Gemona Cathedral

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, consecrated to Our Lady of the Assumption, is a jewel of Friulian Gothic architecture and an ideal example of reconstruction after the earthquake.

  1. The façade of Gemona Cathedral: the rose window, the gallery of the Epiphany, Saint Christopher and the Romanesque door.
  2. The bell tower of Gemona Cathedral and Dante's Bell
  3. The interior of Gemona Cathedral: itinerary among artworks. From the baptismal font to the wooden crucifix, the paintings and sculptures.
  4. The interior of Gemona Cathedral: in discovery of the crypt with its frescoes, sacellum, ossuary and ruins of the ancient tower
  5. The Lapidarium of Gemona Cathedral
  6. “The Cathedral of Gemona” video produced by Laboratorio Internazionale della Comunicazione

In the historic centre of Gemona, up against the cliffs of Mount Glemine, stands the  Cathedral, one of the most important churches in the region: a true jewel set between the open sky and the harsh mountain slopes. The true heart of the proud community of Gemona, which built the cathedral to reflect its social and political importance in the Patriarchate of Aquileia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the sacred building was included in the defensive system of the oldest circle of walls, and the base of a mighty tower may have been incorporated into its foundations.

View of Gemona Cathedral from the air

The older church that once stood on the spot is first referred to in a document dated 1190, but its presence before that date is testified in artworks dating back to the arrival of Christianity in the area in the late fourth century as well as the early Middle Ages. At the end of the thirteenth century it was renovated by architect and sculptor Johannes, then completed in the third or fourth decade of the fourteenth century by Giovanni Griglio. The church was consecrated again on Pentecost in 1337.

The Cathedral and bell tower rise again “where and what they were” after the earthquake.

Severely damaged by the 1976 earthquake, which caused major lesions to the façade and totally destroyed the right nave and the apse, Gemona Cathedral was saved by bold structural consolidation work, reconstruction of the collapsed parts and restoration by the Superintendency of Friuli Venezia Giulia, as shown in the illustrations in the weekday chapel.

The church’s solemn, evocative interior still preserves its memory of the extraordinary violence of the quake in the angle of the heavy columns that replaced the earlier colonnade in the mid-fifteenth century. 

View of one side of the interior of Gemona Cathedral

The façade – evocatively framed at the entrance of the churchyard by tall pyramids rising behind two  atlantes – is striking for the wealth of its sculptures and decorative elements and the beauty of its  three rose windows. 


The splendid  great rose window (1334-1336) is the work of  master Buzeta, who produced an admirable “non-stop game” of arches and columns chasing one upon the other with grace and intertwining with the docility of reeds: a marvellous embroidery of stone, a bold, refined construction unmatched anywhere else. The people of Gemona say it is the world’s most beautiful rose window!

The great rose window of Gemona Cathedral


Underneath the great rose window, flanked by the smaller rose windows, is an original gallery of the Epiphany telling, in two scenes, the story of the arrival of the Three Kings with their entourage bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus, held by his Mother and watched over by Joseph, and the sleeping kings to whom the angel appears in a dream, telling them not to go see Herod again.

The complete Epiphany of Giovanni Griglio (1329)

Among the other sculptures on the façade, it is worth noting, below the Gallery of the Epiphany, a frieze with busts of the  Apostles – at one time a part, along with the atlantes in the forecourt, of the iconostasis of the presbytery by Johannes (1293) – and the thirteenth-century  Christ as teacher in a niche flanked by two fifteenth-century relief carvings (Judgement of the soul and Saint Catherine)


But what most strikes the visitor is the colossal statue of Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers, by Giovanni Griglio (1331-32), fully seven metres tall and made of six blocks of sandstone: the bold, elegant figure of the massive saint, holding the Baby Jesus as he strides fearlessly through frothing waves abounding in sea creatures.

