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.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Church of Santa Sofia in Padua

Romanesque architectural gem had ancient origins

The church of Santa Sofia is the oldest in  Padua, dating back to the early 12th century
The church of Santa Sofia is the oldest in 
Padua, dating back to the early 12th century
The oldest church in Padua is the simple but beautiful Santa Sofia in Via Altinate, a building which is thought to date back to the 11th century.

Santa Sofia is well worth visiting to see an altarpiece painted by Andrea Mantegna when he was just 17, and the font, brought in from another church, in which the two sons of Galileo were baptised.

Built on the site of a Roman temple, Santa Sofia managed to survive 14th century modifications to make it comply with Council of Trent reforms, and the disruption caused by the invasion of Italy by Napoleon’s troops.

The church was carefully restored in the 1950s and today it still retains many of its ancient architectural features and frescoes.

It is believed that the Romanesque stone and brick fa├žade of Santa Sofia was built on ground that was then considered holy between about 1106 and 1127, but the church’s semi-circular apse may have been built earlier. A document has been discovered, dated 1127, that was written to urge completion of the building work in process.

Some of the artefacts found on the site date from between the second and the fourth centuries. And, Santa Sofia’s crypt has been judged, using scientific methods, to have been built within about 50 years of the crypt of St Mark’s Church in Venice. This existed before the 11th century church was built around it to house the remains of St Mark.

The church was carefully restored in the 1950s to preserve the orginal features
The church was carefully restored in the
1950s to preserve the orginal features
Andrea Mantegna’s altarpiece in Santa Sofia, depicting the Madonna and Child in conversation with saints, was painted in about 1450. It was the artist’s first independent work and when he signed it, he gave his age as 17.

Santa Sofia has at times housed Augustinian and Benedictine nuns, but the nuns were expelled from the building during the Napoleonic occupation of the city.

Not to be missed near the entrance to the church of Santa Sofia, is a basin for holy water, which was brought from the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria in Padua. It is believed this basin was used as a font for the baptism of the sons of Galileo.


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