The Church of St. Jerome and the Certosa Cemetery are located in an area where an ancient (5th century BC) necropolis of Felsina (Bologna) was situated, the remains of which were discovered during 19th century archaeological digs. The Church of St. Jerome is accessed from the east side of the cemetery entrance courtyard. The current layout, in inverted T form, is the result of 16th century extensions that added to the original 14th century church a two-aisle transept developed on the facade side, therefore placed in reverse with respect to the norm. The nave, formed of two aisles and square apses, is covered in ribbed vaults and separated by sharp arches embellished with 15th century decorations. The 16th century chapels of St. Bruno and St. Jerome are in the transept to the right and left. The construction of three chapels placed along the north side, outside the church, probably dates back to the first half of the 15th century: the Chapel of St. Anthony the Abbot and later of St. Joseph, the Chapel of St. Bernardine or Our Lady of the Annunciation, and the Chapel of the Relics. They form a single body with the building, with shared exterior details and the same type of covering. A fourth chapel used as a sacristy was added after the inauguration of the church. The medieval facade, in bare brickwork and next to the small 14th century bell tower, is crowned with a pattern of terracotta trefoil arches on hanging columns; large round windows replace the original single windows. This is partially hidden by the loggia circumscribing the entrance courtyard. This was extended in 1768 with the monumental entrance of five Tuscan arches, the work of architect Gian Giacomo Dotti and the last major architectural work to be carried out. Also from the 18th century are the twenty-three arches of the west portico (interrupted before the church entrance) and the first thirteen arches of the east portico, while the rest of the loggia is what remains of the 15th century cloister. The large bell tower of the church was built by architect Tommaso Martelli in 1611 for the Carthusian fathers to supplement the small 14th century bell tower which no longer sufficed. Around fifty metres high with a square base and exposed brickwork curtain wall, the bell tower is divided into four levels separated by string courses. On the lower level, with wide corner pilasters, are rectangular windows on two sides; on the other three floors are large round blind arches with twin Doric, Ionic and composite pilasters on the first and second floors, while on the third are mullioned windows of 15th century tradition with freestone columns and circular oculi in the tympani. The tower is crowned with a composite cornice surmounted by a balustrade and pairs of pinnacles at the level of the pilasters, on which the pyramid of the spire is set.
The Church of St. Jerome in Certosa
The Church of St. Jerome was founded in the early 14th century by Giovanni d’Andrea, a prominent figure in Bolognese Guelph culture and canon law counsellor of Pope John XXII, who made great efforts to increase the prevalence of the Carthusian Order in Italy. On 17 April 1334 the first stone of the new building was solemnly laid, with its consecration by bishop Giovanni Nasio on 2 June 1359. Little remains of the ancient medieval decoration, although we know from the Monumenta Cronologica manuscript that the greater chapel, very probably completed shortly after the mid 14th century, must have contained a table as an ornament of the high altar, and rich furnishings.
The sumptuous polyptych by Antonio and Bartolomeo Vivarini did survive, however. Now at the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, it was intended to decorate the high altar replacing the medieval one desired by Pope Nicolò V in 1450 to honour the memory of the Blessed Nicolò Albergati, prior of the Carthusian monastery from 1407 to 1417. The precious wooden choir rebuilt by Biagio de Marchi dates to 1538. In all probability, de Marchi used the cartoons of the refined inlays which decorated the choir stalls from 1488, the work of Melchiorre Provenzale, destroyed in 1527 during the sacking of Certosa by the Lanzichenecchi of Carlo V. In the late 16th century, Gio. Battista Capponi, who directed the monastery from 1588 to 1613, in line with the dictates of the vast liturgical reform movement promoted by the Council of Trent, implemented a broad renovation programme for the interior decoration which involved the apsidal area and the newly-built chapels of St. Jerome and St. John the Baptist, on the right and left of the entrance. At the heart of this decorative