Elegant Padova -- known in English as Padua -- is home to an ancient university, a Basilica that is an important centre for pilgrims and a chapel containing one of the world’s greatest art treasures. Use this website to help you plan a visit to this fascinating northern Italian city and find your way to the other beautiful towns and villages in the Veneto that are perhaps less well known to tourists.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Church of the Eremitani frescoes

The day a major work of art was ruined by bombs

Mantegna's Stories of St James was one of the works destroyed
Mantegna's Stories of St James
was one of the works destroyed 
Padua was badly bombed by the Allies on this day in 1944 and the Church of the Eremitani was directly hit, causing devastating damage to the 15th century frescoes painted by Andrea Mantegna in one of the side chapels.

It was one of the worst losses suffered by Italy’s cultural heritage during World War II as Mantegna’s frescoes were considered a major work of art.

Mantegna, who was born in Isola di Cartura near Vicenza in 1431, was commissioned to paint a cycle of frescoes in the Ovetari Chapel, one of the side chapels, depicting scenes from the lives of Saint James and Saint Christopher. The commission marked the beginning of his artistic career when he started work at the age of 17 in 1448. He was in his mid 20s by the time he had finished the cycle in 1457.

Tragically, the German invading army had established their headquarters in Padua next to the Church of the Eremitani, which was why the chapel and the wonderful frescoes were so badly damaged.

They were reduced to more than 88,000 separate pieces and were found mixed in with plaster and bricks on the ground.

A detailed photographic survey of the work had been made previously and it was therefore possible later to reconstruct the artist’s work and recompose part of the cycle depicting the Martyrdom of Saint James. Other frescoes by Mantegna had been removed before the war to protect them from damp and they have also now been reinstated.

In other chapels, 14th century frescoes by Guarentio and Giusto de’ Menabuoi miraculously survived.

The Church of the Eremitani found itself nextdoor to a German army headquarters
The Church of the Eremitani found itself
next door to a German army headquarters
La Chiesa degli Eremitani, or The Church of the Hermits, is a former Augustinian Gothic-style church close to the Cappella Scrovegni in Piazza Eremitani in the centre of Padua.

The church was built for Augustinian friars between 1260 and 1276 and dedicated to the Saints Philip and James.

The friars remained in the church and adjoining monastery until 1806 when Padua was under Napoleonic rule and the order was suppressed. The church was reopened for services in 1808 and became a parish church in 1817.

The church has a single nave with plain walls decorated with ochre and red bricks and has a vaulted wooden ceiling. It houses the ornate tombs of two lords of Padua, Jacopo II da Carrara and Ubertino da Carrara, designed by Andriolo de Santi.

The 15th century side portal is also known as the Door of the Months because of the four panels by the sculptor Nicolo Baroncelli depicting allegories of the months.

The Musei Civici agli Eremitani (Civic Museum) of Padua is now housed in the former Augustinian monastery to the left of the church.

(Picture credit: Church of the Eremitani by Didier Descouens via Wikimedia Commons)




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