Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Cathedral of the Assumption in Brixen, Italy

Since we are within the octave of the Assumption, here are some photos which Nicola took during a recent visit to the cathedral of Brixen in northern Italy, which is jointly dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption and a martyr of the early fourth century, St Cassian of Imola. One of this church’s noteworthy features is a 12th-century Romanesque cloister, the arcades of which are mostly covered in Gothic-style frescoes from the end of the 14th to the beginning of the 16th century; several photos of it are included below.

Brixen (Bressanone) is in the region known as South Tyrol (Südtirol) to Germans, and the Upper Adige (Alto-Adige) to Italians; before the end of World War I, it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and German speakers are still the majority (62%) of the population. The cultural and artistic influences of the German world are very strong in the region, as e.g. in the design of the exterior when the church was massively rebuilt in the Baroque style mid-18th century.
The interior, however, is closer to the Italian Baroque.
The high altar
The episcopal throne; Brixen was the seat of a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire from 1027 until 1803.
The altar with the relics of two local Saints, Ingenuinus and Albuinus; the relics of the former were translated by the latter to the previous church on the site ca. 1000, when the episcopal title he had held in nearby Säben (Sabiona) was translated to Brixen.
The organ and counter-façade.
The view from inside the cloister. The octagonal tower is the upper part of the baptistery; during the Investiture Controversy, a council held within it in 1080 elected the anti-Pope Clement III.
As with many medieval religious complexes, the cathedral is surrounded by other buildings; here we see a chapel dedicated to St Michael under the bell-tower.
A long-view of the frescoed cloister.
The frescoes do not form a unitary program, but are rather a collection of stories (some difficult to decipher) and ex-votos, much like those of the baptistery of Parma. Here, for example, we see the Agony in the Garden, with two Saints and a deposition from the Cross below it, a kneeling donor at the lower left, and Adam and Eve in the Garden, with representations of the capital vices, at the upper right.
Stories of the life of King David, his combat with Goliath on the left, and with the lion (1 Sam 17, 34) on the right.
On the left, the appearance of Christ to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection. On the right, Christ meets her at the time of His Passion; the banderole in her hand has the words of the Song of Songs (3, 4), “I held him, and I will not let him go.” 
From bottom to top: Jonah, Samson takes the gates of Gaza (Judges 16, 1-3): the Risen Christ with the soldiers at the tomb (upside-down here, full view in next photo.)
Evangelists, Doctors of the Church, and Prophets.
The Lamentation at the Tomb 
Joseph lowered into the well by his brothers, and Jonah tossed into the sea.
The death of Absalom, with a Crucifixion scene below it.
One of the most famous images in the cloister is this representation of an elephant with a tower full of armed men on its back, based on the account of the Emperor Antiochus’ army in 1 Maccabees 6: “And the number of his army was an hundred thousand footmen, and twenty thousand horsemen, and thirty-two elephants, trained to battle. ... and there stood by every elephant a thousand men in coats of mail, and with helmets of brass on their heads: and five hundred horsemen set in order were chosen for every beast. ... and upon the beast, there were strong wooden towers, which covered every one of them: and engines upon them: and upon every one thirty-two valiant men, who fought from above; and an Indian to rule the beast.” (The “oliphaunts” in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings are inspired by the same passage.)
To the right, the crowning with thorns: on the left, the Persian King Darius, whose crown is removed by a woman with the name “Apeme” who is about to slap him, an episode from the Historia Scholastica of Peter Comestor, which was allegorically read as a symbol of Christ’s Passion. 
The Virgin and Child with Saints and a donor, one of the cathedral canons. Below it is a representation of a popular medieval legend according to which the Emperor Augustus was shown a vision of Christ by a sybil.
A Nativity scene
The Adoration of the Magi, and several ex-votos
various Saints
One of the corporal works of mercy, the burial of the dead; to the left, feeding the hungry.
Modern coats of arms of three Popes: Damasus II, formerly Poppo, bishop of Brixen, who was Pope for 24 days (July 17 - August 9, the seventh shortest Papal reign!) in 1048; Pius VI (1775-99), who visited the cathedral on May 9, 1782; and Benedict XVI, who led the Angelus at the church on Sunday, August 3, 2008, during his summer vacation in northern Italy. Below are several grave markers of canons of the cathedral.
A tombstone which formerly enclosed the relics of Ss Ingenuinus and Albuinus.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: