Bari’s cathedral bears the beautiful name Cattedrale di San Sabino (Cathedral of San Sabino) and is located in the old town. The impressive church is dedicated to Saint Sabinus, who was once bishop of Canosa.
The Cathedral of San Sabino is beautiful but less famous than the nearby Basilica of St Nicholas, although it is the seat of the Archbishop of Bari. It is therefore hardly surprising that it is a little quieter here.
The façade of the Cathedral of San Sabino is rather plainly designed in white-grey limestone. There are three portals dating from the 11th century. Above them is a large rose window, above which is a lintel decorated with monsters and fantastic animals.
The bell tower was added later. A similar stone was used for this purpose. The tower has an ornate lantern and a dome with Moorish motifs.
The visitor’s entrance to the church is off a small courtyard surrounded by residential houses and looks rather inconspicuous. When we arrived, everything seemed locked and luckily I tried to open the door anyway. I was very impressed by what was waiting for us behind it.
History of the Cathedral of San Sabino
Today’s Bari Cathedral was built from the late 12th century onwards on the remains of a Byzantine imperial cathedral. The archbishop of the time, Rainaldo, had materials from the previous church and other destroyed buildings used in the construction. The new cathedral was consecrated in October 1292.
In the 18th century, a major remodelling began, commissioned by the then Archbishop Muzio Gaeta. Not only the exterior façade was changed, but also the nave and the aisles. Even the crypt and the trulla (ancient baptismal font) were redesigned in the Baroque style.
In the following decades, construction continued diligently, demolishing, extending and rebuilding. It was not until the 1950s that the interior of the church was restored to its original Romanesque appearance.
Tour through the church
The interior of the church is divided into three naves. These are separated from each other by columns and arcades. The interior is very high and amazes with a mock gallery construction.
The altar area with the bishop’s chair and the altar structure was partially reconstructed with original elements. I particularly liked the “little roof” above the altar.
I also find the coat of arms embedded in the floor in front of the altar very exciting. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any information about it, but I would be very interested in the story behind it.
If you look a little closer in the nave, you will discover the remains of frescoes that indicate the former design of the interior and suggest how magnificent the design once was.
A staircase leads to the crypt of the church. The light is slightly dim and the air a little damp and musty, but you soon get used to it.
In contrast to the nave, the design of the crypt is much more magnificent. The ceiling design alone is really worth seeing. The combination of colour tones fits very well.
Here, relics of Saint Sabinus are kept in a large beautiful altar. These were saved from destruction by Saint Angelarius in 844 and thus reached Bari. Two other coffins contain various relics, for example of St. Columbus.
The walls in the crypt are partly decorated with medieval frescoes, which are amazingly well preserved.
Archaeological excavations under the Cathedral of San Sabino
If you go down the stairs to the crypt, you will also find the entrance to the excavation site under the cathedral. Here you have to pay an extra entrance fee and are then allowed to enter the surprisingly large area. The opening hours of the excavation site differ from those of the church.
It is very nice that there are several panels with explanations. Here you can read everything about the construction and the excavations in English and Italian.
There are traces of an ancient church building from before the first millennium. You can see the apse and also the three-nave structure quite well in the ruins. The orientation of the ancient church deviates somewhat from the orientation of the church today. This can be seen very well in the remains of a Roman road that have been found.
Some mosaic pavements are very well preserved. It is said that the name of Bishop Andrea (758 – 761) was even found in this paving, which makes it possible to date the old church.
If you look a little closer in some places, you will discover other mosaics, often only barely visible. As here in our picture, there was certainly no floor there, so it must be some other decoration. Just like the remains of the frescoes that are visible on the walls.
It is also exciting that grave sites were also found under the church, which can be seen today – without a corpse, of course
70122 Bari BA,