Udine is not the most touristic city in Italy. It was nice and quiet in both the museums and the restaurants, while there was ample space in the underground car park. One of the main goals of our visit to the city was of course its Duomo, of which the history goes back almost 800 years. The octagonal bell-tower of the building was visible from afar. The ground floor of the tower currently houses the small but interesting Museo del Duomo, which will be discussed in a separate post. This post is all about the cathedral of Udine itself.
The Duomo was built in 1236 by patriarch Berthold von Andechs-Meran, who served as patriarch of Aquileia between 1218 and 1251. Berthold was an ethnic German who had previously been active in Hungary as bishop of Kalocsa. As patriarch of Aquileia he not only succeeded in getting Udine a new cathedral, but also in moving the residence of the patriarchs to this city (in 1238). The new Duomo arose on the spot where previously a church dedicated to Saint Jerome (San Girolamo) had stood. It is therefore likely that the new cathedral was originally dedicated to this saint. This changed in 1257, when enough of the building had been completed to make it suitable for holding religious services. The Duomo was then dedicated to the obscure Saint Odoric (Sant’Odorico). It is unclear who he was, perhaps a local saint. He was certainly not the famous Odoric of Pordenone (1286-1331), the Franciscan monk who travelled to the Far East and left us a well-known report about his journeys. This Odoric was beatified in 1755, which made him Blessed and not Saint Odoric. Moreover, Odoric of Pordenone was born almost thirty years after the Duomo was dedicated to Saint Odoric.
In 1335 the patriarch Bertrand de Saint Geniès dedicated the cathedral to Santa Maria Maggiore, and the Duomo would be known as such for the next four hundred years. Bertrand was a Frenchman from the Gascogne. During his patriarchate, which started in 1334, he got into a conflict with the nobility in the Friuli. In 1350 dissatisfied nobles had him murdered. More than four centuries later, in 1760, he was beatified by Pope Clemens XIII (1758-1769). By that time not much was left of the Gothic cathedral from Bertrand’s own days. This was especially true with regard to the interior of the building, which was thoroughly remodelled in Baroque style in the eighteenth century. The architects involved were, among other, Domenico Rossi (1657-1737) and Abbondio Stazio (1675-1757). The renovated building was consecrated on 18 April 1735 by patriarch Daniele Delfino. Since that date it is known as Santa Maria Annunziata. Delfino happened to be the last patriarch of Aquileia in history: in 1751 the patriarchate was abolished. He was a member of a noble Venetian family (Dolfin in the Venetian dialect), and so were the most important financiers of the project, the Manin family. It was, in fact, the Manin family that gave Venice its last Doge.
Things to see
The original façade of the Duomo was built in 1366 by one Pietro Paolo da Venezia, who may almost certainly be equated with Pierpaolo dalle Masegne, a sculptor and architect from Venice whose work has previously been discussed on this website. Very little was left of his Gothic façade after renovations in the sixteenth and eighteenth century. In 1909 an attempt was made to somewhat restore the original appearance of the façade. The result is a piece of Neogothic architecture that is not exceptionally beautiful, but not exceptionally ugly either.
The Gothic portal surrounding the main entrance is an original element of the cathedral. This Portale della Redenzione (image above) dates from the middle of the fourteenth century. The central scene of the splendid tympanum is the Crucifixion of Christ. To the left of it we see the Resurrection, and on the right the Lamb of God. Above the Crucifixion and the familiar letters INRI the Nativity has been sculpted, with Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the ox. Another beautiful portal can be found on the north side of the cathedral, not far from the entrance to the museum. This Portale dell’Incoronazione della Vergine (image below) rather unsurprisingly has the Coronation of the Virgin as its main theme. It dates from 1395-1396, and its stylistic characteristics lead experts to attribute it to an anonymous German sculptor. Below the Coronation scene is an Adoration of the Magi, with a number of cute little men with heads that are far too large. Surrounding the relief are, moreover, statues of Saints John the Baptist, Mary Magdalen and Anthony the Abbot (a fourth statue is damaged beyond recognition).
The bell-tower, already mentioned above, is a remarkable structure. Originally it served as the external baptistery of the cathedral, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. This also explains its octagonal shape. In the fifteenth century the former baptistery was used as the base for a bell-tower. The construction of the tower started in 1441, after a design by Cristoforo da Milano (ca. 1410-1484). The architect in charge was Bartolomeo delle Cisterne (ca. 1400-1480) from Koper in Slovenia, who was also active in Cividale del Friuli. Bartolomeo quickly discovered that the base was much too weak to support a high tower. Concerns about the stability of the tower led to a suspension of building activity in 1469. As a result, the bell-tower we see today is of modest height.
The Baroque interior of the cathedral is fairly dark. Many of the artworks are about Saint Hermagoras, the first bishop of Aquileia, and his deacon Fortunatus, who are considered the patron saints of Udine. The two saints are featured in the reliefs of the beautiful pulpit of Duomo, which was completed in 1741 by a team of sculptors led by Giuseppe Torretti (1694-1774). In the chapel dedicated to them, the Cappella dei Santi Ermacora e Fortunato, the bishop and his deacon were moreover immortalised on canvas by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770). Tiepolo, a Venetian, painted two more works for the cathedral, a rather dark Holy Trinity and a very colourful Resurrection.
Against the counter-façade of the Duomo we find an older work of art, the funerary monument of Daniele Antonini, completed in 1617. Antonini was a mathematician, physicist and soldier, a combination that was not uncommon in the seventeenth century. In 1616 he was killed while serving in the Venetian army during the siege of Gradisca. The funerary monument is attributed to Girolamo Paleario (ca. 1579-1634). This monument in Udine can be compared to a similar monument in the Duomo of Cividale del Friuli, which is also attributed to Paleario.
- Bradt Travel Guide, Friuli Venezia Giulia (2019), p. 144-145;
- Udine Cathedral (turismofvg.it);
- Il Duomo – Cattedrale di Udine | Monumenti Storici del Friuli (guidartefvg.it)