Despite the secular nature of its Court, Mantua was bustling not only with churches but also monasteries, which were gradually phased out from the 18th century onwards. Here is a brief overview of some of the exteriors of the city's churches, which display great richness of design and artistry and encompass a period from the Middle Ages to the Baroque. Furthermore, Mantua is renowned for being the city that is home to the first relic of Christianity: the blood of Christ, and the untouched body of its patron saint, St. Anselm of Lucca, the nephew of Pope Alexander III. It is evident, then, that spirituality is at one both with nature and the work of mankind.

Church of Santa Maria del Gradaro
This church is one of the oldest in Mantua. Situated far from the heart of the Gonzaga residence, its location only serves to bring out the beautiful gabled façade which can be seen when you reach the fence that once enclosed the site of the convent of the Canons of San Marco. It was these religious figures that decided that this place of worship, with distant origins, should be reconstructed. This area is associated with the memory of St. Longinus, the soldier who, having wounded Christ on the cross with a lance and having been healed with his blood, lived in Italy under the Roman empire and was martyred and buried in the city together with the blood of the Saviour, which was at the time one of the most prominent Christian relics.

The façade displays a beautiful rose window and portal dating from 1295. The triple nave interior contains numerous outstanding Byzantine-style medieval frescoes, together with paintings from later eras. Elements of note include a depiction of the Last Supper and two Madonnas and Child.

Church of San Francesco
Given its beautiful Gothic structure and the fact that the Gonzagas decided to house their own tombs here until the age of the Renaissance, this place of worship bears tremendous significance. Unfortunately, it suffered devastating damage following violent bombing towards the end of the Second World War. Although it was rebuilt in the same style after the war, many of the precious works of art were lost, except for the magnificent chapel dedicated to St. Louis of Toulouse. The frescoes that still adorn its walls can be traced back to 1369 and have been attributed to the Modenese artist Serafino de' Serafini, who was strongly influenced by Tommaso da Modena. On the church's exterior, the portal, rose window and two high lancet windows are particularly striking. 
Cathedral of Mantua
Built at the behest of the Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga and with the aid of Giulio Romano in his twilight years, the history of Mantua Cathedral dates back centuries. The early Christian churches of St. Peter and St. Paul were once situated to the left of where the edifice currently stands. Built in 804, these were the first churches in the diocese. It is believed that the ancient church of St. Peter's, which may have been built on the site of the Roman Forum, is the basis behind the artistic history of the present-day cathedral, which still presents a Gothic structure on the right-hand side and boasts a medieval bell tower. The interior, with its five towering aisles, was designed by Giulio Romano, who not only sought to evoke the basilicas of early Christianity in general, but also wanted to draw directly on pre-Renaissance St. Peter's in Rome. Needless to say, the church is replete with artworks from all eras, from the early Christian 4th century sarcophagus to the apse frescoes painted by Antonio Maria Viani. 

The current façade dates back to the 18th century and is the work of the engineer Nicolò Baschiera, who completed it in 1761 and died in Milan in 1780. Much like the right-hand side, the front façade was the work of the Venetian Dalle Masegne brothers, who built it in the Gothic style that can be seen elsewhere in a painting by the Veronese Domenico Morone (1442-1518) depicting the seizing of power by the Gonzagas. On top of the tympanum, and on the left and right-hand sides, one can see a few statues of blessed figures and saints from the Mantuan tradition, including Luigi Gonzaga and Osanna Andreasi.

Church of Santa Barbara
A pupil of Giulio Romano, the architect Giovanni Battista Bertrani became Prefect of Works for the Gonzagas in 1549.He left his stylistic mark on various parts of the city, chief among which the interior of the Ducal Palace. But his greatest work is without question this Palatine Basilica at the heart of the palace, with its impressive façade that looks out onto the piazza. Among other decrees, Duke William ordered some important relics to be housed here, including the blood of Christ mixed with sand brought to Mantua by St. Longinus. But as a music enthusiast, he founded an extremely important musical chapel, built by major artists, including Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. The bell tower, built in 1565 according to Bertani's design, is also striking, with its combination of solid brick forms and graceful crowning elements. Damaged by the earthquake in 2012, it was returned to the people of the city in 2016.

