Tucked away in Bologna’s Quadrilatero, in Via Clavature, is the Baroque church, The Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita; unassuming in contrast with the imposing nearby San Petronio (in Piazza Maggiore) or the cathedral of San Pietro (in Via Indipendenza) – though Santa Maria della Vita has a wonderful dome that dominates the skyline over Piazza Maggiore.
The church was originally built, in the 13th Century for by/for the congregation of the batutti (beaten), one of the many pious movements in Italy that characterised itself by public displays of flagellation(!).
By the 17th century the Church needed to be rebuilt, after damage in 1686, when the roof collapsed. The current church, dates back to this remodelling, by Giovanni Battista Bergonzoni, along the style of Borromini. The Dome that dominates Piazza Maggiore (though is somewhat lost up close in Via Clavature) was designed and built by Giuseppe Tubertini in 1787.
The church itself is a wonderful space to step inside, to escape the hustle and bustle of the Quadrilatero and Piazza Maggiore, whether one is religious or not, but it is also home to one of the most famous art works by one of the masters of early renaissance sculpture, Niccolo dell’Arca
This group of six terracotta figures, arranged around a dead Christ, are a true wonder to behold. The poet/writer/proto-fascist Gabrielle D’Annunzio described one of the Mary’s desperate face as ‘a petrified scream’. The date of their creation is uncertain, with an ongoing debate placing it between 1463 and 1490.
For a period the sculptures were transferred to the Pinacoteca nazionale di Bologna, but at the end of the 1990s they were returned to the Santuario Maria della Vita, where they remain on show to the public, in a wonderfully spartan setting to the right of the altar.