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Cripta di San Zama

Via dell'Abbadia, 1 - 40122 Bologna (BO)

Reference maps: C-2

Date of last update: 14/06/2018, 12:04

Photos by Massimo Brunelli
Amici delle vie d'acqua e dei sotterranei di Bologna

The story of the crypt is linked to the birth of the first Christian community in Bologna. It has long been believed that San Zama was the first cathedral, because in this sacred place were buried the remains of the first bishops of Bologna, starting with Zama himself.  Most probably this area was one of the first Christian cemeteries where also the bishops of Bologna were inhumed because of the ban (until the fifth century) to bury the dead within the city walls. Faustiniano, bishop successor to St Zama, contributed to increasing the fame of the sanctuary by building a larger basilica, and changed the title of the church to Santi Naborre and Felice, martyrs of the Milanese Church, from which Bologna depended.
All the bishops of the Bolognese diocese were inhumed here until the 8th-9th century (except San Petronio buried in the complex of Santo Stefano).

After year 1000, the Benedictine monks reconstructed the church in Romanesque style, building a crypt, the monastery and, during  the fourteenth century, the bell tower and the sacristy. During this period the convent, called Abbadia, became one of the most important centers of study in the city.

But the fifteenth-century struggles between the bolognese lords and the papacy involved the monastery, leading to the abandonment of the Benedictines and the consequent ruin of it. After a century of decadence, the pope assigned the complex to the clarisse nuns.

The crypt is the only surviving Romanesque element within the entire complex. The modern layout of the crypt, much closer to the structure of a chapel, is due to the transformation carried out by the clarisse that decided to isolate it from the building overlying, creating small niches where there were the access stairs and opening, at the end of the central nave, a space to host an altar with five small devotional aedicules. To support the presbytery some  pilasters were inserted into the columns which divided the crypt into three naves. Inside there are some architectural fragments: part of the decoration of an ancient marble stone, a stone cross and a partial burial inscription  of the seventeenth century.

The three aisles end with semicircular apses. In the four columns that precede the altar, can be noticed some white marble capitals very similar to each other, decorated with double order volutes of foliage, rosettes and crosses.

The scholars attributed them to epochs ranging from 6th to 12th century, but the presence of the cross in the marble block of the capitals would confirm the original Christian use.

Source http://www.romanico-emiliaromagna.com Ars Romanica, within the Romanica project. Emilia Romagna's medieval monuments  winner of the "Youth, atypical and multimedia" call, an initiative framed in the actions provided for by the Framework Program for Youth Policies "Young Evolved and Conscious" (GECO) of the Emilia Romagna Region

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