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In the 17th century, in a city where music schools flourished, animated by instrumentalists and youthful choristers who accompanied the liturgy, where the first university course ad lecturam musicae (i.e. a music lectureship) was founded, where Pope Eugenius IV instituted a Magister cantus et gramaticae in the cathedral, the church of S. Cristina had a story to tell.Within its walls a group of Camaldolese nuns, the successors to the Blessed Lucia da Settefonti, found the perfect place to combine devotion to prayer with the performance of music.
Bologna has a long artistic and cultural tradition in this field. It was European Cultural Capital 2000 and the first city in Italy to be named UNESCO City of Music in 2006.
The church of S. Cristina, over the centuries, has played a key role in establishing this primacy. The church’s extraordinary acoustics make it a remarkable setting for vocal and instrumental music, thanks to its design in 1602 by Giulio della Torre, an architect from the circle of Domenico Tibaldi.
The church consists of a nave with four chapels on either side. Between one chapel and the next are niches containing statues of saints, the work of Giuseppe Mazza, Giovanni Tedeschi and Guido Reni, the only example of his work as a sculptor. The presbytery is unusually narrow, resulting in an altar with an original shape and transforming the whole architecture into a single great musical instrument. At the sides of the altar two windows originally opened onto the choir, which forms a room behind the apse. From here the singing of the nuns spread with astonishing clarity all through the church as far as the west entrance. At the top of the Baroque campanile, built in 1692, there once stood a large statue of St Christina in gilded copper, which doubled as a wind vane. In 1745 it was damaged by lightning. The architect Carlo Francesco Dotti replaced the statue with a ball and cross and partly rebuilt the roof.
The paintings in the chapels, set within splendid wooden surrounds by Domenico Maria Mirandola (first half of the 17th century), retain their original settings, providing a wonderful compendium of Bolognese art from the early 16th to the late 17th century.
Of the paintings inside the church, Ludovico Carracci’s Ascension (1597) is an outstanding work. It is now placed on the high altar, but must originally have been set rather high up in a side chapel, hence the motif of the gigantic figures of the Apostles, the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene depicted in the foreground. The very strong earthly colours contrast with the tone in the upper part of the painting, where Christ is shown ascending to heaven.
Among other masterpieces preserved in the church, those on the altars on the right-hand side include: The Adoration of the Shepherds by Giacomo Raibolini, son of Francesco Francia, The Visitation by Lucio Massari, The Annunciation by Tiburzio Passarotti, son of the better known Bartolomeo Passarotti, and St Christina Attacked by her Father by Domenico Maria Canuti. Those on the left-hand side include The Ascent to Calvary, also by Passarotti and a noteworthy Sacred Conversation by Francesco de’ Rossi called Salviati.
S. Cristina is now a favoured centre for listening to music. Each year, from autumn to spring, it offers the people of Bologna festivals with a unique character featuring outstanding per formers. The church houses the Schola Gregoriana Benedetto XVI, which seeks to train professionals capable of achieving excellence in the complex art of Gregorian chant.

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