The places of faith
The fast and wide diffusion of Christianity in the territory of Padua is witnessed by the outstanding religious-architectural heritage that consists in churches, chapels, sacred places, monasteries and abbeys all over the county.
As the tradition goes, in the year 304 near Prato della Valle, Giustina, a Roman noblewoman, was martyred with a sword: on the place of her tomb a Basilica and a chapel were built in her honour in 530 A.D. The Basilica of Santa Giustina is still one of the oldest examples of the Christian faith and architecture in the territory of Padua. Besides the 16th-century Basilica, the place contains a very old chapel built in the 6th century, a portion of the old Romanesque basilica (XII-XIII century), and the martyrs' well. The adjacent Benedictine monastery with frescoed cloisters has a valuable library and a famous centre for the restoration of old books.
The cupolas of the Basilica of St. Justine find their counterpoint in the very close cupolas of the Basilica di S. Antonio. This outstanding sanctuary, visited by millions of pilgrims and visitors from the world over every year, was started in 1232 few months after the death of St. Anthony in order to build a place that would preserve the mortal remains of the Saint. In 1310 it already dominated the town with its cupolas, minarets and radial chapels, later enriched with wonderful works of art made from the 13th century to present day.
The third largest basilica in town is the Cathedral or Duomo, built in the 16th century over a Romanesque basilica dating 1075 that, in its turn, had been built on the site of a very old domus ecclesiae. Its annexed Baptistery preserves the wonderful cycle of frescoes by Giusto de' Menabuoi. The view of the grandiose Paradise is breathtaking: hundreds of saints forming concentric circles around Christ Pantocrator and the Virgin Mary watch on the font below, placed exactly where once there used to be the tomb of Francesco il Vecchio da Carrara, the lord of Padua from 1350 to 1388. Not to be missed is a visit to the Museo Diocesano; located in the wonderful rooms of Palazzo Vescovile (the Bishop's palace), the museum of the Padua See of the Catholic Church preserves precious works of art and ancient manuscripts, while the visit includes the grandiose Bishops' Hall and the fascinating Chapel of S. Maria degli Angeli.
Another much worshipped shrine rises not too far from Prato della Valle: it is the Sanctuary of St. Leopoldo Mandic, which keeps the remains and the confessional cell of the beloved Dalmatian saint. Finally north of the town is the Santuario Antoniano dell'Arcella, where St. Anthony died on the evening of June 13, 1231.
Besides the big basilicas, Padua is rich in churches, chapels, and oratories that often rise far from the most famous routes, but which preserve a wealth of history and art. The works of Andrea Mantegna in the Eremitani Church, though mostly lost during the bombing in 1944, reveal the secrets of Renaissance art from Tuscany.
The secluded church of S. Maria del Carmine preserves a precious cycle of frescoes dating from the 16th century. The charming, small Romanesque church of S. Nicolo preserves works by Jacopo Montagnana, Stefano dall'Arzere and Giandomenico Tiepolo. A mystic atmosphere reminding of the Middle Ages surrounds the austere church of S. Sofia, one of the oldest buildings in town.
A wide porch camouflages the Church of S. Francesco Grande, where a large altar-piece by Paolo Veronese can be admired together with 16th-century frescoes and the bronze monument called Roccabonella, a beautiful sculpture of the 15th century by Bartolomeo Bellano and Andrea Briosco. The Scoletta della Carità, right in front of the Church of S. Francesco, preserves a precious cycle of frescoes with episodes from the life of the Virgin Mary made by Dario Varotari in the 15th century.
More recent masterpieces are the Church of S. Gaetano, designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi towards the end of the 16th century and covered with marbles and frescoes; and the Church of Santa Maria del Pianto also known as Chiesa del Torresino because of its central crenellated tower. Few people know that the famous composer of the 1700s Giuseppe Tartini, renown for his "Devil's Trill Sonata", was buried in the Church of S. Caterina.
An unexpected surprise is in store in the secluded Church of S. Massimo: three wonderful altar pieces by Giovan Battista Tiepolo and the tomb of the famous physician Giovan Battista Morgagni, who was given the first chair in Theoretical Medicine at the University of Padua in 1711. Just outside Padua, at Pozzoveggiani, there rises the ancient Church of S. Michele, rich in works of art of the ancient times.
