Basilica of San Saturnino: origins and characteristics of a symbolic site
The Basilica of San Saturnino in Cagliari is the oldest church in the Sardinian capital, dedicated to the young martyr Christian, better known in Sardinia as Santu Sadurru, who lived in Sardinia during the persecutions ordered by Diocletian.
The Basilica of San Saturnino or San Saturno, the oldest early Christian monument on the island and one of the most significant in the Mediterranean area, is a must-see attraction in the so-called “city of the sun”, managed by the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities through the Regional Directorate Museums since 2014.
The basilica is dedicated to the patron saint of the city and is part of the oldest Christian necropolis of the Sardinian capital in the historical district of Cagliari: Villanova, near the monumental cemetery and the basilica of Nostra Signora di Bonaria.
The building, dating back to the V-VI centuries AD, was erected on the tomb of San Saturnino, martyred in 304 according to the Passio Sancti Saturni, a medieval document holding the story of the saint. The first to mention the church was deacon Ferrando, the biographer of Fulgenzio, the bishop of Ruspe who in the first quarter of the sixth century was exiled by King Trasamondo from North Africa to Cagliari, where he stayed twice between 507 and 523, and founded a monastery iuxta basilicam Sancti martyris Saturnini to honour San Saturnino.
The original plan featured a cruciform dome at the intersection of the arms and the central body, still intact today, supported by four large pillars with African red marble columns. Once in the interior of the basilica, observing the dome from below, there is an inscription at the top preceded by a cross and concluded by a dove, which reads: “Dominus qui incoasti perfice usque in fine”, ie “Lord, you who started, bring things to an end“.
In 1089, judge Costantino Salusio II of Cagliari donated the building to the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of San Vittore di Marsiglia (Vittorini), who established a priory and restored the church according to the Romanesque-Provençal canons.
The Ministry of Culture describes the works that affected the basilica during this phase: the Provencal workers kept the central body domed and rebuilt the four arms, of which only the eastern one remains intact, three naves and apse with limestone facing of Bonaria, hints of bichromy due to the insertion of volcanic ashlars and the use of bare marble. The middle nave has a barrel vault set on a frame and punctuated by arches, while the aisles have cross vaults in cantonetti. After 30 years of work, the renovated basilica was consecrated in 1119.
In the fourteenth century, during the Aragonese siege of the castle, the building was severely damaged.
Before becoming the property of the archdiocese of Cagliari in the fifteenth century, the building was probably granted to the knights of San Giorgio de Alfama by the will of Pietro Alfonso or Aragon, called the Cerimonioso.
Basilica of San Saturnino: from the Modern Age to the present day
After a long period of neglect in which friezes, decorations and artworks from San Saturno were used as building materials in the restructuring of the castle of San Michele, the numerous archaeological excavations of the Christian necropolis around the basilica in 1614 led to finding the so-called “holy bodies”, that is the relics of the martyrs.
Several burials were brought to light, and at the end of the century, the building was partially dismantled to obtain materials for the renovation of the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Cecilia, the main place of worship in Cagliari.
In 1714 the basilica was assigned to the Guild of Medici and Apothecaries and then dedicated to the Medici saints Cosmas and Damian. However, during the twentieth century, the church was subject to various restorations: damaged by the bombing of World War II was repaired during the post-war years, between 1948 and 1952, before being closed for new renovations in 1978. The work lasted until 1996 when the basilica was reopened to visitors.
On the 30th of October 2004, the feast of San Saturnino, the basilica with a new altar and an ambo was re-consecrated and reopened for worship by Giuseppe Mani, Archbishop of Cagliari, while the area of the necropolis is still affected by archaeological excavations.
The Basilica of San Saturnino is in Piazza San Cosimo in Cagliari and is open from Monday to Saturday from 08:30 am to 1:30 pm. Access is free, and for more information please visit the website
http://musei.sardegna.beniculturali.it/, call +39 070 662496 or send an email to the following addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
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