Cathedral of Santa Maria in Cagliari: history of this monument symbol of the city
The cathedral of Santa Maria in Cagliari is in the fortified heart of the historic centre of the Sardinian city and is one of the most famous on the island.
On a journey to discover Cagliari and its surroundings, it is worth visiting the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and Santa Cecilia, the main place of worship of the Sardinian capital and one of the most visited monuments of the island.
The cathedral is in Piazza Palazzo in the famous medieval district of Castello, one of the main districts of Cagliari, between the historic Palazzo Regio (or Viceregio), once the residence of the representative of the king and now the seat of the Prefecture, and the former Palazzo di Città.
Built during the thirteenth century according to the Pisan Romanesque style, the church holds more than eight hundred years of history of the ancient city of Casteddu and has undergone numerous restorations over the centuries to become an expression of different artistic styles including Baroque and Neo-romanesque.
The church, 35 meters long, 34 meters wide and 32 meters high, was built in Gothic-Romanesque forms and the first documentation in which the existence of the building dates back to 1254. Founded in 1217, the year in which the Pisans fortified the Castello district, providing it with walls, towers and bastions, the cathedral dedicated to Sancte Marie de Castello originally had a rectangular plan with a cross vault on the two side naves and a wooden roof in the central nave.
After the Pisans destroyed the judicial capital Santa Igia and the cathedral of Santa Cecilia in 1258, the church of Santa Maria di Castello was elevated to the rank of the cathedral, and the cult of Saint Cecilia also found space in the name next to that of Santa Maria Assunta.
The building’s appearance had its first changes at the beginning of the fourteenth century when the transept was built, which gave the plan of the church a Latin cross shape, and two side doors. More work was done on the bell tower, while a Gothic mullioned window was placed on the facade of the cathedral. The first chapel in Italian Gothic style inserted in the left arm of the transept was built In the first twenty years of the fourteenth century.
There were more interventions during the domination of the Aragonese, who completed the right transept and built other chapels including that of the Sacra Spina, the renovation of the seventeenth, the restoration of the eighteenth century and the demolition of the Baroque facade in the early years of the twentieth century, replaced with the current neo-Romanesque facade in Pisan style.
Cathedral of Santa Maria in Cagliari: what treasures does it keep?
The treasures preserved in the cathedral of Santa Maria in Cagliari are of inestimable cultural and artistic value including the two stoups of the seventeenth century, visible as soon as you cross the entrance of the church, also the works of the Italian painter Filippo Figari represented on the central nave: the Exaltation of the Cross, the Stories of the spread of the faith in Sardinia and the Piety.
Among the many wonders inside the cathedral, the most interesting story is linked to the Aragonese Chapel, also called Cappella della Sacra Spina, built in 1328 during the Aragonese period. The chapel, with a semi-octagonal plan, is one of the first examples of Gothic – Aragonese architecture built in Sardinia and inside it is kept a precious relic: a thorn of the crown of Jesus which history has its roots in 1527, during the violent Sack of Rome by the Landsknechts.
The mercenary soldiers part of the imperial troops of Charles V of Habsburg desecrated the most important churches of the city and also plundered the private apartment of Pope Clement VII from which were stolen furniture, sacred objects and works of art, including the famous Flemish triptych dating back to the fifteenth century and attributed to the painter Rogier Van der Weyden.
The relics and all the objects stolen from various churches in Rome and the papal apartment were loaded on a ship departing from Gaeta to Cagliari, but shortly before arriving at shore, the boat ran into a storm. Some men, fearing that the violent storm was a punishment of God, confided their sins to the religious present on the ship who, once arrived in Cagliari, told all to the archbishop of the city. Pope Clement VII, after hearing the news, decided to donate the Triptych and the Holy Thorn to the city of Cagliari with the obligation to display them during the feast of the Assumption, a tradition still carried out today.
The cathedral is open on weekdays from 09.00 to 14.00 and from 16.00 to 20.00, while on public holidays from 08.00 to 13.00 and from 16.30 to 20.00.
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