Luca Signorelli, in which his mastery of the human form is quite clear. Two lavish chapels on either side are dedicated to the Madonna of San Brizio and to the famed corporal. Also inside is the tomb of St. Pietro Panzo, the city’s mayor and a Catholic martyr, murdered in 1199.

The ground floor of the attached Papal palace houses a museum dedicated to the Sicilian artist, Emilio Greco, who constructed the cathedral’s bronze doors in 1970. The museum also contains artifacts related to the history of the town and cathedral.

Pope Nicholas IV laid the first flagstone in 1290, but changing politics, changing architectural tastes, and the sheer scope of the work dragged the construction process on till 1590. Renovated, restored, and changed over the centuries, the cathedral today is open for viewing. In 2014, the town celebrated the 750th anniversary of the Eucharist Miracle of Bolsena.

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