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San Paolo Maggiore

With a Masterpiece by Alessandro Algardi

San Paolo interior

Built in 1606-22 for the fashionable Counterreformation Order of the Barnabites (Clerics Regular of St Paul) the church of San Paolo Maggiore is the work of one of Bologna’s leading Baroque architects, Giovanni Ambrogio Mazenta (himself a Barnabite priest), who also designed the Duomo and San Salvatore. Ercole Fichi added the facade in the 1630s.

The interior has lavishly painted vaults (Scenes of St Paul in the Aeropagus in Athens) by brothers Antonio and Giuseppe Rolli, but what draws the eye is the high altar's sober and eloquent Decapitation of St Paul, a masterpiece of Alessandro Algardi, commissioned by the Barnabites for this spot. Algardi has frozen the action in time, creating a breathless, tension-filled void between the two figures in a spiralling composition, contrasting the cruel muscular executioner preparing to strike and the kneeling, resigned saint, his eyes closed in a final prayer.

Algardi also contributed the medallions on the altar.

Algardi's Decapitation of St Paul

Among the side chapels are paintings by Ludovico Carracci (Paradise, one of his best works), Giacomo Cavedoni, Guercino and Crespi.

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Via Carbonesi 18

Hours Mon–Sat 8–11.30am and 4–6.30pm, Sun and hols 8.30am–1pm and 4.30–7pm

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+39 051 331490

Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: Stefano Pasini, PD Art