The Foundation of Our Studies: Bologna and the History of Palaeography


Today we began our exploration into the history of Bologna with a lecture from Igor Santos Salazar. He gave an engaging lecture in two parts: 1) Bologna in the Middle Ages and 2) the structure of written sources in and around Bologna up until the beginning of the 16th century. 


This helped the students of UMass create a foundational knowledge of the history of Bologna and how Italian medieval documents came to exist. It is important to note the way that much of what exists today was set aside on purpose by the papal state or by prominent Italian families. Even though the state eventually created an archive, many documents were destroyed by will, leaving little to study from the 10th-11th centuries.

Next,  Maddalena Modesti gave a lecture, also in two parts: 1) an intro to palaeography and 2) why we study palaeography today. Noteworthy pieces of Maddalena’s lecture included how paleography came to be, from its roots with Jean Mabillon to how the University of Bologna became a center for its study. Other important points included the 6 questions of why someone studies palaeography: to know the What, When, Where, How, Who, and Why of a document. Essentially, the documents come to create a foundation of how culture changes over time through our written expression

After our break, we began our afternoon excursion by beginning at Santuario di Santa Maria della Vita with our guide Paulo. Below you can see a picture of the entrance:


Inside we found an especially moving depiction of the aftermath of the crucifixion of Christ. Notice that a recent earthquake, 2 years earlier, has created the need for scaffolding around the piece, making sure nothing falls on top of the work.



Then, Paulo took us to the original student center and resting place of the University of Bologna, which was founded in 1088. As you can see from the sepulture below, professors were extremely respected and given what we would consider an extravagant burial. It was also told that professors were often knights, serving under the papal state, expecting their students to visit them in their own private quarters. 



Next up was St. Francis Square, which included the church of St. Francis. This is often a college hotspot, the square that is, with college students during the summer. Inside the church we found a beautiful marble pieces and Byzantine style frescos from 1250, along with representative columns.


Afterwards we checked out the flea market in the church center and an extremely beautiful fresco by Giovanni di Modena, which was housed within the nun’s abbey! We had to be especially quiet. This was a treat from Paulo! What’s important about this painting is that it represents the pork used to create balsamic oil to soothe the pain of Black Plague victims. Check it out:


Next up was the Bilblioteca communale dell’ Archiginnasio where much of the original university began. In fact some of the rooms are still used today…other than tourists like us walking around. The library was particularly beautiful because it housed original crests, frescos, and lecture rooms. See below:


Then, we headed back to the 2 towers of Bologna, which we had visited briefly before. Or I should say, we’ve seen, but never recieved insight from Paulo. This time Paulo let us know that there were originally 200 towers within the city. Now, only about 12 or 13 exist, but these two are the most prominent. A third, like these, was made, but in 1910 it was destroyed. I can’t wait to climb one of these!


We finished up with a the Church of St. James and the oratory chapel of Saint Cecil (Cecilia). While we did not enter the church of St. James, frescos were outside and the attached chapel was great. Saint Cecil’s oratory chapel is used for classical music during the summer, since Cecil is the patron of music. It was smaller than other’s we have seen so far, but housed some of the most beautiful frescos by Bentivoglio. 


It seems now, all we have to do is actually interact with the texts. We’ve certainly interacted with the city and its university. 








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