Basilica of St Zeno, Verona.

Basilica of St Zeno Maggiore

The Basilica of San Zeno is a minor basilica situated in Verona. Not only famed for its architecture it is also known as the setting for the marriage of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. St Zeno is one of the most important symbols of the city of Verona, which together with the Arena stands as testament to the ancient Romans, Romeo and Juliet and the Middle Ages.

St.Zeno is the patron saint of freshwater fishermen and his feast day is 21st May. St Zeno was the eigth Bishop of Verona and lived in the 4th century (died 380) and was a native of Mauritania.

The Basilica is a splendid example of Romanesque architecture and took on its present form in 1398. The first church which held the marriage of the King and Queen of the Lombards was destryed and rebuilt immediatly by Bishop Raterio who obtained the funds by Emperor Otto I of Germany. This was, however destroyed by the Hungarians in the 10th century and the remains of St Zeno were moved to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Matricolare (previous Cathedral of Verona) and later returned to the restored crypt of the new church.

The Basilica represents a model for all subsequent Romanesque edifices in Verona. The facade of the Basilica is divided into three vertical components, the central nave surmounted by a pediment and the two aisle with sloping rooflines. Central to the upper facade is the unique Rose Window in the shape of a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ which is one of the earliest examples in the Romanesque architecture of such a structure that was to become a particular feature of Gothic architecture. The outer rim of the window is decorated by six figures representing the vacillations of human life. On either side of the porch are 18 bas-reliefs from the 12th century. The bronze door of the church tells the stories of saints and historical figures within its 48 panels.

The 10th century crypt is a real gem, a church within a church, it has a nave with 8 aisles the arches of which are supported by 49 columns, each topped with a different capital. In here, since 921, lies the body of St Zeno, placed in a sarcophagus, his face covered with a silver mask. The crypt was restored in the 13th and 16th centuries.

Separate to the main building stands the bell tower. It is 72 m high and construction began in 1045 at the behest of Abbot Alberic, restored in 1120 and added to in 1178. It is composed of alternating layers of tuff and brick. It is divided in floors by cornices and small tuff arches and rises to a double-storied bell chamber. The first bells date back to 1149, today only the bell to have survived is the ‘figar’, it has a special function as it rang out storm warnings.

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