Photo of Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna

Visit Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna

The sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita is a group of religious buildings in Bologna, in north-east Italy. It is the church, its decoration and the artworks inside the church that are the primary attractio for visitors.

Discover the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna

Italy This Way review: an impressive example of baroque art, you should take a look inside the sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, especially to see the exceptional statues called the Compianto sul Cristo Morto (Lamentation of Christ).

Baroque interior of the church of Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna

History of the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita

In 1260 a Franciscan monk called Raniero Fasani left Perugia to travel to Bologna, with a few of his followers. As he travelled, he attracted more followers and together they spoke of peace and of an end to the divisions between the various Christian groups.

By the time the reached Bologna, there were 20 000 followers in his group, and he founded the Confraternity of White Flagellants. They also established a hospital in Bologna to look after pilgims and the sick.

This story comes from an information board in the church. It sounds unlikely that such a large group would form like this - how would this 'army' eat and sleep along the route? - but as the church relate it as true, I report it here!

Next to the hospital there was a small church, that became the principal church for the hospital and the confraternity, and changed its name from the Church of Saint Vitus to the Church of Life (Chiesa della Vita) because of its role with the hospital.

Together with associated buildings, these became the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita. The church is the principal monument of the sanctuary that is visited in Bologna. The original Hospital of Life has gone, replaced in the 17th century by the large hall that now holds a museum.

The role of the Sanctuary disappeared at the end of the 18th century, when religious communities were disbanded by Napoleon. The Hospital of Life merged with the nearby Hospital of Death (nice name for a hospital!) and continued as the city museum until it was destroyed by bombardments in the Second World War.


The church of Santa Maria della Vita today

The original church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1686, and rebuilt in the baroque style - the new church was completed in the second half of the 18th century.

The outside has a simple facade with pilasters, and two inset statues representing the founders of the sanctuary - it is very discrete and you would perhaps not notice the church if you weren't looking for it (the dome is not very visible from the street).

The interior is dominated by the baroque decoration, and the large dome above the centre of the church.

Typical of baroque interiors, there are numerous columns and statues and most surfaces are covered with coloured marble, decorative finishes or paintings. There are also several chapels around the sides of the church, also lavishly decorated.

Lamentation of Christ (Compianto del Cristo Morto)

Inside the church of Santa Maria della Vita you can access the Lamentation of Christ, a remarkable series of terracotta statues of mourners around the body of Christ. These were made in the 15th century by an artist called Niccolò dell’Arca.

This is generally considered to be a masterpiece, a very important example of religious art, and one of the most important artworks in Bologna.

The detail in the artwork, and the expressions of suffering and pain on the faces of the mourners, are quite a remarkable achievement- a visit is quite an emotional experience, even for non-believers, so well worth the small admission charge (the main church is free to enter).

The statues and their setting have been renovated and now have better lighting than when we visited.

You can see further artworks in a room up a flight of stairs.

Lamentation of Christ in Santa Maria della Vita in Bologna

Attractions nearby

For more attractions in the city see the Bologna guide.

See also: 

Photos of Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna

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Map of Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna and places to visit


Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, Bologna places to visit

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