In addition to several artistic, architectural, and cultural gems, Brescia is also famous for a rather unique phenomenon in Italy: a square with two cathedrals.
Let’s start this intriguing journey from Romanesque to Late-Baroque at the discovery of the treasures of Duomo Vecchio and Duomo Nuovo in Piazza Paolo VI square.
Designed by architect Giovanbattista Lantana and built on the remains of the old San Pietro de Dom church starting from 1604, Duomo Nuovo majestically stands in the middle of the square. It has a splendid Baroque façade in Botticino marble and a rather complicated history: due to financial difficulties, construction was delayed and the Cathedral was completed only in 1825 with the dome, the third tallest in Italy.
The interior, a one-nave Greek cross design, is very monumental and contains several noteworthy works of art, such as the 15th century wooden crucifix on the first altar on the right; Isaac’s Sacrifice painted by Moretto in the lunette of the same altar; and St. Apollonio’s sarcophagus in the third altar (he was Bishop of Brescia in the 3rd century), made in 1510 and decorated with high-reliefs attributed to Maffeo Olivieri. In the Trinity Chapel, the altarpiece by Giuseppe Nuvolone is noteworthy; it’s a grandiose ex voto to celebrate the end of the plague in 1630.
A devotional site stands along the left of the nave: it’s the monument dedicated to Giovanbattista Montini, Brescia’s Pope Paul VI, created in 1984 by sculptor Raffaele Scorzelli. Above it, the imposing organ paintings by Romanino depicting The Marriage of the Virgin, The Birth of the Virgin, and Visitation.
The Assumption of the Virgin altarpiece at the end of the presbytery is by Iacopo Zoboli (1773), while the altar on the left of the presbytery has a noteworthy painting by Palma the Young depicting Mary venerated by Saints Carlo and Francesco and Bishop Marino Giorgi.
The New Cathedral is an accessible building.
True gem of the city, it is the most prominent Romanesque circular church still in existence. Duomo Vecchio was built starting from 1100 by a very old Corporation of specialised masons. Also called “Rotunda” for its circular shape, it is the official co-cathedral of Brescia together with Duomo Nuovo.
There are countless artistic treasures inside the church. The first thing you see when you enter is the sarcophagus of Berardo Maggi, nominated Bishop of the city in 1275. It’s a typical example of Romanesque sculpture and is made of red marble. Other noteworthy pieces are the sarcophagus of Bishop Balduino Lambertini of Bologna, made in 1349 by Bonino da Campione; the 14th century main altar; and the choir and organ by Giangiacomo Antegnati, built in mid-16th century.
In Duomo Vecchio, different styles from different ages coexist. In the transept under the floor you can see fragments of the prior basilica (6th century) and a Roman spa; in the central part of the church there are mid-13th century frescoes, while the right side displays a large canvas by Francesco Maffei depicting a bell tower which later collapsed. Those who love figurative art will be happy to admire works by Romanino, Moretto, Palma the Young, Grazio Cossali, and Antonio Gandino in the chapels, and the large altarpiece by Pietro Marone.
Duomo Vecchio is also famous for hosting, in the namesake chapel, the Treasure of the Holy Crosses, precious relics including fragments of the Real Cross. Kept into a safe there are the shrine for the Holy Thorns, the Stauroteca case (11th century), Croce di Campo (or Orifiamma, 12th century – it’s the cross that was mounted on the processional cart), and finally the Shrine and Reliquary for the Holy Cross. They can be admired only on the last Friday of March and on 14th September.
The crypt of San Filastrio under Duomo Vecchio is open to visitors. It was part of the prior 8th century church.
Every Sunday morning at 11am, a Mass in Latin is celebrated in Duomo Vecchio.
For details, visit the official website of Brescia’s Cathedrals.