Quiet Grandeur and Layers of Beauty: Cagliari Cathedral

Cagliari Cathedral, or the Cathedral of St Maria and Cecilia, Duomo di Cagliari, Cattedrale di Santa Maria e Santa Cecilia, Cagliari, Sardinia

Cagliari is not a particularly large city, even though it is Sardinia’s capital.  It feels more like a mildly prosperous north Italian town that has the money to make things pretty, but the good taste not to go overboard.  The Cathedral reflects this and certainly from the outside doesn’t seem too prepossessing.  

But then I’ve got to remember not to judge a book by its cover.

View of Cagliari Cathedral from the square below, Sardinia, Italy

The church was originally built in 1254 and after enlargement and the addition of a bishop’s palace, it became the city’s cathedral in 1313.  Subsequently there have been restorations/re-builds/pointless meddling, but not too much, considering the fact that it is a cathedral.  In 1669, the Genoese architects Domenico Spotorno and Francesco Solari saw to the church getting a major face-lift  – the walls were raised, vaults and domes were created, replacing the wooden roof, and a new pulpit was inserted.  It still bears the coat of arms of the Archbishop de Vico.

In 1702 the facade was attacked – it was turned from Romanesque into Baroque.  This addition, described by DH Lawrence as looking ‘sausagey’, was demolished in the 1930s, when Francesco Giarrizzo attempted to go back to its Romanesque origins and was inspired by Pisa Cathedral in his efforts.  The result is decidedly odd – it looks out of place with the rest of the square – which is mainly 18th century – and its dinky, column-filled facade doesn’t match the stumpy tower on the side.

The interior works better for me.  It’s a lovely mix of Gothic and Baroque and on a bright day, like the one I visited on, the whole place gives the impression of being wonderfully airy and light.

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The nave of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Looking up at the dome of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Looking up at the dome of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The stone pulpits by the main doors were made in around 1160 by Guglielmo da Innsbruck (or da Pisa) and were actually in Pisa’s cathedral before being given to Cagliari in 1312.  The pulpit was divided in the 17th century, for some reason, and the two parts were placed in their current location.  They are lovely and once your eyes adjust to the light, you can see that the details are really wonderful.  

Pisan Pulpit with the tetramorph in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with the tetramorph in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with the tetramorph in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with the tetramorph in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with the tetramorph in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with the tetramorph in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with St Paul with Titus and Timothy in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy.  You can see St Paul’s feet hanging over the edge.

Scenes of the Baptism of Jesus and the Presentation at the Temple from the Pisan Pulpit with St Paul with Titus and Timothy in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pisan Pulpit with St Paul with Titus and Timothy in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Scenes of the Transfiguration from the Pisan Pulpit with St Paul with Titus and Timothy in the centre, 1160, Guglielmo da Innsbruck, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Stone and fresco, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The interesting carved arches in Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Monument in the Chapel of St Barbara and the Holy Families, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Light and dark in the Chapel of St Barbara and the Holy Families, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Adorably pert cherub in Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Funerary monument of Archbishop Machin de Aquena, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

A cupid with his torch turned downwards from the funerary monument of Archbishop Machin de Aquena, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The monument to Martin I of Sicily, built in 1676-80, is unbelievably grand.  The King had died in 1374/6, so it’s interesting that they decided to construct something so overblown…

Monument to Martin I of Sardinia, 1676-80, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Martin and some anguished cherubs from the Monument to Martin I of Sardinia, 1676-80, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The King of us all – Death – from the Monument to Martin I of Sardinia, 1676-80, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Angels and soldiers at the base of the monument to Martin I of Sardinia, 1676-80, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Cute little cherub beneath the pulpit, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The grand pulpit, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The pulpit and monuments of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Beautiful Chapel of the Most Holy Crucifix, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The four lions supporting the altar’s steps are also by Guglielmo da Innsbruck/Pisa, and have wonderfully mischievous expressions.  There’s one in particular who seems to have just looked up from devouring his prey, and sees he’s being watched, and says, “Oh, hey.”

