A Medieval Masterpiece: Cathedral of Orvieto

View of Orvieto
Blue skies and puffy white clouds framed the Cathedral of Orvieto (Duomo Di Orvieto) distinctly glimmering and sparkling in the bright afternoon sun as my classmates, our lecturer and myself, comfortably seated in a tour bus, made our way to Orvieto. I sat transfixed; staring out at one of the world’s most renowned cathedral, silently appreciating the beauty of its splendor from a good distance away.
The ancient city of Orvieto, is located just off the freeway between Florence and Rome, situated over a volcanic basement surrounded by a cliff. It was one of those light summery days when the world seems about to burst with pleasure at simply being itself when the rest of my class and myself arrived in Orvieto after a bus ride from Rome that took approximately an hour and a half. This quaint little laid-back town exudes a unique, pleasant charm. However, this grand hill town, though pretty and picturesque, is simply worth a good half-day of sightseeing.
Our class was given a limited time to explore Orvieto, and the one particular attraction that stood out amongst the rest and appealed to me the most was the Cathedral of Orvieto. I was instantly captivated by the gleaming mass of stained glass, mosaics and sculptures as soon as I laid eyes on this Roman Catholic cathedral. It was constructed in a position dominating the city and considered to be Orvieto’s jewel and symbol. If you ever find yourself in Orvieto with a restricted time schedule, be sure to visit this magnificent Romanesque Gothic monument that left me marveling in awe.
Façade of the cathedral
Pope Nicholas IV blessing the first stone of the Cathedral of Orvieto in 1290 marked the start of the cathedral’s history. To achieve its final form, construction took place over a span of over three centuries under the hands of multiple talented sculptors, architects and artists. The story of why the cathedral was constructed, began in 1263 when a priest on a pilgrimage to Rome stopped at Bolsena to celebrate a holy mass, and was astonished to see blood dripping out of the communion wafers and soaking through the altar cloth below. He brought the cloth to the Pope who in turn had it carried to Orvieto, and to commemorate the miracle, he established the sacred festival of Corpus Christi. To house the hallowed cloth (Corporal of Bolsena), the cathedral was built under the orders of the Pope.
Details on the cathedral’s façade
My first impression of the cathedral was that of amazement. It may tend to seem a little bit overwhelming what with its glittering mosaics and extensively decorated façade. When I delved deeper into the history of the cathedral though, I began to understand the abundance of its adornments. Every single minute detail that went up on its richly decorated exterior is not only for aesthetic reasons, it depicts a religious representation of the cathedral. The façade of the building expresses the message of Catholicism Salvation: from Creation, its beginning and foundation, to the Last Judgment. I spent an enjoyably long time peering and admiring the myriad of scenes embellished on the cathedral’s exterior.
Interior of the cathedral
The interior of it was not quite what I had expected. When I stepped into the cathedral, I was taken by surprise, it was largely spacious and relatively simple, a stark difference to its intricately crafted exterior, but beautiful in its own right; striking for its sobriety, its elegant design, and highlighting the perfect geometry of the space. It features some of the most beautiful works of art of the late Middle Age and Renaissance in the form of frescoes.
The frescoes in the Chapel of St. Brizio
Located inside the cathedral is in my opinion, the key highlight to the entire trip to Orvieto; the Chapel of St. Brizio, home to the finest frescoes done by Luca Signorelli. Upon entering the Chapel, I was surrounded with vivid scenes of salvation and damnation, absolutely stunning and enchanting, a real sight to behold. I was absolutely enthralled with the wonderfully detailed graphics of the frescoes that enveloped me, I could not help but stand there rooted to the ground agape with the enthralling splendor of Signorelli’s artwork.
It would be a major tourist faux pas if you do not pay a visit to the cathedral if you take a trip to Orvieto. This majestic cathedral is one of the top three cathedrals in Central Italy, and what I consider to be one of the most beautiful masterpieces of Italian medieval architecture.

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