The Cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore, the gem of Spilimbergo
The cathedral is the town’s most beautiful monument. Its construction started in 1284. It was built near the ancient city walls incorporating one of its towers and turning it into a steeple.
Over the centuries, the Cathedral was enriched with several masterpieces, some of which are still kept inside, while others have either been moved to the church of Saint Joseph and Saint Pantaleon or have been lost or stolen.
The Cathedral has undergone several restoration and transformation works.
On 6 May 1976, a devastating earthquake shook the region. The Cathedral resisted but was severely damaged, and it was only thanks to the promptness with which it was propped up that it withstood the following shocks on 15 September.
The cathedral was originally built during the Romanesque era, but grew in a period of transition during which Gothic art took over.
The Gothic style, based on tall, looming lines and bold balances, gave the Cathedral its majestic and elegant appearance. The building was completed around 1420. It measures 45 metres in length, 21 metres in width, and a whopping 20 metres in height.
The monumental stone portal by Zenone da Campione (1376), a masterpiece of architecture and sculpture also known as the Moorish Gate, is located on the northern side and was the Lords’ entrance.
The main façade (west) has seven rose windows, a unique feature in Friuli.
The Cathedral has three naves marked by striped and frescoed columns that bear decorated ogival arches. It also features a wood truss ceiling, while the presbytery was raised to make room for the crypt.
In the left nave: St Andrew’s altar with a 1655 canvas by Joseph Heintz the Younger depicting the saint’s martyr; St John the Baptist’s altar; the Sacred Heart altar.
In the right nave: St Francis’ altar with a 17th-century canvas by Palma Il Giovane; the Carmine Chapel with sculptures by Pilacorte; the Rosary Chapel with paintings by Gasparo Narvesa (late 16th-early 17th century).
In the central nave: the majestic Renaissance organ, whose casing is decorated with drawings and canvases by Giovanni Antonio Pordenone (1525).
The frescoes in the apses – all dating back to the 14th century – are the true gem of the cathedral. Green is the dominant colour among their soft pastel hues. The images they depict create a fairy-tale, almost naive atmosphere.
Jesus Christ Judge, the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Nativity, the Journey of the Three Kings, the Throne of Wisdom, St James and the Resuscitation of a Hanged Man, and the Martyr of St Sebastian are depicted in the left apse.
The opulent central apse features the cycle of frescoes that starts on the right wall with Stories from the Old Testament (14 biblical scenes) and ends on the opposite wall with Stories from the New Testament (14 scenes from the gospels). Looking up to the vault, you can admire the remains of the frescoes of the Evangelists and of the Doctors of the Church.
The cycle of frescoes – of which only the ones on the lower part are still clearly visible, covered for centuries by the wooden stalls of the choir by Marco Cozzi (1477) – is closely linked to the cycle by Vitale da Bologna in the Cathedral of Udine. In fact, it recreates the same subjects of the scenes, style, tension, and narrative tone.
The Crucifixion stands out behind the Altar, between the two windows.
As testified by an inscription on stone on the left façade of the Main Chapel, Charles V stopped in Spilimbergo in October 1532 on his way back from Vienna. A solemn high mass in his honour was celebrated in the cathedral, after which the Emperor named several knights as a sign of appreciation.
The right apse features the Baptismal Font by Pilacorte (1492).
Going down the stairs, we access the crypt, whose structure rests on sturdy columns that bear the cross vaults. Here, you can admire the sarcophagus of Walterpertoldo IV, a local 14th century nobleman (previously located in the forecourt). The crypt also features 14th-century frescoes and a stone altar commemorating the Isonzo battle against the Turks in 1472, which Paolo of Spilimbergo had built in honour of St Leonard as an offering for escaping Turkish captivity.
The Choir and the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Cathedral of Spilimbergo are one of the most significant episodes of an ambitious programme promoted by the noble consorts in agreement with the local religious authorities.
In 1475, Ettore di Spilimbergo, executor of Giuliano da Tropea’s will, commissioned Marco Cozzi to carve the choir stalls based on the model of the Frari Church in Venice. This beautiful choir is a masterpiece of Gothic art and consists of 24 stalls, each one of which is topped by the figure of a saint. In 1996, it was restored and located permanently in the Church of Saint Joseph and Saint Pantaleon.
The Rectory houses the Illuminated Manuscripts of the Cathedral of Spilimbergo. These six Manuscripts on parchment – five graduals and one antiphonary – were written between 1483 and 1507, and are richly decorated with beautiful miniature illustrations (some full-page) by Giovanni da Cramariis. They were used for the Divine Office and the Mass.