Postcard from Bologna, Italy: The ornate resting place of Saint Dominic

Saint Dominic (1170-1221) was born and educated in Spain, with extensive studies in theology and the arts. During a famine in 1191, he sold all of his belongings to purchase food for the poor.

The Dominican Order he founded was based on strict discipline and prayer and embraced an austere lifestyle, contrasting with the opulence favored by many priests of his day. The bald pate in the tonsure haircut Saint Dominic favored demonstrated his humility, and he removed his sandals to enter towns where he was preaching barefoot. Some believe he originated the saying of the Rosary following a vision of the Virgin Mary to aid in the conversion of heretics.

Even when exhausted and dying in Bologna, Saint Dominic refused a bed, insisting as always in sleeping on the floor. He was buried in the floor of the convent, but, following his canonization in 1234, there were those who dreamed of a more grandiose resting place appropriate for a saint.

Saint Dominic’s new sarcophagus is ringed with sculptural depictions of his life carved by Nicola Pisano in 1267. Two centuries later this arc was crowned by a new tier of sculpture crafted by Niccolo da Bari, attaining such notoriety for the artist he became known as Niccolo dell Arca. Among other artists later adding additional ornamentation to the saint’s final resting place was Michelangelo.

The Basilica of San Domenico is no humble resting place but an exuberant celebration of the religious arts.

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