Close-up of the face of the statue of Saint Christopher in Gemona Cathedral
Close-up of the face of the statue of Saint Christopher in Gemona Cathedral
Close-up of the foot of the statue of Saint Christopher in Gemona Cathedral
Close-up of the foot of the statue of Saint Christopher in Gemona Cathedral
Close-up of the hand of the statue of Saint Christopher in Gemona Cathedral
Close-up of the hand of the statue of Saint Christopher in Gemona Cathedral
View of the statue of Saint Christopher from Via Bini
View of the statue of Saint Christopher from Via Bini


Romanesque door of Gemona Cathedral

Before entering the sacred building, stop to admire the late twelfth century - early thirteenth century Romanesque door, reused in the late thirteenth century reconstruction by  master Johannes, celebrating the  Universal Judgement in the lunette.  Christ, sitting in the throne surrounded by the symbols of His passion, is addressed by the  Virgin and Saint John the Baptist, imploring Him for mercy for the souls awaiting final judgement in their tombs. The beautiful relief carving still bears clear traces of the colours that once brightened up all the sculptures on the façade.

The bell tower of Gemona Cathedral and Dante's Bell

The bell tower of Gemona Cathedral

On the northern side of the cathedral forecourt is the bell tower, rising 50 metres to the tip of its terracotta spire. Its construction was interrupted due to damage caused by a major earthquake in 1348, and was completed in 1369. It was completely destroyed by another earthquake just over six centuries later. The tower was rebuilt “stone upon stone” to restore the elegant harmony of the original tower in the new structure. 


During the Great War, after the Battle of Caporetto, the four ancient bells in the bell tower were cast down from the belfry and confiscated by the imperial armies. One of these did not break upon falling, and it was returned in March 1918 and placed in its current position.

Dante's Bell

This is the bell forged in the cathedral forecourt in 1423, bearing, in the second strip around its collar, the first three lines of the last canto of the Divine Comedy, opening with the splendid line “Virgin mother, daughter of your Son”.  A little over a century after the death of Dante, someone in Gemona, this remote town in Friuli, was familiar with the poet’s work!

The interior of Gemona Cathedral: itinerary among artworks. From the baptismal font to the wooden crucifix, the paintings and sculptures.

Baptismal font – photo by Fabio Valerio

Numerous works of art adorn the nave and side chapels of the Cathedral. The oldest of them, probably already present and in use in the earlier church in Gemona, is a baptismal font made from an ancient Roman monument dating back to the first or second century of the Christian era, preserving a relief carving of a winged genius riding a dolphin. The font was decorated with two baptismal scenes and a copy of the Roman relief in the eleventh to twelfth century.


1 – Wooden crucifix of the earthquake – photo by Fabio Valerio

The sculptures include a fifteenth-century wooden crucifix1 damaged in the collapse and now kept as a relic in a case recalling the victims of the 1976 earthquake in Gemona (architect Sandro Pittini); a painted and gilded wooden altarpiece by Venetian artist Andrea Moranzone (1391), illustrating episodes of the Old and New Testaments, damaged by loss and fire; a touching early fifteenth-century Pietà of the Salzburg school; the door frames of the second chapel on the right bearing the symbols of the four evangelists and plant motifs, formerly part of a tabernacle in the presbytery built by Johannes (1293), which also housed the damaged intense  crucifix in the weekday chapel. 


Paintings dating from the 16th to 20th centuries, by Friulian, Italian and international artists -including Giovanbattista Grassi, Eugenio Pini, Melchiorre Widmar, Franz Xaver König and Eugenio Cisterna – adorn the nave and side chapels, along with  fragments of frescoes painted between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries, which were uncovered when the earthquake shook loose some of the plaster that covered them. 

Damaged praying figure with saint – photo by Fabio Valerio


Near the side door, which opens below a star-shaped rose window in the wall on the building’s right side, is an archway illustrating the Redeemer among the symbols of the Evangelists (Johannes, 1290). Until 1825 the Redeemer was on the church façade, moved following the general reorganisation of the façade which altered its harmonious blend of architecture and sculpture.

The modern stained glass windows are by German artist Jakob Schwarzkopf (1996-2001).  

The interior of Gemona Cathedral: in discovery of the crypt with its frescoes, sacellum, ossuary and ruins of the ancient tower

The crypt of Gemona Cathedral, accessible via the staircase on the right side of the cathedral forecourt, stretches below the sacristy, where it splits into two different itineraries organised to plans by architect Alberto Antonelli.