A lion caught in the act, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

A lion and an unhappy animal, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Beautiful and unexpected altar, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The altar, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The arrow in the above picture is pointing to the entrance of the crypt below.  Also known as the Shrine of the Martyrs, this space was built under the auspices of Francesco Maria de Esquivel, who was Archbishop, in 1618.  He is buried at the top of the staircase and looks a bit like George Michael.  Actually, the crypt makes the Cathedral worth visiting by itself – there are three chapels, containing 179 niches and even more relics of local martyrs lifted from the necropolis around the Basilica of St Saturnino and elsewhere.  It’s super-cute.  Anyway, please click here to see the post on the shrine.

Also worth mentioning here is the Tabernacle:  we couldn’t get close to it but it’s clearly beautiful.  It was made in Palermo in 1610 and looks like a little church with statues in niches.

The Tabernacle, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

An interesting coat of arms with a bird pecking at a hare, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Cute silver lamp, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Looking towards the entrance of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Funerary monument of Archbishop Bernardo de la Cabra, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Chapel of St Michael, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

According to legend, the statue in the Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio was brought back to Cagliari by St Eusebius of Vercelli in 362 from Palestine.  Ahem, yeah right…

Statue of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The chapel was restored in 1933 by the architect Angelo Vicario and I’ve not been able to find out if he also did the very interesting paintings that date from that period.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen 1930s bombshells as saints before, but they are very elegant and look like they’ve stepped out of Hollywood.  I know it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I liked them.  I also really appreciated the fact that the shadows cast by the cherubs in the central painting were like the ones being cast by the statues around them.

Top of the Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Beautiful saint with a cross, Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Detail of the beautiful saint with a cross, Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Cherubs and their shadows, Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Beautiful 1930 saint, Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

The old stone work and modern painting in the Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Cupids and cupids, Chapel of Our Lady of St Eusebio, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Scared boy and old man over a martyr, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Pretty marble decoration on the walls of the Chapel of St Cecilia, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Jesus holding a sacred heart, in the Chapel of St Cecilia, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Just before we close the post, I just want to point out that there is another Roman sarcophagus hidden in the Cathedral.  If you leave the building and turn left, you’ll find this side door – and above that is yet another sarcophagus inserted amongst the medieval decoration.

An unused side door of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Reused Roman sarcophagus over the side door of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Industrious cupids carrying baskets above sea-creatures, Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

Curious upside down inscription in the walls of Cagliari Cathedral, Sardinia, Italy

So In Summary

There is something about Italian cathedrals which really appeals to me.  Cagliari Cathedral was grand, as befits a major cathedral, but not overblown, with decorative elements that were tasteful and balanced (that awesome monument to Martin I was also tasteful and balanced, in its own way).  Naturally the crypt is the most unique part of the building and makes the Cathedral worth visiting in itself, but if you give the rest a chance, there are some really lovely elements that stay with you.  It was a highlight of our visit to Cagliari.

Further Information

It is free to enter all areas of the church.  There is a website, with a slightly simplified entry in English, but good for them for doing it at all!:  www.duomodicagliari.it

There is also a little Treasury museum which is basically only open at the weekend.  It has some really beautiful objects – including a possible van der Weyden – so it’s a shame that if you are a midweek visitor you miss out.  It’s also a real shame that you can’t take photos.  Do visit if you can – I wish I could have written a post about it.

How to Get There

You can walk to the Cathedral from the old centre of Cagliari, but it is on a steep hill, so you may need a bus.  The transport website for Cagliari is not very user-friendly for the non-Italian speaker.  So, here’s the city’s official transport website: www.ctmcagliari.it – with some English information on Cagliari buses generally.  Here is a pdf of the bus map.  Now you’ve worked out what route you want to take, pop over here for a list of the bus numbers, so you can see the schedule of your bus.

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