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Architecture - Religious architecture   


Collegiata di Santa Cristina

Due to the complexity and the overlap of styles this church is the most remarkable architectural building in the upper Latium. It is also considered the most important church in Bolsena because of the miracle which originated the Corpus Domini.

Altare del miracolo (Arch. Fot. Provincia di Viterbo)

Altare del miracolo
(Arch. Fot. Provincia di Viterbo)

Located in the historic centre of Bolsena, a small and attractive suggestive village spreading along the homonymous lake, about 32 km from Viterbo.

The early old Christian church, was built on the ruins of a pagan temple but the history of the Sanctuary is characterized by two events: the Martyrdom of Santa Cristina, from which its origin comes, and the Miracle of the Eucharist, which establishes its popularity.

In the fourth century, at the time of the Emperor Diocletian, the young Cristina was thrown into Lake Bolsena for the will of her father, disappointed because she decided to join the Christian religion. But the stone, instead of taking her in too deep, sustained and brought her to the shore, leaving her footsteps engraved on it. That same stone was then used as an altar for the Holy Temple in honour of Santa Cristina.
The church was already built at the end of the fourth century, but it was the miracle happened in 1263 that made the sanctuary relevant: a priest in Prague, in penitential pilgrimage to the doubts that afflicted him on the truth of transubstantiation, while celebrating the Mass on 'Sacred Altar of S. Cristina, saw blood flowing from the host and wet the marble floor. The priest, stopped the ceremony and went by Pope Urban IV, who recognized the miracle and established the feast of Corpus Domini.

According to tradition, the reconstruction of the building was due to the devotion Pope Gregory VII has for Santa Cristina. He consecrated the church in 1078. It is a structure formed by three different nucleus developing over the centuries around the former catacomb area grown around the tomb of St. Cristina: the Basilica, the New Chapel of the Miracle, the Grotta di Santa Cristina and the Catacomb.

The Basilica has an elegant tripartite façade with richly decorated pilaster strips. It was built in 1492-94 by Benedetto and Francesco Buglione. The interior, with Latin cross plant, has a nave and two aisles all in Romanesque style; they are divided by simple rounded columns, a trussed roof, and three square apses covered by cross vaults. The altar was built with marble fragments of the 10th century, there is also a polyptych, realised by Sano di Pietro, in the first half of the. Fifteenth century. At the beginning of the left aisle is the bell tower of the thirteenth century, consisting of three floors of mullioned window with two lights. In the right aisle through a marble portal of the eleventh century visitors may enter the New Chapel of the Miracle even named “of the Sacred Stones”, built in 1693, designed by Tommaso Mattei, to preserve the relics of the Eucharistic Miracle of 1263. The façade was completed in 1863 by Virginio Vespignani while the interior retains a valuable painting depicting the Miracle of Communion cloth realised by Francesco Trevisani. Under the altar, in a golden reliquary, visitors may admire three of the four stones stained by the prodigious blood emanated from the host in 1263; the fourth stone is on display under the big dome in a precious reliquary.

From here we pass in the “Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament”, with frescoes of the fifteenth and sixteenth century and an altar table with a relief of the sixteenth century representing the martyrdom of Santa Cristina. Visitors may then reach the suggestive “Grotta di Santa Cristina”, with a large vestibule, the Chapel of the Body of Christ, and a hypogeous small Basilica.

Excavated into the rock, this small Basilica, was once dedicated to Apollo and is the oldest part of the complex of the Basilica. The plaque found beside the tomb of the saint dating back to the fourth century D.C. certified its existence. Surrounded by an elegant balustrade dating back to the sixteenth century, work of Michelangelo's school, there is the altar of the miracle, a precious handmade work of the eighth century on which, according to tradition, the Eucharistic miracle took place. It is covered by a ciborium, with four marble arches with geometric relieves. The structure rests on four ancient fluted Corinthian columns, in marble. On the altar is the basalt stone that according to tradition, was hanging on Cristina’s neck when she was thrown into the lake. It still has her footprints. To date, the hypogeum is the extension of a primitive medieval ad corpus memory to the tomb of the martyr. It is the primary worship place in the basilica which houses the tomb of the martyr, a sarcophagus dating back to the fourth century. The Catacombs, dating back to the fourth and fifth century AD, are composed of a corridor from which other two secondary ones start, facing each other. The walls are entirely paved with niches, carved in stone and closed by large blocks set with mortar. Some of these tombs have retained their closure, with the engraved epitaph in the form of graffiti or painted; as representations visitors find almost exclusively symbols.

For a visit
From October to Easter: 7.15 a.m – 12.30 - -3.00 p.m – 5.30 p.m From Easter to September 7.15 a.m - 12.45 - -3,30 p.m.– 7,45 p.m Catacombs Adults euro 4 children euro 2: from October to Easter 9.30 a.m-11,30 a.m - - 3 p.m - 4.30 pm; from Easter to September 9.30 a.m 12;--3.30 p.m-6.30 p.m

The miracle of Bolsena is well represented in a fresco by Raffaello inside the rooms of the Vatican museums. In this fresco the Pope Giulio II attends the Mass in Bolsena.

Basilica Santa Cristina
Piazza Santa Cristina - 01023 Bolsena VT
Telefono: +39 0761 799 067 - Fax: +39 0761 799 067


Testi: C. Chiovelli - Traduzione: L. Adami


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