Cathedral of Sovana
A crossroads of cultures in an intimate and cozy setting
What it is and where it is
Nestled in a bucolic landscape, the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul stands simple and austere just a stone's throw from Sovana, a medieval jewel, and one of Italy's most important archaeological parks, the Città del Tufo Archaeological Park. The cathedral, though in a small hamlet, represents one of the most important examples of the blending of Romanesque and Gothic architecture in all of Tuscany.
Why it is special
The cathedral has many fascinating special features. Its orientation is quite unusual, and does not correspond to the medieval rule dictated by the Church of Rome, (east-west axis and apse facing east); if anything, it is reminiscent of the architectural tradition of Nordic, Celtic or Lombard cultures. Numerous symbols related to pre-Christian pagan culture: observe the capitals of the columns and their decorations, rich in spirals, flowers of life, floral and plant symbols, the numerous bull and calf heads! Also, the Celtic cross plan columns seem to echo a Templar-inspired cathedral, Notre Dame de l'Épine Cathedral in France.
Not to be missed
At dawn on June 21, Summer Solstice, the first ray of sunlight penetrates through the narrow window of the apse and crosses the entire nave, reaching the opposite wall of the church: the play of light created is of rare beauty. The decision to build the church in this orientation to celebrate the solstice is perhaps related to St. John the Baptist, to whom the church that previously stood on this site was dedicated. St. John is in fact the Christian heir to the pagan tradition of the Summer Solstice. This connection would confirm a strand of thought by historians and scholars that links the Sovana Cathedral to the presence in the area of the Knights Templar.
A bit of history
On this site once stood an Etruscan temple, which was part of Sovana's acropolis. The cathedral was built on the traces of the 8th-century A.D. Church of St. John, of which we are left with the tufa-stone crypt and other details, which have been incorporated into the entrance portal. Construction of the cathedral took place between the 11th and 12th centuries AD, but the building still underwent remodeling until the 1600s. The church is divided into three naves, of which the central one has cross vaults typical of buildings from the 1200s.
The cathedral bears witness to the persistence, especially in rural and more inland areas, of pre-Christian and pagan culture, its imagery linked to nature, the earth and its symbols, despite the Church of Rome's desire to completely supplant it with Christian culture.
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