Carlo F. Dotti, Basilica of St. Luca (sec XVIII)

The first information on this famous sanctuary draws upon popular tradition. It is said that clergymen at the temple of S. Sofia in Constantinople gave an image of the Madonna, painted by the hand of S. Luke, to a devout pilgrim who would take the image to the Guardia Hill.

Picture of the Madonna di St. Luca

The effigy was delivered to a group of nuns who were living in repentance on the hillside, and it was one of those nuns who undertook having a small church built for the faithful who went to worship the icon. On September 23rd 1193, Pope Celestine III sent a blessed stone from Rome that would be the first to be placed in the foundation of the building on May 15th 1194.

Picture of the Madonna di St. Luca

Veneration of the sacred icon continued for two centuries, through stormy times of war, strife and political upheaval that involved the most important families in the city. In 1433 however, an unexpected event gave the Madonna di S. Luca a place in the city's history.
According to reports from that time, continuous rain threatened to ruin harvests, thus posing the risk of a long famine that had in part already begun due to recent warring.
Bishop Nicola Albergati and the Elders' Council proposed to take the icon down into the city as a sign of prayer to the Virgin so she would make the rain stop. Miraculously, the prayer was answered, and ever since then, as a sign of gratitude, the Madonna is brought down the hill into the city once a year, in the days preceding the Ascension.

Basilica of St. Luca (XIX cent. engraving)

Map of the Basilica of St. Luca

During the eighteenth century the sanctuary was entirely rebuilt based on designs by Francesco Dotti and his son Gian Giacomo. The project included enlargement around the main chapel. The facade was completed in 1775, while the interior underwent further changes over time. On one side the building is linked to a long portico coming from the city.
Externally the church has a massive elliptical shape and a cupola with a circular drum. Six lateral chapels are included in the elongated Greek cross ground-plan, each of which illustrates a religious episode. In the chapels to the right we can see “The Miracle of S. Pio V” by Giovanni Viani, “The coronation of the Virgin” by Donato Creti, and “The Virgin appears to S. Dominick” by Guido Reni. In those to the left we can see “The Assumption of the Virgin” by Francesco Pavona, “The Virgin with the Patron Saints of Bologna” by Donato Creti, and “The Crucifixion” by Angelo Piò.
The presbytery has a half-calotte covering and was decorated between 1755 and 1764 by Vittorio Bigari. The altar is by Angelo Venturoli, and the silver statues representing Faith, Hope and Charity are by Giovanni Gambari. The “Virgin with child” surrounded by angels while S. Luca paints her portrait is seen in the concha. Two small staircases lead from the presbytery to a niche where the sacred icon is kept. Legend aside, the image is a twelfth century oil and tempera painting on linen applied to wood, where the background and the halos of the Madonna and of the Child are in relief.

Dome of the Basilica

The dome, which rests on four large pillars, includes three fluted columns and was frescoed between 1919 and 1932 by Florence native Cassioli.