The Pontifical Basilica of Saint Anthony of Padua, locally as 'il Santo' it is one of the eight international shrines recognized by the Holy See. Construction of the Basilica probably began around 1232, just one year after the death of St. Anthony. It was completed in 1310 although several structural modifications (including the falling of the ambulatory and the construction of a new choir screen) took place between the end of the 14th and the mid 15th century.
The Saint, according to his will, had been buried in the small church of Santa Maria Mater Domini, probably dating from the late 12th century and near which a convent was founded by him in 1229. This church was incorporated into the present basilica as the Cappella della Madonna Mora (Chapel of the Dark Madonna).
Sant'Antonio is a giant edifice without a precise architectural style. Over the centuries, it has grown under a variety of different influences as shown by the exterior details.
The new basilica was begun as a single-naved church, like that of St Francis of Assisi, with an apsidal chancel, broad transepts and two square nave bays roofed with hemispherical domes like that of San Marco, Venice. The exterior style is a mixing of mainly Romanesque and Byzantine elements, with some Gothic features.
Later in the 13th century, the aisles were added in a more Gothic style, the length of each nave bay being divided into two aisle bays with pointed arches and quadripartite vaults.
The eastern apse was also extended in the Gothic style, receiving a ribbed vault and nine radiating chapels in the French manner. Later also, the Treasury chapel was built in 1691 in the Baroque style by Filippo Parodi, a pupil of Bernini.
Externally, the brick facade has a Romanesque central section which was extended outwards when the aisles were built, acquiring in the process four deep Gothic recesses and an elegant arcaded balcony which stretches across the broad front of the building. The facade gable shows little differentiation between the nave and aisle, screening the very large buttresses that have the same profile and form a richly sculptural feature when the building is viewed from the side.
The domes, like the domes of St. Mark's Basilica, were raised in height externally, giving a Byzantine appearance to the building, while the multitude of small belfries which accompany the domes recall Turkish minarets. Externally, at the main roof line each section of the building is marked by a low gable decorated with blind arcading in brick. These gables combine with the domes, the broad buttresses and the little towers to create a massive sculptural form, both diverse and unified in its conglomeration of features. As a work of architecture the building is particularly effective when viewed from the north west, an extra dimension being added to the facade by the huge plinth and dynamic equestrian monument of the Condottiero Gattamelata by Donatello.
The interior of the church contains numerous funerary monuments, some of noteworthy artistic value. The Chapel of the Holy Sacrament, in the right aisle, houses the tomb of the famous condottiero Gattamelata and of his son Giannantonio. The bronze tabernacle is made by Girolamo Campagna. This chapel, with its broad bands of polychrome and carved Gothic details, has had many stages of decoration, the final stage being the creation of an atmospheric mosaic in the tall rear niche representing the Holy Spirit with rays of golden light descending against a background of intensely blue sky. This highly theatrical work was created by Lodovico Pogliaghi between 1927–36.
Relics of St Anthony are to be found in the ornate baroque Treasury Chapel (begun in 1691). The body of the saint, which was in the Madonna Mora Chapel, has, from 1350, lain in a separate transept chapel, the Chapel of St Anthony, the interior decoration being attributed to Tullio Lombardo, who also provided the sixth and seventh reliefs depicting the miracles of St Anthony. The third relief Saint bringing back to life a man who had been murdered is a masterpiece by Girolamo Campagna. The late-16th century statues are by Tiziano Aspetti
The Basilica contains several important images of the Madonna. The Madonna Mora is a statue of the Madonna with the Christ Child by the French sculptor Rainaldino di Puy-l'Evéque, dating from 1396.
The Madonna del Pilastro is a mid-14th-century fresco by Stefano da Ferrara, located on the pier adjacent the left aisle.
Among other sculptural work is the magnificent Easter candelabrum in the apse, finished in 1515 by Andrea Briosco and considered his masterwork. The most famous and striking features of the high altar area are however the bronze Madonna with Child and six statues of Saints by Donatello, who also executed four reliefs with episodes of life of St. Anthony.
To the right hand side of the nave, opposite the tomb of the Saint is the large Chapel of St. James, commissioned by Bonifacio Lupi in the 1370s in the elegant Gothic style, with frescoed walls depicting the Stories of St. James and the Crucifixion by Altichiero da Zevio. Altichiero's Crucifixion is one of the most significant paintings of the late 14th century. There are several frescoes created by Girolamo Tessari.
The chin and tongue of St. Anthony are displayed in a gold reliquary at the Basilica.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.