Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Cathedral of Modena: Part 1 - the Exterior

Back in January, I did three separate posts on one of my favorite Italian churches, the 12th century Romanesque cathedral of St Geminianus in Modena. (part 1, part 2, part 3) Our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi recently visited the city, and updated an old album of images of it; since he is a better photographer than I (both in terms of quantity and quality), and has a better camera than I did when I was there, it seems like a good time to another series.

The cathedral was begun in the year 1099, and consecrated in 1184, the façade was one of the first parts to be completed, in 1106.

Many Italian Romanesque churches have a small portico in front of the central door, supported by columns that rest on the backs of sculptures of lions. These represent the wildness and dangers of the world, from which we find refuge within the Church.

In a similar vein, sculptures of wild animals and mythological creatures are often fixed to the exterior. In many cases, these are placed seemingly at random, to indicate the chaos and disorder brought into the world by the Fall of Man, and restored by Christ in and through His Church.
Contemporary to the building of the façade are these four panels of stories from the book of Genesis, made by a sculptor called Wiligelmo. Very little is known about him, but he worked here, and in Piacanza, Cremona, and the abbey of Nonantola, so he is assumed to have been northern Italian himself. This first panel over the door of the left aisle the creation of Adam, the creation of Eve, and Adam and Eve in Paradise.
The second panel, to the left of the central door, show the Original Sin, the expulsion from Paradise, and the first labors of fallen man. 
The third panel, to the right of the central door, shows the story of Cain and Abel.
The fourth panel, over the door of the right aisle, shows the killing of Cain, and Noah’s Ark.
The dedicatory inscription of the church, to the left of the central door, names Wiligelmo as the sculptor who decorated the façade; the figures holding it are Enoch and Elijah.
On the door jamb are sculptures of several prophets: Malachy
as well as the mythological figure Atlas.
The apses and bell-tower seen from the back of the church. As with many such projects, the tower was built in fits and starts; the octagonal lantern was not added until 1319, bringing it to the height of 282½ feet.
Here the tower is seen from the large piazza to the south of the church; at the lower left of this photo is the Porta Regia, which gives the church the odd appearance of having two façades perpendicular to each other. 
A secondary door to the left of the Porta Regia, known as the Porta dei Principi - the Princes’ Gate.
The smaller “Porta della Pescheria - Fishmarket door”, which fronts on the rather narrow street on the church’s northern side.

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