renovation was the work by Bartolomeo Cesi, whom Capponi called in the early eighties to decorate the new guest quarters, from which survives in situ to this day one single fresco depicting the Madonna and child, St. John, St. Jerome and St. Bruno. The decoration of the greater Chapel probably dates from the last decade of the 1500s. For the latter, the painter created the three altarpieces devoted to the Passion of Christ: Crucifixion, Deposition (right side), Agony in the Garden (left side) and the fresco decoration of the apsidal area with biblical stories prefiguring the advent of Christ and depictions of the Carthusians. Dating from the late 16th to early 17th century is also the work of two other “very excellent painters”, Agostino and Ludovico Carracci. Agostino was the author of the Communion of St. Jerome, which soon became a paradigmatic work of Classicist reform (taken to France at the time of the Napoleonic suppression, it is now in the Pinacoteca di Bologna). On the altar of St. Jerome was placed a copy of Agostino’s painting, made during the 19th century by Clemente Alberi. Ludovico Carracci created the altarpiece depicting Saint John the Baptist Preaching (dated and signed 1592), which formerly decorated the altar in the chapel of St. John the Baptist, opposite the chapel of St. Jerome. This chapel was dedicated to St. Bruno after Gregory XV, in 1623, extended his worship to the entire Church, and on that occasion Ludovico Carracci’s painting was moved to one of the inner chapels (now dedicated to St. Joseph) to make room for Guercino’s The Vision of St. Bruno (1647). With the Napoleonic suppression, both Ludovico Carracci’s and Guercino’s paintings were moved to the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna, where Ludovico Carracci’s Flagellation of Christ and Christ Crowned with Thorns, originally placed after the railing of the nave and inserted in the barrier separating the “outside” church from the choir, were also transferred. On the altar of the chapel of St. Bruno there is now a painting attributed to Bartolomeo Cesi, depicting St. Bruno surrounded by six Blessed Carthusians and completely repainted by Filippo Pedrini in the 19th century. Don Daniele Granchio of Ferrara, prior of the Carthusian monastery from 1644 to 1660, was responsible for commissioning the Life of Christ from some of the most symbolic painters then working in Bologna: Francesco Gessi depicted the Expulsion of the Money Lenders from the Temple and The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1648), Giovan Andrea Sirani the Supper in the House of the Pharisee (1652), Elisabetta Sirani The Baptism of Christ (1658), Lorenzo Pasinelli Risen Christ Appears to His Mother (1657) and Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem (1658), Giovanni Maria Galli Bibiena The Resurrection of Christ (1657), and Domenico Maria Canuti The Last Judgement (1658). Also belonging to this series is a Nativity (1644) by Nunzio Rossi, a Neapolitan painter who had moved to Bologna to study with Guido Reni. His work, originally placed on the church counter-facade, was moved to the Madonnas Chapel in the 1800s to make room for the organ, and following its restoration was moved to Palazzo d’Accursio. Finally, it is worth recalling that up until the Napoleonic suppression, the Carthusians continued to embellish St. Jerome’s Church, the Chapter House and the Refectory with works by famous masters: Giovanni Maria Viani (1636-1700) painted a St. Bruno for the Refectory and a Blessed Rosolina for the Chapter House, for which Ubaldo Gandolfi’s (1728-1781) work St. Francis of Paola was also originally intended, while Giuseppe Maria Crespi (1665-1747) created three small paintings (a Holy Trinity, Madonna and Saints, and a St. Ursula). These paintings were also moved to the Pinacoteca di Bologna. Remaining in the sacristy and documenting the 18th century decorative representation are The Virgin and Infant Christ, with Mary Magdalene and St. Hugo by Giovan Girolamo Bonesi (1653-1725), and the Blessed Nicolò Albergati Appears in a Dream to Tommaso Sarzana by Ercole Graziani (1688-1765), the pupil of Donato Creti.
Text taken from: R. Martorelli (edited by), La Certosa di Bologna - Un libro aperto sulla storia, exhibition catalogue, Tipografia Moderna, Bologna, 2009. Bibliography: Bologna State Archives, Demaniale Convento dei Certosini di Bologna, A. Sforza, Monumenta Cronologica Cartusia Bononiensisis (1678), ms. 38/5883; Vita e iconografia di S.Bruno in Bibliotheca Sanctorum, vol. III, Rome, 1963; B. De Dominici, Vite de’ Pittori, Scultori ed Architetti napoletani, Naples, 1742.