The splendid Basilica of San Gregorio Maggiore overlooks Piazza Garibaldi opposite the monument dedicated to the great hero of Italian history Giuseppe Garibaldi, a short distance from one of the entrances to the historic center of the city – Porta di San Gregorio (St Gregory’s Gate). It is just one of the various buildings dedicated to the holy martyr within the city walls; besides the basilica, there are other places of worship near the Sanguinario Bridge, also linked to the saint’s life, and in the San Gregorio forum of the Synagogue.
The basilica was built on an earlier cemetery site and was erected in its present form in 1079. It underwent numerous changes over the centuries, but according to tradition, the original church was founded in the 4th century by a widow named Abbondanza, who recovered the body of the martyr, gave it a proper burial and built the church.
The monumental facade has three 14th century arches in the upper part, surrounded by three recessed arches. The central one preserves the remains of a sixteenth-century fresco attributed to Giovanni da Foligno, perhaps also known as the artist Giovanni di Corraduccio. The entrance to the building is through a large door commissioned in 1597 by Bishop Sanvitale, framed and embellished by a sixteenth-century portico with three arches.
Inside, the basilica is divided into three naves, with a raised presbytery, in turn divided into three small aisles all ending with apses. To the sides there are various chapels, among which the most important are the Chapel of the Sacrament, where a tabernacle from 1523 is kept, which was transferred from the Star of Spoleto monastery in 1860; and the Chapel of the Innocents, decorated with scenes inspired by the history of the church and of St. Abbondanza – the saint who built the church and the martyrs that were thrown from the Sanguinario Bridge.
The crypt below the presbytery is also quite interesting; the large space is divided into five aisles with three apses. An inscription and tradition claim that as many as ten thousand martyrs were buried there. Indeed, the crypt contains numerous human remains from various periods, kept in various sarcophagi.
The building still retains fragments of the floor decorated with Cosmati stonework designs, frescoes dating from the 12th-15th centuries and numerous masonry materials from the Roman period. These are particularly visible not only in the crypt but also in the bell tower, completed in 1492. Finally, connected to the church is an elegant cloister with a double order of round arches supported by octagonal terracotta pillars. The first order was probably built in the 12th century at the same time as the church, while the second, on the upper level, was perhaps an addition from the 16th century.