The Basilica of San Domenico is one of the most important churches in Bologna and it is the home of the Dominican order. Inside is the Ark of St. Dominic created by Nicola Pisano and Niccolò dell’Arca for the founding saint’s remains.
In 1216 Dominic di Guzman’s order received papal approval. Within a year, Dominican monks were sent out to the major European centres: among these were Bologna and Paris, two cities with a large population and a university. Dominic arrived in Bologna two years later and settled, together with his monks, in a convent outside the city walls known as “Mascarella”.
But soon they felt the need for more space, so the Dominicans moved to the site where the basilica stands today. St. Dominic died here and was buried behind the altar of St. Nicholas.
Work to expand the church began in 1228. The rose window facade was built in plain brick because the begging order wanted to keep the work humble. This plain construction approach became the model for numerous Dominican churches around the world.
During construction, the remains of the saint were moved to a cypress coffin set inside a marble sarcophagus behind the chapel altar. However when Domenic received sainthood the following year, Nicola Pisano was commissioned to create a monument for his remains.
Over the following years, the campanile was built and the church enriched with a wide range of works by major artists including: Niccolò dell’Arca, Michelangelo, Filippino Lippi, Guido Reni, Ludovico Carracci, and il Guercino. The baroque style visible today dates back to 1700.
The basilica of S. Domenico has three organs. The most important is definitely the one Mozart practiced on when he was in Bologna preparing for an exam at the Philharmonic Academy. It is preserved to the right of the altar.
The basilica’s little museum contains works of art and precious relics including: a relic of Louis IX of France, relics of terracotta Pietà mentioned by Vasari, and a terracotta bust of St. Dominic by Niccolò dell’Arca.