The mannerist style of the façade is reinforced by a large vestibule. The bright colour works in harmony with the exteriors of the Ducal Palace. Giulio Romano's style might seem to be softened or diluted, but by simplifying it the overall size of the building stands out. Originating from two open lanterns fixed onto the wall, there is ample light inside An artistic and musical masterpiece, the organ, built by Graziadio Antegnati, is also extremely striking. Finally, in addition to the elements that have been added for the relic, there are also some notable paintings by Lorenzo Costa the Younger, Ippolito Andreasi, as well as by local painter Giuseppe Bazzani (1690-1769).

Church of Sant'Orsola
The church was built in 1608 under the auspices of Margherita Gonzaga, the sister of Duke Vincenzo I. It originally served as a suitable place of worship for the nearby Monastery of the Poor Clares. The monastery was closed down in 1786 and demolished to make way for a hospital in 1930. Today, the church is situated on the corner of Via Bonomi - a road that was built only after the Second World War - and Corso Vittorio Emanuele. The architect of this church is Antonio Maria Viana, Prefect of the Works for the Gonzagas, who produced a beautiful façade that triumphs for the contrast between warm-coloured walls and more classical elements, such as the columns and the tympanum.

The plan of the church is octagonal. The only original façade  is the one looking out onto Corso Vittorio Emmanuele, while the side exterior was incorporated into the overall style in 1950. It should be recalled that a model of the church, which also features in a painting by Domenico Fetti, is today kept at the Ducal Palace. With this model, the architect provides Margherita Gonzaga a to-scale copy of his creation.  After being widowed, Margherita decided to set up the adjoining monastery, where she later took up permanent residence.

Church of the Holy Spirit
Located at 44 Vittorino da Feltre, the Santo Spirito displays a beautiful façade that is reminiscent of Alberti's style. It was rebuilt in 1418 on the site of an even older place of worship. It was then rebuilt around 1534. Dating back to the early 16th century, the nave is unique, featuring a frescoed frieze of the faces of Franciscan saints. The much-vaunted humanist, Vittorino da Feltre (1373-1446) who taught at the Court of the Gonzagas at their groundbreaking humanist school, Casa Giocosa, or "Ca' Zoiosa", is buried in the church.
Madonna del Terremoto
This attractive church, facing opposite the substantial Palazzo Canossa on the same piazza, was, as the name suggests, built to commemorate how the Virgin protected the city from the earthquake that took place in 1693. The story goes that many worshippers congregated before an image of Mary painted on the wall of a house and were protected from the frightful tremors. That same image is now the altarpiece for the church. 
Church of San Barnaba
The beautiful façade, built in an architectural style that proliferated throughout the 18th century, stands out from a small open space half-way down Via Chiassi. Built at the behest of the order of the Servants of Mary, who had been based in a convent here since the 14th century, it is the crowning achievement of a full restoration by the architect Moscatelli Battaglia. It is one of the largest churches in Mantua.  The vast interior is adorned by rococo-style stucco decorative elements and a number of interesting paintings from previous eras. 
Credits: Story

Ideato e promosso da / Founded and Promoted by:
Mattia Palazzi (Sindaco del Comune di Mantova)
con Lorenza Baroncelli (Assessore alla rigenerazione urbana e del territorio, marketing urbano, progetti e relazioni internazionali del Comune di Mantova)

Coordinamento Scientifico / Scientific Coordinator:
Sebastiano Sali

Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images:
Giovanni Pasetti

Foto di / Photo by:
Sara Crimella
Gian Maria Pontiroli
Alessia Lodi Rizzini

Redazione / Editors:
Sara Crimella
Carlotta Depalmas
Veronica Zirelli

Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Paola Somenzi

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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