The first itinerary begins at a small foyer leading to the ancient  Sacellum of Saint Michael and Saint John the Baptist, the walls and ceiling of which are covered with frescoes attributed to Gemona painter Nicolò di Marcuccio (1330s), representing the most important surviving  fourteenth-century paintings in Gemona.

Frescoes in the Sacellum of Saint Michael and Saint John the Baptist

All the decorations are in line with the Sacellum’s function as a funeral chamber for bodies awaiting burial: they represent the judgement of a soul, with  Saint Michael weighing the person’s works on a scale while wielding his lance to ward off the devil, who wants to see the soul damned; redemption guaranteed by the sacrifice of  Christ on the cross; transit under the protection of a  giant Saint Christopher; the intercession of the  Saints (of which only a few fragments remain);  Saint Peter waiting at the gates of paradise; and participation in eternal glory between Christ and the Evangelists.


Ossuary of Gemona installation

The foyer also leads to the vast space of the ancient  Ossuary (with two late fifteenth-century frescoes: a Crucifixion and a damaged  Bishop with worshipper), in a tower whose outer walls sink down for another 4 metres or more, down to almost 8 metres below the level of the cathedral forecourt. This space has been completely emptied out by volunteers from the local cultural association “Valentino Ostermann”, who, with the appropriate authorisation, extracted and sieved through more than 160 cubic metres of material, including plenty of human bones that had been buried here en masse2.

2 – Stack of bones in the Ossuary – photo by Fabio Valerio

In addition to the bones, the volunteers found a variety of objects (devotional medals, parts of rosaries, wedding rings, necklaces and pins, pieces of ceramic and coins) dating from the thirteenth to eighteenth century, now on display in a room that may be accessed just outside the cathedral forecourt, on the ground floor of the Pieve Museum, where there is also an account of the results of the anthropological study of the bones conducted by the  Osteology-Human Anatomy Laboratory of Udine University. 

The floor eliminated during the excavations has been replaced with a new structure, below which, in the lower part of the space, is a “sarcophagus” containing numerous human bones in an orderly arrangement.

The excavations performed by the volunteers from the Ostermann Association made it possible to identify the construction techniques used to store the bones: a  square structure measuring 9 metres per side, with walls almost a metre and a half thick, which may have been constructed at the same time as the earliest Christian church in Gemona, or may even have been part of an ancient defensive construction that has been completed buried with earth and forgotten.

The Lapidarium of Gemona Cathedral

Lapidarium - Gemona Cathedral

The second itinerary leads to the Lapidarium, an impressive exhibition space containing worked stones and sculptures saved from the destruction of 1976 or found among the infill following the collapse of the Cathedral walls.

The manufactures identified include parts of balustrades; keystones carved in relief; fragments of the wings of the angels above the Cathedral façade, which had been replaced with copper wings; parts of gilded figures; an inscription from the stories of Saint Christopher painted on the façade by  Nicolò di Marcuccio in 1331; and a finely crafted Renaissance archway.
There is also a pine cone-shaped Roman gable, which may come from a monument from the days of the Roman Empire.

A staircase from the exhibition hall leads to the upper level, where a fresco has been found in a niche illustrating  Christ crucified between the Virgin and the apostle John3, assegnabile al Seicento locale.

3 – Christ crucified between the Virgin and the apostle John

Thanks to Gabriele Marini and  Mauro Vale for their assistance

“The Cathedral of Gemona” video produced by Laboratorio Internazionale della Comunicazione

Let us be guided by the words of architect Gianpaolo Della Marina, who offers us the benefit of his expertise on a virtual tour.

Directed by Giulio Gattuso
Words and narration – Architect Gianpaolo Della Marina
+39 0432 980608

08.00 – 12.00 /14.30 – 18.00
08.00 – 12.00 / 14.30 – 20.00




The forecourt is accessible via wheelchair ramp | There are no differences in level in the area in front of and behind the entrance door | Accessible for the hearing-impaired and for persons with motorial and mental disabilities | Not accessible for the visually impaired

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