The history of the Cathedral started in August 1487, when people asked the cardinal Ascanio Sforza, the brother of the duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza called Moro, to build a new cathedral instead of the Medieval churches (fig.).
From the laying of the foundation stone (29th of June 1488), the bishop wanted the help of Donato Bramante, which until the end of that year followed the building works, starting from a previous project of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo and Cristoforo Rocchi. This last was the director of the works until his death (1497), by the will of the vestry-board. Rocchi was followed by Amadeo and Gian Giacomo Dolcebuono, so there were some changes in the project, that however had to maintain the plant due to the construction of the crypt and the sacristy’s foundations, built according to the Bramante’s idea.
The wooden model
For the new project, Gian Pietro Fugazza built a wooden model. From 1498, he was the director of the works, he followed the building yard and he was the reference for master builders, bricklayers and decorators. Built in different phases, the model follows the Bramante’s idea about the central apse and the two sacristies, while the Amadeo’s setting out is visible in the elevation. The extension of the longitudinal body with other four spans refers to a following moment: indeed, the Amadeo’s thought (like Bramante’s) was a central plant building, with a façade aligned to the near civic tower. The model is property of the vestry-board and it’s deposited at the Civic Museums.
After the construction of eight pillars and a tambour, the problem was how build the dome. Only in the last decades of the nineteenth century, it was chosen the solution of a masonry dome, projected by Carlo Maciachini (1882), that backed the proposal of a Greek cross plant and worked out the project for the façade. Ended in 1885 with the lantern, the dome leans on an imposing tambour, interiorly marked by a gallery.
Four circular windows are open next to the base of the interior calotte.
Built in 1895, it had to match the project of Carlo Maciachini, following the Renaissance model (fig.). The construction involved the demolition of still sizeable rests of the Romanic St Stephan’s cathedral. Divided into three parts by couples of pilasters on two orders, the façade is unfinished, with the rustic brickwork surface devoid of the marble covering.
Above the first order of pilasters, there is a gallery with arcs. In the Renaissance wooden model, there is another shorter gallery, above the central rose window.
The interior shows a Greek cross structure; each one of the four wings is divided into three naves. The eight pillars that prop up the dome have a complex shape, while all the other pillars have the same shape. The Corinthian capitals show different periods of execution, from the end of the fifteenth century (in the choir) to the last nineteenth century (west spans). On the upper part, the walls are marked by galleries, that enrich the interplay of volume and space.
Lighted by high windows alternating with pilasters, it has an apsidal basin all frescoed, with gores converging to the imagine of Our Lady of Assumption, to which the church is dedicated. Down, the monochromes of the four Evangelists, painted into medals; above, couples of little angels with symbols of the Passion, clear allusion to the relics here preserved. Consecrated in 1836, the main marble altar reuses an eighteenth-century top, created for St Augustine’s arc. It arrived here with the arc from the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro, after the dissolution of the Augustinian order. The canonical choir, made of walnut, comes from the church of St Mary of Canepanova.
The “thorns’ machine”
A Baroque frame with gilt stuccoes, representing angels on clouds and the figures of the Religion and the Country, holds a seventeenth-century reliquary. Made of silver and crystals, it contains the Holy Thorns, come from the Christ’s crown. An ancient mechanism allows the descent of the precious relics over a golden cloud the Whit Sunday, then they go back up the following day.
St Agnes’s Chapel
Painted in the nineteenth century by the Milanese artist Emilio Volonterio, the altarpiece represents the young Agnes lifting over her head her symbol, the lamb. The frontal of the altar refers to St Epifanio (bishop of Pavia in the days of the fall of the Roman Empire) and his sister Onorata.
The Virgin’s Chapel
The altarpiece with the Virgin was painted in Rome by Federico Faruffini (1833 – 1869), charged by the canon Giovanni Battista Bosisio in 1857, a few years after the proclamation of the dogma (1854). At the feet of the Virgin there is the city of Pavia. Beside the altar, the statues of the Virgin’s parents, Gioacchino and Anna. Here people venerate the remains of the bishop of Pavia Damian.
St Peter’s Chapel
The chapel is linked to the figure of cardinal Pietro Maffi (Corteolona 1858 – Pisa 1931), bishop of Pisa from 1904 to 1931. Two symmetrical commemorative stones show his coat of arms (on the left) and his portrait (on the right); on the capitals of the pilasters, there are the symbols of sciences practiced by Maffi, elements of his coat of arms (star, fish, dove, anchor) and of his ecclesiastic role (pallium, cross, pastoral staff). The polychrome marble coat of arms is repeated on the plinth that holds up the top. The altarpiece on canvas represents St Peter with the keys; the cock on the left remembers the evangelic episode of St Peter’s treason.
Chapel of the Virgin of Caravaggio
Above the altar, designed in 1933 by Carlo Emilio Aschieri, there are marble statues of the Virgin and a young shepherdess, carved in 1933 by the sculptor Ercole Oliviero Rinaldi from Pavia, to remember the miraculous appearances happened on the 26th of May 1432 in the Milanese dukedom.
Chapel of Intercession
The fine fifteenth-century stone sculpture still has the polychromy and the ancient gilding. The saint bishop Theodore is represented with the Episcopal vestments and he holds up the model of the city.
Wanted by Giovanni Battista Sfondrati, bishop of Pavia from 1639 to 1647, it hosts an altarpiece painted by Carlo Antonio Sacchi and representing St John the Baptist, homonymous of the bishop, beside the Virgin Mary with the Child. There are also St Francis and St Antony; lower, in the foreground, Stephan, the saint titular of the ancient cathedral, and the proto-bishop of Pavia St Siro. The altar was created by Tommaso Orsolino in 1648. The architectural frame includes coupled columns made by rose marble, on plinths with the Sfondrati’s coat of arms. The heraldic elements (line with a double embattled and leafy threes) are repeated also in the painted decoration of the apsidal basin. Work of art by Tommaso Orsolino is also the Sfondrati’s bust, with a long epigraph, on the pilaster on the right side of the chapel.
