Modena: Santa Maria della Pomposa

Santa Maria della Pomposa.

The outward appearance of the church of Santa Maria della Pomposa is somewhat that of a barn. Try as hard as one may, it is simply impossible to detect any kind of decoration. All one sees is naked brick. Remarkably, it turns out that the church was in fact used as a barn for several years: after the parish was suppressed in 1774, all decorations were removed and the building was for some time used as a storage facility for firewood. Even before the end of the eighteenth century the suppression of the parish was reversed. But then again, Santa Maria della Pomposa is not just any church. Between 1717 and 1750 Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750) served as a priest here. Very few people abroad will know him, but in Italy this priest and historian is considered the father of modern historiography. His funerary monument – a twentieth-century creation by the way – can be found in the church, while a museum dedicated to Muratori is attached to the church.

The history of the church goes back to the twelfth century. It was founded as a dependency of the Benedictine abbey of Pomposa, which readily explains its name. After Muratori had been appointed parish priest in 1717, he did his utmost to expand and enlarge the church. Momentum was, however, lost, upon his death in 1750. As was already mentioned, the church was deconsecrated in 1774 but then restored to its former position just a couple of years later. The church building adjoins a nice little square, the Piazza della Pomposa, with outdoor cafés and a vegetable market on some days.

Sober interior of the church.

The Santa Maria della Pomposa has a single nave. The church interior is sober and rather monotonous, with the colour grey quite dominant. As for art, the Muratori monument immediately catches the eye. Visitors will find it directly on the left after entering. The monument dates from 1931 and was made by Lodovico Pogliaghi (1857-1950). The monument contains the remains of the priest and historian, which were brought to the Santa Maria della Pomposa from another church in Modena in 1928.

Monument for Muratori / Purgatory – Bernardino Cervi.

Bernardino Cervi (ca. 1586-1630) was an artist who produced quite a lot of work for the Santa Maria della Pomposa. Cervi painted several scenes featuring episodes from the life of Saint Sebastian, to whom the church is co-dedicated. He furthermore painted the large canvas in the second chapel on the left, which represents Purgatory. Cervi was later one of the victims of a large plague that struck Modena in 1630. The altarpiece behind the high altar was made by the French painter Jean Boulanger (1606-1660). It is a copy of the famous San Sebastiano Madonna by Correggio (1489-1534). The latter painting is now in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden. In the eighteenth century, it was purchased by Frederick August II, Elector of Saxony (also known as August III of Poland).

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