Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi

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Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi
For the church with same name in Siena, see Santa Maria dei Servi, Siena Santa Maria dei Servi is a Catholic basilica in Bologna, Italy. It was founded in 1346, as the church of the Servite Community of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was designed by Padre Andrea da Faenza whose work can also be seen at the Basilica of San Petronio, also in Bologna. It was raised to the status of basilica by Pope Pius XII.


The basilica is 100 metres long by 20 metres wide. It has the form of a Latin cross but the transepts do not project beyond the aisles. The shallow apse is five segments of an octagon, as is common in Italian Gothic churches. It was designed in the Gothic style with pointed arches throughout. At the death of Padre Andrea in 1396, the work was not complete. However, the completion in the 15th century saw little change to the design of the basilica itself, which is entirely Gothic in appearance. The central nave and side aisles are divided from each other by stout round columns with floriate capitals, the shafts being red in colour and the capitals and bases of contrasting pale stone, adding a decorative effect to the very simple architecture. The plastered walls above the arcade are pierced by occular windows set high under the gothic vault. The vault is of a simple quadrupartite form with the brick ribs in contrast to the infilling.

Externally, the church is very plain, undecorated brick. The facade, which was constructed in several phases, has never been decorated. The remarkable feature of the church is its courtyard or atrium. This is a feature that was common in Early Christian churches, including the earlier St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, but has almost always disappeared. This is an unusual case of an atrium being built in the 16th century. It appears to have been modelled on the arcade built by Brunelleschi at the Hospital of the Innocents ( Ospedale degli Innocenti) in Florence, and later extended to other parts of the large piazza, including the front of the Church of the Assumption. In the case of Santa Maria dei Servi, the piazza in front of the basilica was quite small and a wide arcade was able to be built around it, enclosing the entire square without interruption. The arcade is closed on one side by the conventual buildings, but on two side it is open to the street, and extends along the entire left side of the building. Where the arcade meets the facade, it forms a "narthex" or wide portico of five arches, stretching across the front of the church. The arcade has a decorative cornice and the spandrels each have a circular moulding which echoes the occular window in the facade. This unusual feature of the basilica is particularly Bolognese in character, as the city has retained a great number of street arcades, some of them clearly medieval, but including those which are believed to date from the Roman city.

Among the artworks included in the church, are a Holy Virgin Enthroned by Cimabue, a marble altarpiece of the Annunciation of Mary by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, known as "Michelangelo" Montorsoli (1558), traces of 14th century frescoes by Vitale da Bologna, and many others. The church also contains a famous pipe organ, regarded as one of the finest in Europe. The organ is unusual in that it can be operated with a mechanical action, as a barrel organ.

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