18 July 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (51) 18 July 2023

The Piazza Santo Stefano in front of the ‘Sette Chiese’ or Seven Churches in Bologna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (16 July 2023).

Today (18 July 2023), the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship celebrates the life of Elizabeth Ferard (1883), first Deaconess in the Church of England and founder of the Community of Saint Andrew.

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Basilica of San Stefano, also known as the Church of the Crucifix (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of the Holy Cross (Church of the Trinity), Bologna:

The Church of the Holy Cross or the Martyrium, also known as the Church of the Trinity, dates from the 13th century and is part of the ‘Sette Chiese’ or Seven Churches, an ecclesiastical complex that is known as Bologna’s Holy Jerusalem.

For more than 1,000 years, this collection of churches, including the Basilica of San Stefano (Basilica di Santo Stefano), the has been known as the Sancta Jerusalem Boloniensis, or Bologna’s Holy Jerusalem.

San Stefano is not just one church or basilica, but a complex of church buildings known locally as Sette Chiese (‘Seven Churches’) and also as Santa Gerusalemme (‘Holy Jerusalem’).

Santo Stefano faces onto Piazza Santo Stefano, a long isosceles triangle rather than a square, and one of the most beautiful of Bologna’s many piazze. San Stefano and its precincts stand at the far end of this piazza, at the shortest edge of the triangle.

Although this architectural ensemble is sometimes called Le Sette Chiese or the Seven Churches, the number seven has a mystical significance, and in fact there are now four churches, fused together in this complex maze or ecclesiastical labyrinth.

The entrance to Santo Stefano is through the largest and most prominent building, the Church of the Crucifix, an austere space dedicated to the Passion of Christ. The Church of Saint Stephen or of the Holy Crucifix, was built in the eighth century and reshaped in the 17th century, with a crypt.

The altar stands on a mezzanine at the top of a double flight of stairs. Suspended above is a Byzantine-style crucifix, with a grey and skeletal Christ close to death, watched by his mother, the Virgin Mary, and Saint John the Evangelist. This is the work of the artist who became known as Simone de’ Crocifissi, or Simon of the Crucifixions.

A similar crucifix, but Baroque in style, hangs at a distance behind the first crucifix, in the apse of the church. These two works are separated by about 10 metres and 200 years. The Abbot Martino was buried in the crypt below in 1019.

A low door on the left of the Church of the Crucifix leads into the second church in the complex, the Holy Sepulchre. This tall, cylindrical building stands on the site of a Roman temple of Isis, the first sacred building on the site.

According to tradition, Saint Petronio built the basilica over the temple of the goddess Isis, replacing it with a building that recalled the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. However, the building seen today is more likely to have been modelled on the later Crusader Church than the earlier Constantinian church.

One of the Roman columns still stands, a slim marble rod jammed up against a stouter brick-built neighbour.

In the middle stands a 1,000-year-old mausoleum – a building within a building. It was planned as a replica of the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, but has been altered and amended down the centuries. This was the burial-place of Saint Petronio, the fifth century Bishop of Bologna and patron of the city. At the bottom of the structure, like a grate in a fireplace, is a barred window, through which the grave of Saint Petronio could be seen. His body was moved in 2000 to the Basilica of Saint Petronio in the Piazza Maggiore, where his head was already enshrined.

The decorative work includes winged griffins, stylised lions, and three dozing soldiers who slept through the Resurrection.

The Holy Sepulchre leads to the Basilica of Saint Vitale and Saint Agricola, built in the fourth century, and rebuilt in the 12th century.

These two Romans, master and servant, were the first citizens of Bologna to become Christian martyrs when they were tortured to death in the year 305 during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian. Their bodies are said to have been found in the Jewish cemetery by Saint Ambrose of Milan when he visited Bologna in 392 and were reburied.

The church is bare but has some warm decorative touches, such as the low-relief peacocks and deer on the stone sarcophagus the saints.

Outside the Holy Sepulchre, the Courtyard of Pilate (Santo Giardino, the Holy Garden), dates from the 13th century and recalls the Roman paving in Jerusalem where Christ was condemned.

In the centre, a marble basin known as the Catino di Pilato is a Lombard work from 737-744, recalling how Pilate washed his hands of responsibility for what happened to Christ. The marble basin was the gift of the Lombard kings, Liutprando and Ilprando, who regarded Saint Stefano as their main religious centre.

Under the portico at the centre of a window on a column, a 14th-century sculpted rooster, known as the Rooster of Saint Peter, recalls the biblical story of Saint Peter’s denial.

The Benedictine cloisters, dating from the 10th to-13th centuries, have a double open gallery that is one of the most splendid works of Romanesque architecture in this region of Italy.

The capitals of some of the columns take the form of unhappy, naked little men, hunched or crouching or, in one case, clinging to the top of the column like a monkey on a palm trunk. These naked homunculi are the work of the Lombards, who are also responsible for the magnificent brickwork patterns, like a patchwork quilt in shades of terracotta, that make up the walls of Pilate’s Courtyard.

The Adoration of the Magi (ca 1290-1370), full-scale sculptures in the Church of the Holy Cross or Martyrium (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of the Holy Cross or the Martyrium, the fourth church in this complex, is also known as the Church of the Trinity. This church dates from the 13th century. Its width is greater than its length, and it features a series of niches along the back wall.

Originally, the church was built in the form of a basilica with five naves, with an apse in front of the Courtyard of Pilate and the façade to the east. But due to a lack of the building remained unfinished, and it later became a baptistry.

One niche contains a colourful and joyful group of wooden figures representing the three kings presenting their three gifts to the Christ Child. These too are the work of Simone de’ Crocifissi.

A horizontal wooden statue depicts the dead Christ, his feet foremost, his pierced hands crossed over his abdomen, his head lost in shadow.

The small chapel, known as the Chapel of the Bandage (Cappella della Benda), is dedicated to the strip of cloth worn around the head by the Virgin Mary as a sign of mourning. This is now a museum.

The Church of the Crucifix with its elevated altar, crucifixes and crypt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 11: 20-24 (NRSVA):

20 Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. 21 ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum,

will you be exalted to heaven?
No, you will be brought down to Hades.

For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’

The Holy Sepulchre is a tall, cylindrical building (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (18 July 2023, Nelson Mandela Day) invites us to pray in these words:

We thank God for the life of Nelson Mandela. For all he did to fight against injustice and bring equality to all to live in peace.

Inside ‘Le Sette Chiese’ or the Seven Churches (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Courtyard of Pilate and the ‘Catino di Pilato’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Benedictine cloisters date from 10th-13th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Chapel of the Bandage (Cappella della Benda) is now a museum (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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