It tooks three centuries to complete the construction of the Duomo, built, according to a tradition which contradicts official documents, to celebrate the Miracle of the Eucharist which took place in Bolsena in 1263 and from which the religious festival of Corpus Domini was instituted. The cathedral was not built to house the relic: in fact two popes (Alexander VII in 1658 and John Paul II) did deny any assumed or direct connection between the miracle and the construction of the cathedral. For centuries, however, the traditional link between the Duomo and the Miracle of Bolsena has continued to live in the devotion and hearts of the population, shared also by historians ans experts such as Luigi Fumi. Pope John Paul II tried to shed some light on this "Legend" by declaring in his sermon given at the Duomo on 17th June 1990, during the Corpus Domini Celebrations, "even if the construction of the cathedral is not directly linked to the solemnity of Corpus Domini, instituted by pope Urban IV with the Bolla Transiturus in 1264, nor to the miracle which took place in Bolsena the year before, there is though no doubt that the mystery of the eucharist is powerfully evocated by the relic of Bolsena, for which the chapel was purposefully built and which jealously houses it".
The cathedral of Orvieto is outside a simple architectural definition, it is usually defined as a "Gothic Cathedral", yet on closer study it has a completely nature.
Pope Nicholas IV, together with the court attended the laying of the foundation stone on 13th November 1290. The first builder mentioned was Fra Bevignate, He built the three naves up to the cross. Under the guidance of Giovanni Uguccione the cross and apse were terminated.
In 1305, the architect Lorenzo Maitani strengthened the sides of the cross with three vaulted arches and two apses. Later, taking control of the construction, he invented and modified the façade and the three cusps and built the roof. Within the cathedral the imprint of the artist is visible in the tribune, situated above the wings of the eastern buttress, the construction was completed after his death in 1330.
The Ten Chapels
On the walls of the lateral naves open ten chapels with half-cupola vaults. The floor of the cathedral is in red marble from Prodo, a small town near Orvieto; it was started in 1347 to be completed between 1383 and 1388.
The christening Font
The christening font, at the end of the left lateral nave under the first arch, was designed and started by Luca di Giovanni in 1390, in 1406 Sano di Matteo from Siena completed the opera adding a monolithic basin in red marble, supported by eight lions. In front of the font, on the left wall, one can see the magnificent Maestà, by Gentile da Fabriano (1425).
The central nave culminates with a splendid Gothic window, 16.30m high and 4.55m wide, started by Giovanni Bonino di Assisi (1325), and completed by Nicola di Nuti in 1334, its glass is composed of 48 squares which reproduce stories of the Blessed Virgin and Jesus, figures of the Saints, Doctors and the Evangelists.
The walls of the apse have frescoes from the Orvieto school carried out by Ugolino di Prete Ilario and pietro di Puccio between 1370 and 1380. They were restaured in 1491 by Giacomo di Bologna and then by Pinturicchio and Antonio da Viterbo called Pastura. These frescoes, which have been lost in parts, represent in the vault the "Glory of Virgin Mary" and on the walls the "the life of Mary". The apse is divided from the transept by an immense staircase in travertine and surrounded by a balustrade in dark red marble, by Ippolito Scalza, who also created the Pietà, a group of four highly expressive figures sculptured from a single block of marble.
The Chapel of San Brizio
The decoration of the new chapel or of the chapel of the Madonna of San Brizio was started in 1449 by Beato Angelico. It was taken up and finished fifty years later by Luca Signorelli, taken on in 1499 to complete the decorations of the faces based on the drawings of Angellico. This painter from Cortona gave his unmistakeable hand to the whole, and so created inside the chapel the magnificent cycle of The day of Judgement, a masterpiece of renaissance art.
The doors of Emilio Greco
In 1970 the old wooden doors of the cathedral were substituted with bronze doors created by Emilio Greco. In the central door, divided into six panels, there are the seven works of Charity.
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