Verona is a city full of churches. Wikipedia lists at least fifty in the centre and surrounding area alone. Some are true architectural masterpieces, with their interiors in turn boasting works of art, justifiably highlighted by the main tour guides: the Cathedral, San Zeno, Santa Anastasia, San Fermo. But alongside these are other lesser-known churches (often unfamiliar even to the locals themselves), whose roots lie in the city’s deep Christian tradition. These places are heavily infused with mysticism. Whether you are a believer or not, you will surely be struck by their charms.
Sante Teuteria e Tosca. This is the oldest church in Verona and in the Veneto region as a whole, consecrated in 751 and dedicated to two saints who are practically unknown. It can be found beside the more recent church of Santi Apostoli, in a small square behind Piazza Bra. The church is very small and stands partly below street level: as you walk down the steps you feel as if you are entering a catacomb. It has an interesting square plan with its font in the centre, around which the faithful gather for the baptism ceremony, as they may well have done at the dawn of Christianity. This is a place that is very close to my heart, as my daughter was christened here.
San Procolo. When I was a child and spent my summer days kicking a ball around Piazza San Zeno, San Procolo (consecrated in the name of one of the first bishops of Verona) was always closed. To its right stood a warehouse, and if my memory serves me well, there was also a cinema, to give an idea of how little respect it was given at that time. I wondered for so long what secrets lay inside that mysterious church, whose origins date back to the early Christian period, with that “poor” façade made of stone and river pebbles. Fortunately, subsequent renovation work saved it from neglect, also bringing to light some 12th century frescoes. The church only has one nave, but its most interesting feature lies below ground level: steps lead down to the crypt, which contains the remains of an ancient pagan necropolis, reminding us that the ancient Via Gallica, one of the “motorways” of the Roman Empire, once ran right past here.
San Lorenzo Martire. I discovered this church as a child, on a school trip, and I have never forgotten it. The particular feature of this small medieval church, nestling between the Adige river and Corso Cavour (but not visible from the street), that had such a lasting impression on me, was the presence of the matronei: the galleries overlooking the central nave and accessed by staircases, which were reserved exclusively for women in the days when, even in church, they had to be kept physically apart from the men.
Santa Maria Antica. This church stands right in the heart of Verona, sheltered by Piazza dei Signori and behind the Scaliger Tombs, the resting place of this noble Verona family, whose private chapel it once was. Dating back to 1185, it was built on the former site of a 7th century Lombard chapel, of which only the mosaic floor remains. The church has three naves, in the classic Romanesque style, giving it a rather austere air. Every year, people gather here to worship Saint Rita. On 22 May, as dawn breaks, the women of Verona come here to bless the roses and to pray to the “Saint of the Impossible”.
San Rocchetto. In the hills of Verona there is a small hermitage, an oasis of peace, silence, tranquillity and spirituality. It can only be reached on foot from the hamlet of Quinzano, or from the church of San Rocco, at the foot of the hill. It is a steep climb, but when you reach the top you are rewarded with wonderful views of the city. The atmosphere is bucolic: green meadows, well-tended flower beds, olive trees, vineyards. The lovely little church, with its portico entrance, is decorated with a series of frescoes depicting the life of Saint Roch. From the hermitage you can take one of the paths leading into the surrounding hills, where the local community grow grapes and olives. A leap into the past, and it is hard to believe that you are scarcely ten minutes from the centre of Verona.