Church of Corpus Domini – Bologna

Via Tagliapietre, 19

40123 – Bologna


A chapel in the Church of Corpus Domini in Bologna contains the mummified yet incorrupt body of Saint Catherine dé Vigri (1413-1464), the most known saint from Bologna, who was also the founder and first abbess of the monastery of the Order of Poor Clares.

A glass display case along one of the chapel’s walls also holds a small string instrument, played with a bow, known as a violetta (or giga or ribeca), and which once belonged to her. The violetta – an instrument in use from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance and the Baroque era – is 49 cm long and 12 cm wide, and was apparently made in Bologna or Ferrara. A modern replica of it is on display in the workshop of the luthier Ivano Coratti in Bologna’s Philharmonic Academy.

Caterina, the daughter of Benvenuta Mammolini and the Ferrara-born aristocrat Giovanni dé Vigri, who was in the employ of the Marquis of Ferrara Niccolò III d’Este, received a classical education as was typical of young women from aristocratic families of the time, and studied music, poetry, and literature.  At a very young age, she was a lady-in-waiting of Niccolò’s daughter Margherita, but life at court was not for her. She entered the Monastery of Corpus Domini in Ferrara and in 1456 was transferred to Bologna where she founded the monastery of the Order of Poor Clares and later died, likely to become saint. She was canonized in 1712 by Pope Clement XI: on that occasion, her body was exhumed; it was found to be intact and flexible and was put on display for the prayers of the devotees.

The Church of Corpus Domini was built between 1477 and 1480. The handsome Renaissance facade, parts of which are still unfinished, is embellished by terracotta bas-relief attributed to Sperandio of Mantua. In addition to Saint Catherine, the physicist Luigi Galvani and Laura Bassi, one of the first women scientists of the 18th century, are also buried in the church.