Epigraph of Severino Boezio
Beside the entrance of the sacristy of the Cappellani Mansionari, a long epigraph remembers Severino Boezio.
Projected by Lorenzo Cassani in 1768, an imposing polychrome marble frame holds a painting, as background for the wooden crucifix. On the apsidal basin there is a fresco, with angels carrying symbols of the Passion. The tools of Passion decorate also the little wrought iron gate, that closes the chapel.
St Alessandro Sauli’s Chapel
Started in 1744 by the brothers Pio and Angelo Bellingeri, it’s dedicated to Alessandro Sauli (1535 – 1592), bishop of Pavia at the end of the sixteenth century. On the altar there is the stone urn, closed forward by a crystal that shows the saint’s relics inside. The medal on the top represents the Ascent of Christ. On the upper oval, carried by angels, the Glory of St Alessandro is a work of art of the Milanese painter Federico Ferrari. On the sides, two stories of the saint bishop’s life are works of the painter Francesco Barbieri of Pavia. On the apsidal basin, the little flying angels on clouds among golden rays are made of plaster and were modelled by Elia Vincenzo Buzzi.
St Crispino’s Chapel
The frontal of the altar shows the Episcopal emblems of St Crispino, bishop of Pavia maybe in the fifth century. On the altarpiece, hardly legible, there are two saint bishops, at the feet of the Virgin in glory. Lower, the profile of the city of Pavia, above which there is the legendary dove linked to the foundation of the city, with a ribbon on which you can read “Hic est nidus nidorum” (here there is the nests’ nest).
Chapel of Rosary
On the architectural frame made of gilt wood, Angels-Caryatids and spiral columns prop up the cymatium with volutes. The cymatium frames a medal, with the Christological symbol of the pelican giving its blood to the brood. In the lower part of the frame, there are three nails, referring to the Christ’s Passion. Also the symbols of the Passion are carried by angels painted on the apsidal basin. The dedication to the Virgin of Rosary is later. The painting on canvas is a work of art by Bernardino Gatti called Soiaro, created in 1530-1531. It represents the Virgin of Rosary, with the Saints Domenico and Alessandro. As requested by the Confraternities dedicated to the Rosary, around the painting there are stories about the Mysteries: fourteen that you must read in an anticlockwise way, the fifteenth with the Coronation of the Virgin on the crowning tablet.
St Siro’s Chapel
The marble and alabaster altar, created by Tommaso Orsolino between 1645 and 1650 for the crypt, was transferred in the transept in 1932. On the frontal part of the dossal, there is the Virgin Mary with the Child giving to Siro the keys of the city, while angels are carrying his symbols (cross, book of Gospels, basket with bread and fishes). On the other side, St Siro props up on his arms the city, to commit it to the Virgin. The marble frontal shows the evangelic miracle of the loaves and fishes (fig…), according to the unconvincing legend that identifies Siro as the young boy that gave Christ the loaves and the fishes for the miracle. Sideways, into niches, there are the figures of the two Siro’s disciples: Marziano and Maternino, first bishops of Tortona and Treviri. On the sides, other stories of the saint’s life, for example St Peter giving the keys to Siro. On the back, two cartouches with long inscriptions are related to the relics of other saint bishops of Pavia ( Damiano, Litifredo, Rodobaldo, Fulco), here preserved. The St Siro’s remains, dressed with the Episcopal vestments, are placed into a nineteenth-century urn, made of crystal and gilt metal studded with precious stones and enamels.
St Riccardo Pampuri’s Chapel
The painting represents the saint doctor of Pavia. It’s a work of Dal Forno, dated 1982. The beautiful altar, made of gilt wood and figured with Our Lady of the Assumption, arrived at the cathedral in the second half of the twentieth century and was used for a while in the presbytery for the celebrations after the Council of Trento, in a frontal position towards the churchgoers.
The seventeenth-century painting on canvas (very damaged) represents the Trinity and figures of two saint bishops of Pavia. Lower, the profile of the city of Pavia, above which there is the legendary dove linked to the foundation of the city, with the inscription “hic est nidus nidorum”. The frontal of the altar remembers the two bishops Armentario and Litifredo.
St Barnaba’s Chapel
The polychrome marble altar was lifted by a recognizable intermediate fillet, inserted to adapt it to the dimensions of the chapel. The altarpiece with the Holy Family and St Barbaba is attributed to the Master of St Agnes’s Stories (first half of the sixteenth century) and comes from the Berzio chapel in the St Martin’s church.
Chapel of St John the Baptist
Work of the artist Paolo Barbotti of Pavia (1821-1867), the painting with the Baptist in the desert (1865) is placed between the statues of his parents: Elisabetta and Zaccaria. Under the top, there is the body of St Invenzio, the second bishop of Pavia.
Chapel of the Sacred Heart
Introduced by Maria Maddalena Alacoque, the cult of the Sacred Heart was especially spread in the nineteenth century. The white marble altar hosts the painting of the Milanese artist Emilio Volonterio. On the gilt frontal, there is the flaming heart, surrounded by the crown of the thorns. The threegores of the apsidal basin are decorated with thin candelabras, painted on a crimson background and bearing the inscription: Cor Jesu/ Fons totius/ Consolationis.
Chapel of the Holy Family
The elegant eighteenth-century stone altar frames the painting representing the Holy Family, work of art of the painter Giuseppe Carsana of Bergamo (1887).