Architectur & art

Chiesa S. Caterina, interno Padova, church of Santa Caterina, interiors

The present appearance of the church of Santa Caterina is the result of an important campaign of work carried out during the seventeenth century. Already in the previous century its condition was not supposed to be good, as we learn from the texts of writers from Padova, who recall the commitment of Bishop Federico Corner, in 1579, in the arrangement of the religious building (Zaggia 1999, p. 83). But it was after the settlement of the community of the Illuminate in 1627 that a radical restoration of the church was carried out, since then used by both nuns and the faithful of the parish.

Perspective view of the church of S. Caterina with two bell towers ) Perspective view of the church of S. Caterina with two bell towers (ASPd, Notarile, b. 8476A/dis 111)

To give an example, a second bell tower was built for the sole use of the nuns, and a space was created behind the high altar, the so-called "choir", belonging to the cloistered nuns, who had to remain always separated from the laity, even during religious services. This space no longer exists today; during the nineteenth century it was used as a chapel of the Conservatorio, while in the twentieth century it was used as a knitting workshop: today it is part of the Library's "Volume room".

The nuns' choir in the 1827 survey (left) The nuns' choir in the 1827 survey (ASPd, Archivio Pivetta, b. 76, fasc. 1359); (center) the same place transformed into a knitting workshop in 1930 (AGCPd, Amm.ne Pii Conservatori Santa Caterina, b. 955, c.e. 711/1930); (right) today the library's volume room

Church of Santa Caterina, facade Church of Santa Caterina, facade

The intense reorganization of the church lasted throughout the first half of the seventeenth century, in alternating phases, linked to the finding of funds: in 1658 the beautiful external portal was put in place, while some works, such as the finishing of the ceiling and the completion of the façade, lasted until the end of the century (Zaggia 1999, pp. 94-95).

The restoration of the architecture was followed by a campaign of sculptural and pictorial renovation of the interior, with the rebuilding of the altars - which until then had consisted of wooden structures (De Vincenti 1999, p. 141) - and the paintings that adorned them (Mancini 1999).

High Altar High Altar: Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine F. F. Fasolato and F. Mangranda, High Altar (1677-1703), and M.A. Bonaccorsi, Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine (1652-1653), Padova, chiesa di Santa Caterina

Bonaccorsi's painting was commissioned by the University of Jurists for the left side altar that they held before the high altar and was moved to the site that currently houses it only later, before 1780, as Rossetti recalls (p. 114).

G. Bonazza and workshop: Angels, S. Catherine (centre), Meditation (left), Obedience (right)G. Bonazza and workshop, S. Catherine (centre), Meditation (left), Obedience (right), angels(1696–1703), Padova, church of Santa Caterina

Right side altar Right side altar:  Madonna and Child with St. Joseph pointing to the Eternal Father Right side altar and C. Ridolfi, Madonna and Child with St. Joseph pointing to the Eternal Father, Padova, church of Santa Caterina

Glorification of St. Catherine Venetian painter of the second half of the 17th century, Glorification of St. Catherine (c. 1670), Padova, church of Santa Caterina, ceiling

Of the paintings, only the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine on the high altar, the Madonna and Child with Saint Joseph indicating the Eternal Father on the right side altar and the Glorification of Saint Catherine on the ceiling can be traced back to the decorative campaign that took place in the 17th century. Some paintings are attested in the church in the following centuries, or came from other buildings in Padova, which were destroyed during the nineteenth century.

Left side altar Left side altar: Christ with Saints Charles, Sebastian and Roch Left side altar and Fr. Damini, Christ with Saints Charles, Sebastian and Roch (c. 1620), Padova, church of Santa Caterina (from the destroyed church of San Biagio)

Saint Lucia Saint Catherine Venetian painter of the early 17th century, Saint Lucia and Catherine, Padova, church of Santa Caterina, sacristy (remembered in church since the end of the 19th century)

Saint Peter Saint Paul Venetian painter, Saints Peter and Paul, Padova, church of Santa Caterina, sacristy (remembered in church since the end of the nineteenth century)

Baptismal font (now stoup) Baptismal font (now stoup), Padova, church of Santa Sofia (from Santa Caterina)

Among the works of sculpture once belonging to the furnishings of Saint Catherine is worth mentioning the baptismal font in red marble of Verona, made in 1585 at the behest of this Gregorio Francuccio Cortonensi, whose name is clearly remembered along the outer edge of the basin. Today the font is preserved in the church of Santa Sofia, where it is used as a stoup.

On August the 22nd, 1606, in this font was baptized the third son of Galileo Galilei, Vincenzo, as the deed found in the Episcopal Archives of Padova reminds us: the name of the famous physicist does not appear in the document (in fact, it refers to an "uncertain father") because initially Galileo did not recognize him, as he had already done for his two elder daughters Virginia and Livia. Vincenzo finally obtained the legitimation in 1619, unlike his sisters, because as a male son he would not have needed a dowry provided by his father. Here is his biography.

Vincenzo Galilei's Baptismal Act Vincenzo Galilei's Baptismal Act (ASDPd, Baptism register, reg. 1, 22 agosto 1606)

Among the important figures in history related to the religious building, Giuseppe Tartini, famous violinist, deserves a mention. The Istrian composer, who died in Padova in 1770, is buried together with his wife in the Basilica of S. Caterina, as testified by the tombstone in front of the high altar and the bust that was placed in his honour in the churchyard.

Graveston of Giusppe Tartini Bust dedicated to Giuseppe Tartini Gravestone and bust of Giuseppe Tartini

[Photos by V. Baradel]