Central nave

The great high central nave invites the visitor to turn their attention to the mystery of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Depicted in the apse, Mary was brought to heaven by angels, which physically and spiritually dominates the Cathedral, so as to invite visitors to look up to discover the eternal destiny to which all humanity is called: communion with God in Heaven, accompanied by Mary, who has gone before us and awaits us in the fullness of her person, both physical and spiritual.

The Apse semi-dome: the Assumption

The mystery of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, body and soul, is the culmination of the Virgin’s glory but also the anticipation of that glorious destiny that awaits every person who is united to Jesus Christ. To arrive at this triumph of life and eternal happiness, a path must be followed. Even Mary has completed her journey of faith; a process that is depicted in the frescoes of the central nave ceiling.

The ceiling

The high Volutes of the nave arches invite one to look at the ceiling, where the highlights of the Virgin Mary’s earthly life are painted. It is a path of pictorial catechesis that brings the visitor to meet the mystery of the Assumption of Mary. An invitation to look up, because higher-up is the destiny of Man close to God. The themes represented in the frescoes on the ceiling are partially inspired by the Sacred Scripture and partially by the apocryphal tradition.

Nativity of Mary

The source that firstly tells the event is the so-called Gospel of James, according to which Mary was born in Jerusalem in the house of Joachim and Anna. The birth of Mary throws a subtle and penetrating ray of light in the history of humanity; a beam that will expand up to illuminate the universe. Through her, conceived without original sin, God’s original plan returns on the scene of the world: the creation of mankind in His image and likeness, without any trace of sin, in perfect communion with his Creator. Mary fully expresses the mystery of human life conceived, loved, wanted by God for a life and a destiny of beauty and perfect eternal happiness, which for Mary culminates in her Assumption into Heaven in body and soul. Mary’s birth marks the beginning of the redemption through the Incarnation of the Word of God; a mystery in which Mary is associated since its conception.

Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple

The representation is currently on a wall inside the Chapel of St. Sixtus.
On the left of the composition, a steep rocky path covered by slight horizontal lines, leads to the entrance of the Temple, near which Zechariah stands in place to welcome the Virgin; behind the priest, three other male figures protrude from inside the building. Mary is depicted with the features of a young girl.
On the other side, the space is delimited by the ruins of classical architecture (symbolic allusion to the passage from the Old to the New Testament or the end of the pagan era), before it the family group of the Virgin that assists the event is assembled: the elderly Joachim and Anna and two other women, barely visible behind them.
On the background, the rocky path continues towards a hill and on top of it are the ruins of another imaginative building standing out against a sky crossed by small clouds: in the middle of the path there is a small twisted tree; its roughness and its crown are described in detail.
In the foreground, under the path to the temple, there is a sarcophagus from which rises a male figure, characterized by the tonsure: he is represented in the act of pronounce the following words engraved in capital letters on the scroll coming out of his mouth: HINC METU TU PIENTISS(IMA) MATER.
The presence of these particular symbolic elements, evoking the theme of the resurrection from death, together with the text of the inscription, emphasize the value of consecration of the Virgin in her role of link to the Incarnation of Christ.
The representation, which probably belonged to an altar, is identifiable with one reported by Ratti and Bertolotti among the artworks from the ancient Cathedral; it is located, in the new Cathedral, in the chapel at the right end of the transept, the one dedicated to the Holy Cross and called Chapel of “the Souls in Purgatory” or “dead”, where the Torteroli saw it and described it.
The exquisite sculpture was seen instead in the current location by the anonymous author of a manuscript dated before 1867, which claims its origin from the ancient Cathedral.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

Presentation of Mary

The scene of the presentation of Mary at the Temple, as we know, is not narrated in any of the sacred texts, and is offered with abundant details from the apocryphal (especially the Gospel of James), i.e. from those very ancient writings and for many aspects similar to the books of the Bible, even though, the Church has always refused to consider it inspired by God and therefore a sacred Scripture. The “Presentation at the Temple” that the Gospel of St. Luke tells us is that of Jesus; a ritual gesture that the Law of Moses prescribed for all firstborn male children of Israel. The theme of “Presentation of Mary” has nothing to do with this gesture but it means, according to the apocryphal tradition, the total consecration of Mary to the will of God from the beginning of her life.

Madonna and Child with Saints

The marble altarpiece, on the western wall of the “Old Sacristy”, is the evident result of a new composition. The whole piece presents a cornice divided in three parts and decorated with modules and bears, at the centre of the main module and the side modules, three niches topped by a crowning valve of seashell, each one of it containing a figure carved almost in the round: the central one in higher position, the Madonna and Child are depicted, in the right one St. Peter, and on the other side St. Paul. Around the niche with the Virgin four panes are placed, each one contains a representation depicting an evangelist sat at his desk and identified by its own symbol: clockwise from the top, St. John, St. Luke, St. Matthew and St. Mark.
The frames containing the Saints, John and Matthew are decorated laterally with pillars with light pattern leaves and marble, is characterized by pink shades.
Four other niches, arranged at the corners of the central compartment, are delimited by arches and crowned by an elegant apex composed of a vase from which botanical motifs and dolphins couples originate laterally; inside the niches, the representation of the four Doctors of the Church are visible, depicted frontally and on thrones: Saints Gregory and Jerome down, Ambrose and Augustine on top.
What complete the lateral compartments are four panels, each one presents a saint depicted half bust, behind a sort of parapet decorated with a pattern of short vertical lines: the figures in the two bottom panels (two Holy Apostles?) hold a book, the left one is holding an object now lost, the other has a cross (Andrew?). The top left figure can be identified with St. Stephen for the presence of the tiny stones placed on the head and shoulders, whilst the other young martyr in the upper right, presumably St. Lorenz, part of the palm tree and the object on which he rested his right hand, has been lost.
The altarpiece is now completed by an entablature surmounted by two figures in the round of little angels (“putti”), surmounted by a separate representation depicting the Eternal Father within a “Mandorla” decorated with angels’ “Protomes”.
The restoration carried out in 1998 by the Superintendence for the Artistic and Historical Heritage of Liguria (project manager L. Lodi) has unearthed many traces of original polychrome and gold – plating, which was hidden under a brown cover spread in order to give uniformity to the various marbles.


AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

Marriage of Joseph and Mary

The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that Mary was “betrothed to a man of the house of David, named Joseph.” The painting of the wedding of Mary therefore is based on this biblical quote and, in the freedom of expression that belongs to painting and art in general, the author offers us a solemn way to look at this meeting of the generous and faithful love Mary shares with Joseph, consecrated in the dignity of marriage. On the base of an authentic human love, chosen and lived with fidelity, the mystery of divine life and salvation that God offers to humanity is introduced.

Wooden Choir

The wooden choir of the ancient Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption on the Priamar was commissioned by the Massari of the church the 30th of January, 1500 to two master carvers Anselmo de’ Fornari from Castelnuovo Scrivia (1470 – Genoa until 1521) and Elia de’ Rocchi from Pavia (? – in Genoa until 1523).
Cardinal Giuliano Della Rovere, future Pope Julius II, and bishop of Savona at that time (he held the Diocese from April 1499 to January 1502 and again from August 1503, to the subsequent October, when he was elected Pope), was present at the commissioning.
It is likely that the real promoter of the project was indeed Della Rovere, who financed the project for the same amount of money provided by the Municipality of Savona, for a total expenditure of 1,132 golden ducats.
The historic moment was particularly favourable to the city of Savona.
He could therefore proceed with particular ambition in his role of artistic patron of the city and in particular of the Cathedral on Priamar, the decorations and interior furnishings of which were completed in those years.
With the construction of the wooden choir, Della Rovere faces the most challenging, time consuming and expensive work for the improvement of St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral.
By contract, the work should have ended within four years, but the pope died in 1513, without being able to see it completed.
The act for the commission of the work established that the choir of Savona included 38 stalls, 19 on each one of the two sides and it reproduced in the choice of wood, size, workmanship and aesthetics, that one of the Certosa of Pavia, including the inlaid figures in the reredos with their iconographic attributes.
The Savona choir is a double order (for canons and for chaplains), while the one of Pavia is a single order (for Carthusian monks) but the similarities planed in the document that commissioned the work have been, in principle, respected.
The original configuration of Savona artefact is now lost due to the cathedral on Priamar being demolished in 1543.

Here it was adapted to the semi-circular apse, reversed compared to the previous configuration and assumed the new inverted U-shape that has remained unaltered.
In the new adaptation, two stalls have been sacrificed: the first order now has 37 stalls instead of 38, the second 21 instead of 22.
In the centre there is a larger and higher stall, perhaps the old bishop’s chair, the back of which is decorated with a marquetry with the Redeemer.
On both of its sides, branch off the two wings, 18 stalls each. The reredos of the stalls reproduce, according to a symmetrical correspondence left-right, the Madonna with Sixtus IV (right) and the Madonna and Julius II (left), then the apostles, Evangelists, Martyrs Saints, Doctors of the Church, monks Saints and Saints Martyrs.

Even the lectern, with the underlying counter with small doors, is part of the original complex of the choir, while the bishop’s throne was certainly built in the early seventeenth century, when the choir was placed in the new cathedral of Holy Mary Assumed, using as a back, an existing reredos with Mary Magdalene.

The presence of Anselmo de Fornari signature, in two inlay works at end of the choir, allows thinking that he was the main author of the artwork.
At that time, the master had to be a little more than twenty-five years old.
He was obviously joined by other employees.

AA.VV., cura di Giovanna Rotondi Terminiello, “UN’ISOLA DI DEVOZIONE A SAVONA, il complesso monumentale della cattedrale dell’Assunta”, Marco Sabatelli Editore, Savona, 2002.

“Dormitio Mariae”

Almost for a sense of respect and reverence for Mary, the Latin expression “Dormitio” is used instead of the term death to indicate the end of his earthly life. It is preferred to speak about “falling asleep” or “Dormitio”, because the faith professed in the Catholic Church teaches that Mary, left this earthly world, was taken up into heaven in the completeness of her person, physically and spiritually without knowing the humiliation of the body corruption after death.
The Apostolic Constitution “Munificentissimus Deus” by Pope Pius XII, (1st November 1950) irrevocably proclaims the dogma of the assumption without specifying whether Mary is dead or not. So the Pope writes: “The Immaculate Mother of God ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was brought, body and soul, into heavenly glory.”
The document does not support weather she died or not, but merely states: “finished the course of her earthly life” in whatever way this has happened, with or without death.
It should be stressed that in the Apostolic Constitution itself, Pope Pius XII always makes reference to Mary’s death as a universal belief of the faithful, the liturgy, the Fathers of the Church, the theologians and the Catholic iconography.
To Mary, Mother of the Son of God, a special privilege was reserved, which announces that the destiny of man has always been conceived by God as a destiny of life, where death, with its suffering characters and of humiliation, has no place.
This painting is over the presbytery and it is the next image after the Assumption painted in the apse: as if to say that Mary falls asleep to climb the glory of heaven with the angels that solemnly accompany her.