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Aula della Curia 360° virtual tour
This is a seldom visited and totally unique sight in Bergamo, a 12th century judgment hall of the bishop containing interesting medieval frescoes. Since the 10th century the bishop had the right to administer all justice, criminal and civil within the walls of the city.
1. Why was this hall built?
Location of the hall makes it very strange since it occupies the place where normally the nave and the main facade of Santa Maria Maggiore should be. However, it was confirmed during an early 20th century restoration of the hall that it did not cover any decorated main facade as Santa Maria church had never had one. Typically medieval churches were built from east to west, meaning that works were started with the apse and the last section to be built was the main facade. It has been suggested that probably plans were altered after the 1222 earthquake and instead of building a main facade, the hall was added to stabilize the church. Evidence to support this theory could be the large arch spanning over the audience hall. According to opponents of the theory, the arch is neither located centrally not connected to any of the piers. Furthermore, there is no evidence that any stabilization works were performed on any other walls of the church.
Another possible explanation of the location of the hall is that it could have been raised by the bishop to impede any further development of the Santa Maria Maggiore church. Being built by the commune of the city, Santa Maria church separated the bishop's palace from the old cathedral of St. Vincent. Weird proportions of Santa Maria -a large apse and transept attached to a relatively small nave - indicate that probably it was planned to be extended towards the bishop's palace. In order to demonstrate his power over the commune, the bishop could have prevented the expansion plans of the church and restored the broken relationship with his people. An evidence to support this explanation could be the existence of a false window of the hall, exactly centered with the main aisle of the church. Inside this false window are frescoes of the first two bishops of Bergamo, St. Narnus and Viator giving pontifical benediction.
2. What to see
Interior decoration of the hall contains five rows of 13th century frescoes. From the ceiling towards the floor, they are the following: a band of animal figures; a band of vine and leaf interlacing, scenes from the life of Jesus, geometric designs and a drapery. Restoration works revealed that originally the hall was taller but the floor was raised during the Renaissance ages resulting in a significant decrease of the height of the drapery motifs.
It is easy to recognize common narrative scenes like the the Last Supper or Jesus washing the feet of an apostle. Below the sitting apostle is the previously mentioned false-window with a depiction of the riding St. Alexander, patron saint of the city and the blessing figures of early bishops. The large arch is framed by figures of an angel and Virgin Mary forming a large Annunciation scene.
Passing the arch, events from the life of Jesus continue from left to right with his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; Kiss of Judas and soldiers capturing Jesus while Peter beats the servant of the High Priest and finally Christ standing before Pilate. It is very likely that the story continued on the wall facing Santa Croce with the Crucifixion but nothing remained from it. Frescoes of the back wall focus on the topic of judgment: figure of the bishop and the Last Judgment can easily be recognized. To the left is an image of Christ in glory holding a scroll proclaiming, "Let he who wishes to come to me, deny his very self." To the right Jesus, the Judge is either portrayed as in the Book of Revelation, with a double-edged sword coming out of his mouth that would destroy unrepentant sinners. An explanation of the depiction of apocalyptic scenes could be that they were to remind people of the authority of the bishop received from Jesus, the Judge of all the earth.