Sassari Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Nicholas and is the seat of the Archbishop of Sassari. It was built in the Romanesque style in the 12th century. The present building also includes Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements. Construction was finished in the 18th century.
Gothic vaults, a baroque façade and classical décor are the result of reconstruction work, while its roots are ancient and humble, linked to the origins of the city. The first mention of the church is in the Condaghe of San Pietro di Silki dating back to 1135. It was built over an early Christian building, the remains of which can be seen beneath the apse. The first reconstruction took place in the 13th century in Romanesque style: still remaining is the bell tower, standing to the left of the temple, to which a turret with a small dome was added five centuries later. In the second half of the 15th century, now upgraded to the rank of cathedral, San Nicola took on a Gothic-Catalan style. After more than two centuries, other works gave it its current appearance, which will strike you with its splendid baroque façade. It has three orders: a portico with three rounded arches with an entrance portal, three niches decorated with the statues of Sassari's martyrs Gavino, Proto and Gianuario, and a large pediment with a single niche, where there is the simulacrum of St Nicholas. At the top, there is a sculpture of God Almighty.
After crossing through the portico, which has a starred cross-vault, you will enter the single large nave, divided into two spans with eight chapels. Look up at the ribs of the vaults, following their rhythm to the junction with the transept, where you will see a Renaissance-inspired cupola. Looking further down, you will see the greater altar made of marble, in classical style (dated 1690), with Corinthian capitals. Above the altar, there is the Madonna del Bosco (Madonna of the Forest), a painting of the Sienese school (14th century). In the transept, you will notice the chapel of the Most Blessed Sacrament, with a Late Baroque altar in which there is the Coena Domini, a painting dating back to the 19th century, while on the left there is the chapel named after St Anna, with the sculpture of the Mausoleum of Placido Benedetto of Savoy. Behind the altar, the apse has two areas: in one, there is a wooden 18th century choir. These are among the many treasures in the cathedral, a treasure chest of paintings and sculptures by artists from the 16th to 19th centuries.
In the centre of Sassari other places of worship stand out, like the churches of Santa Maria di Betlem and Sant'Apollinare, the oldest in the city, as well as Piazza d'Italia and Fontana di Rosello, its historical and cultural symbols and in Cavalcata Sarda and Discesa dei Candelieri, its most important festive celebrations.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.