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Orvieto (Umbria), Italy

Church of San Domenico

 
 

The history of the church of Saint Dominic in Orvieto is quite unique, and it explains why its current shape seems different from that of any other sacred building.

As a matter of fact, the current church, rather small in size, is what remains of a much larger structure, which was almost 90 metres long.

The Church of Saint Dominic after the 20th century renovation

To properly understand what is in front of us, when you look at the church of Saint Dominic, you must bear in mind that many Catholic churches were built with a Latin cross plan, then along two axes that intersect, one longer than the other, just like in a normal crucifix.

Well, what we see today still standing is only the shortest segment, that is the transept, of what was once the original church.

The longest segment, with the exception of the apse, was in fact demolished in the 1930s to make way for the Women's Academy of Physical Education, an institution of national importance established by the fascist regime of the time.

The current appearance of the church

This genuine change of perspective has meant that the current main entrance is located on what was once only a side facade of the church.

However, this does not detract from the fact that it is a truly magnificent entrance from the aesthetic point of view, enlivened by the alternating colours of the travertine and basalt bands that surround the pillars, the portal, the rose window and the high mullioned window in the Gothic style.

The current portal belonged to the ancient church of Santo Spirito degli Armeni and is enhanced by the bezel, which bears a valuable fourteenth-century fresco of the Umbrian school depicting the Virgin and Child.

The entire structure of the building is made of local tufa stone.

The Chair of Saint Thomas and the Arnolfo Sepulchre

As we have seen, the current shape of the church of Saint Dominic in Orvieto does not correspond to the most usual architectural standards, because it is the outcome of events, rather than of a precise design.

For this reason, even the interior of the church reveals a moment of general disorientation at first glance. Nevertheless, the relics and works of art contained in them provide the visitor with unique emotions.

In fact, the side chapel houses the chair from which Saint Thomas Aquinas held his theology lessons, together with the wooden crucifix through which, according to legend, the saint heard the voice of God.

Another element of great interest is the tomb of Cardinal Guillaume De Braye, created by the great Tuscan architect and sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio. The monument, rich in valuable historiated details, culminates with a sculpture of the Madonna and Child inspired by a Roman model from previous centuries.

The Petrucci Chapel, which can be accessed from the presbytery, is also of considerable importance. Especially, its polychrome floor which represents the first example of the use of majolica on the territory of the city.

Where art and history meet

The church of Saint Dominic, built a few years after the saint's death, was once annexed to a convent and represents one of the oldest churches of the Dominican Order.

Easily reachable on foot from the centre, it is located in the XXIX March square, a few steps from the car park in Via Roma and from the local public transport hub.

A destination that recounts an important part of the history of the city, showing tourists and enthusiasts the authentic gems of Orvieto's artistic heritage.