The county of Padua is rich in sacred places, too, that served as places of faith, culture and research for centuries. Among these, special fascination is exerted by monasteries and hermitages. Embedded in the green of the Euganean Hills there stands the Abbey of S. Maria di Praglia, established in the 11th century and a centre of agricultural colonization by the Benedictine monks of the whole territory west of Padua in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance. In 1448 the Abbey was expanded and restored by adding its elegant church upon a design by Tullio Lombardo, and with the reconstruction of part of the monastery. The church devoted to Our Lady of the Assumption preserves various frescoes and paintings of the Venetian school, and a wooden crucifix attributed to Giotto's followers. The monastery is also formed by beautiful cloisters, the precious chapterhouse, the monumental refectory and the well-known "divina loggetta", or divine loggia as depicted by writer Antonio Fogazzaro in his novel "Piccolo mondo moderno" (1901 - Little Modern World). The Abbey is internationally known for its great contribution to the restoration of ancient books and illuminated manuscripts, made by the monks themselves.
The top of Monte Rua has been hosting a Camaldolese hermitage for cloistered life since 1339. Even though visitors are not allowed in, from outside the monastery visitors can enjoy a beautiful view on the surrounding hills and the plain.
Near Este there stands the very old Abbey of S. Maria di Carceri: the huge complex includes a church and an abbey, cloisters, and guest-rooms. It was partly turned into a villa towards the end of the 17th century. It preserves very old portions made in the Romanesque age, the Renaissance cloister, a precious baptistery, the frescoed walls of the former Library, and a small Museum of Agricultural Civilization.
The Church of S. Stefano at Due Carrare was part of an abbey once, and it was annexed to a huge monastic complex built little after the year 1000; it is a precious example of the Romanesque style in the Veneto. The floor of the church is an old mosaic made in the 11th century and partly in the 14th century; inside the church a marble sarcophagus contains the mortal remains of Marsilio da Carrara, lord of Padua, died in 1338.
The countryside is also rich in places linked to the cult of the Virgin Mary, often built to remind of miracle events.
The Sanctuary of S. Maria di Monteortone in Abano Terme began its history in 1428 when during a pestilence an ill knight saw the Virgin Mary appear. She invited him to bathe in the water, where the knight found an image of the Virgin Mary that soon turned into an object of veneration. The sanctuary preserves this sacred image, frescoes by Jacopo da Montagnana and an altar piece by Palma il Giovane.
Still on the Euganean Hills, on the Monte della Madonna (near Teolo) there stands the Sanctuary of Madonna del Monte, built in the Sixteenth century. Our Lady of the Graces is venerated in the Basilica of Este, which was built in 1717 in the same place where a previous sanctuary rose to keep a Byzantine painting of the Virgin Mary, this painting being deemed to do miracles.
And the Santuario del Tresto, near Ospedaletto Euganeo, was built after the Virgin Mary, too. Built in 1468 after a boatman saw the Madonna, the church still holds its original decoration and paintings by Venetian painters, including the Madonna Miracolosa attributed to Jacopo da Montagnana. Outside the building, a shrine protects a spring that is deemed to have appeared by miracle while the church was being built.
At Piove di Sacco, the main town in the green Saccisica district, two major religious buildings rise: the Cathedral dedicated to St. Martin and the Sanctuary of Madonna delle Grazie, where a painting of the Virgin Mary with the Infant Jesus by Giovanni Bellini is kept.
At Camposampiero there stands the small but fascinating Santuario del Noce (Walnut-tree Sanctuary), dedicated to St. Anthony. As the legend goes, this small church was built precisely on the spot where St. Anthony delivered a memorable sermon from the top of a walnut-tree. Inside the church, a complete cycle of frescoes made by the 16th-century painter Girolamo del Santo recalls scenes of miracles and of the life of St. Anthony, while the altar piece representing the sermon of St. Anthony from the walnut tree is signed by Andrea da Murano (1486).