Saint Zeno (about 300 to 380 AD) is the patron saint of Verona, and this Basilica is named in his honor. He migrated from northern Africa and possibly was a black man. Saint Zeno spent much of his life in Verona – first as monk, then as bishop. He was beloved by the people of Verona and it seems he served them well.
Verona has many very old buildings and historic churches, of which San Zeno is one of the more interesting. A church has existed on this site since the 4th or 5th century to house the remains of San Zeno. The building you visit today is a Romanesque church built in the 12th century after its predecessor suffered severe earthquake damage. It’s a 15 minute walk from the city’s busy historic core to reach the Basilica and you’ll find the church and area around it less busy and less crowded than many of the other places you’re likely to visit in Verona.
The exterior or the church has several distinctive features, including a prominent 12th century bell tower standing 62 m and an adjoining abbey which has another (shorter) tower also constructed in the 12th century. The church’s exterior doors are guarded against evil by two lions and the entry is surrounded with Bible and medieval-themed relief carvings.
The most striking feature of the church is its beautiful bronze doors which you won’t see until you enter (as they are now shielded by the wooden exterior doors you see in the above photos. The bronze doors are decorated with 48 detailed panels, some of Bible stories, some highlighting scenes from St. Zeno’s life, some of unknown significance.
Inside the church there is a high main nave and two side naves’ — the church is without a transcept or cross-like shape. There are many historic treasures in the church, including frescoes surviving from the 13th and 14th centuries, a lovely well-preserved 14th century cross, an interesting baptismal font, and a porphyry basin dating to Roman times.
Stairs descend to the crypt where the remains of San Zeno are kept. The crypt is rather spacious place and the oldest part of the church, dating to the 10th century. The crypt is supported by 49 columns. According to legend, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliette were married in this crypt (Verona is full of attractions for this fictitious couple).
One of the most popular icons in Verona is that of a red marble statue of San Zeno called “San Zeno laughing”. The presbytery sits above the crypt is accessible by stairs in the aisles. The High Altar houses the sarcophagus of several bishops.
Even if you’re not a big fan of visiting churches, this one is quite interesting and very recommended to you when visiting Verona.
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