Shrine of Beata Vergine di San Luca
Founded in 1194 by the Roman eremite Angelica Bofantini, the shrine stands on Mount della Guardia at 289m above sea level. The hill is not far from the heart of Bologna and in ancient times it was of great strategic and defensive importance for the city.
In about the mid-1200s, a group of Dominican nuns began to tend the place of worship and for five centuries it became key to the prosperity of the shrine which, in 1707, was transferred to the rectorate of the Dominican fathers devoted to the Virgin Mary. Today the diocesan priests are in charge of the Church.
Its current design is the work of architect Carlo Francesco Dotti, who produced the elliptical plan that extends into a Greek cross as far as the high altar preceding the Beata Vergine chapel.
The first stone was laid on 26 July 1723 and the impressive central dome was erected in 1747. The simple aesthetic, without grandiose decoration, spotlights the round shape of the dome that dominates the external tribunes and the gardens, a distinctive symbol visible across the entire surrounding plain. Two curved stairways link the pilgrim path with the famous San Luca portico completed in 1721 which, with its 666 arches, is the longest in the world (3.79km) and connects the shrine to the Arco del Meloncello and continues as far as Porta Zaragoza.
For almost 600 years, in the days leading up to the Ascension celebrations, the image of the Virgin Mary has been taken to the city to spend an entire week in San Pietro cathedral.
The shrine is further enhanced by excellent artworks produced by Donato Creti, Guido Reni and Guercino to mention only three of several great names who were engaged over time to make it so unique.
The Virgin and Child image dated tenth–eleventh century, is traditionally said to be by Saint Luke the Evangelist, and recent studies suggest it came from the East at the time of the Crusades. It is located in the main chapel, in a precious marble altarpiece.
The shrine is central to the devout of Bologna and a symbol of this industrious city that nonetheless expresses enormous devotion.