“There are four main churches in Verona”, our hostess told us, “and you must visit them all.” Not two Gentlemen to take advice lightly, we decided we had better do just that. And so in their turn we visited the four principal churches of the city – Sant’Anastasia, San Fermo, the Duomo and San Zeno (although when viewed from the hilly city surroundings, we could see that Verona, peppered with spires, is host to more than four).
A combined visitors ticket made access to the spiritual quartet an easy endeavour, and once we had been inside the first – Sant’Anastasia – we were hungry to see them all. With its soaring vaulting ceilings frescoed in delicate bouquets of floral motifs, and harbouring the famous fresco of Saint George by Pisanello (which you’ll have to strain your neck to see), Sant’Anastasia made for an impressive beginning. The church had a tangible luminosity which bounced off its high ceilings and the walls adorned with devotional masterpieces. However it was the small details which enchanted the most, chief among them the holy water fonts, or hunchbacks, whose faces contorted with pain are said to represent the fact that the people of Verona were brought almost to their knees by the massive undertaking of constructing this church. Looking at the scale of the place, I can quite imagine why.
A short stroll away saw us arriving at the second, and I suppose you should say the most important church of the lot – the Duomo. After Sant’Anastasia, the interior, while beautiful, did not impress us as much. That was the preserve of the exterior, whose delightful striped facade made for a truly beautiful sight when offset against the Veronese blue sky, while the huge mythological griffins which hold up enormous columns either side of the main entrance portico lent a true grandiosity to the building. A further highlight deserving of a mention is the Baptistery’s stunning octagonal font. Rendered from a single block of Veronese marble, it is aptly considered to be a masterpiece of Romanesque sculpture and with good reason. Its scenes of expressive high-relief figures were joyous to behold, bursting to life in their narrative of the birth and baptism of Jesus and the many hurdles along the way.
The Duomo of Santa Maria Assunta
After lunch and a stroll through the Giardino Giusti, we took in our third church on the way back to our apartment. San Fermo is all about the ceiling. Ancient though it may be, the extraordinary multi-arched wooden construction is punctuated by an even more impressive collection of some 416 portraits of saints. It was time again to strain the neck to appreciate them, although the scale of work meant this short-term discomfort was well worth it, just to pay homage to the unknown artist whose ingenuity created them.
Our fourth and final visit came the following day, when Saturday meant that our visit coincided with a big fat fluffy wedding. While this meant for a rather glamorous spectacle as the church of San Zeno was given over to a vision of bridal beauty and the admiration of all, it did mean that we were unable to get close and personal with all of the ancient masterpieces contained within the church. We did however manage to sneak in a moment or two with San Zeno’s greatest spectacle: its doors.
Comprising 48 bronze panels, dating from 1030 and 1137 respectively depending on which of the two doors you are looking at, the panels depict in delightfully naive fashion the life and times of San Zeno. More than the images, I loved seeing the parts which had been rubbed smooth by centuries of visitors, the dark bronze polished to a sparkling lustre by the touch of the faithful. I can well imagine how churches such as these inspired visitors over the years to reach out and touch… just to be sure that these miracles of art and faith actually existed, and weren’t just a wonderful mirage. That same sense of awe-inspiring disbelief continues to this day, as Verona’s four main churches continue to inspire.
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