The Church of San Luca in Bologna

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San Luca in Bologna
San Luca ©
San Luca in Bologna
San Luca ©

Il San Luca o meglio il Santuario della Madonna di San Luca è punto di riferimento per chiunque ami Bologna. Tornando a casa da un viaggio la vista del santuario sul verde Colle della Guardia ci avvisa che la nostra amata città è vicina.

The San Luca or rather the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca is a reference point for anyone who loves Bologna. Returning home from a trip, the view of the sanctuary on the green Colle della Guardia warns us that our beloved city is nearby.

Indice dei contenuti

The Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca in a nutshell

San Luca Bologna
Santuario della Madonna di San Luca ©

Surrounded by legends and charm, this site is not just a place of worship but a real symbol that seems to watch over the Felsinea city from above.

The exterior is characterized by a Baroque style and the current appearance is the result of an intervention decided in 1723 and completed in 1743. This involved the demolition and reconstruction of the main chapel.

Inside the structure is majestic with a Greek cross plan and the triumphant raised presbytery where the effigy of the Madonna is kept. The basilica is richly decorated and among the works it is necessary to mention the altarpieces:

  • The Coronation of the Virgin by Donato Creti
  • The Madonna of the Rosary by Guido Reni
  • the Christ appearing to the Mother of Guarcino

We must not forget the crypt and the frescoed dome as well as the Effigy of the Madonna and Child.

Where is it

Via di San Luca 36, 40135 Bologna.

Hours and costs

Free admission every day from 7:00 to 18:30.

Not open to visitors during religious services.

During the months between March and October the sanctuary closes at 19:00.

The origin of the sanctuary and its Marian Icon

View from San Luca bologna italy
View from San Luca ©

The current appearance of San Luca dates back to the eighteenth century but the history of the Sanctuary is much older: there are several legends that narrate the birth of the place and its venerated icon.

It seems that as early as 1100 there was a hermitage on the top of Colle della Guardia linked to two female figures. While, another tradition reports of the birth of the sanctuary by the will of a Bolognese nobleman, Angelica Bonfantini, and in the laying of the first stone in 1194.

church of San Luca bologna exterior, square
Sanctuary of the Madonna San Luca in Bologna ©

In the same period, at the end of the 12th century, the legend relating to the splendid Marian effigy comes to light.

It is said that it was transported here by a Greek pilgrim who had received the precious painting, attributed to San Luca himself, in custody, with instructions to take it to the top of Colle Della Guardia. It seems that his wandering also led him to Rome in search of the famous hill to finally land in Bologna.

From here begins the fame of the place and its cult, thanks to the icon with oriental features.

The dome of the church of San Luca

In the original project, according to Dotti’s idea, the dome was not frescoed. The decoration took place only in 1922 by the Tuscan painter Giuseppe Cassioli.

The fresco depicts an allegorical scene: the invocation to the Madonna by Pope Benedict XIV in which he is depicted together with prelates and even St. Luca.

Today this is the highest dome that can be visited in Italy and a donation of 5 euros is required for access. It is reached via a narrow spiral stone staircase and the surrounding panorama reaches 42 meters high.

The procession of the Madonna di San Luca and the Miracle of the Rain

walking tour to san luca - portico
Portico of San Luca ©

From the fifteenth century a miracle has been attributed to the sacred effigy. In fact, in July 1433 following the heavy rains it was decided to carry the image of the Madonna col Bambino in procession to the city center to ask for its cessation.

It was thanks to the sudden stop of the bad weather that it was decided to repeat the procession every year as a thank you.

The procession of the Madonna di San Luca is still an important occasion for both the Bolognese and the pilgrims who come to celebrate it every year from all over the world.

Despite the small size, one cannot but be fascinated by the bright colors and precious details of the sacred image.

The masterpiece appears to us of Byzantine influence even if by Western hand for the choice of colors, it could be dated around 1100 or 1200. However, the mystery linked to the painting deepens when we discover a second portrait even more ancient on the background of certainly oriental origin.

All that remains is to come and admire with your own eyes to discover any hidden details and let yourself be carried away by the magnetic atmosphere that this masterpiece, unique of its kind, emanates as it follows you with your gaze.

How to reach San Luca

Little train to the basilica of san luca
Trenino per san luca

The Basilica of San Luca can be easily reached on foot through the walking tour that starts from Porta Saragozza and is outlined like a snake to the top for about 3.7 kilometers.

Of course, it might seem a bit tiring but the journey will take you along the longest portico in Europe, crossing its 666 arches. At the end of the trip the beautiful views and the magnificence of the sanctuary will be your reward. Strolling is certainly not the only way to reach the goal, many cyclists face the climb every day with sporting enthusiasm.

For those who prefer to get there without too much effort there are two solutions: the fun and suggestive little train really suitable for everyone or the car.

If you have chosen to get there by car, the most suitable route is in front of Villa Spada. You can drive up Via Di Casaglia crossing the suggestive hills. Following the road signs it will be easy to get to the convenient free parking located a few meters from the Basilica.

If you arrive by car you can admire the sanctuary in all its entirety. San Luca stands out on the hills with elegance and majesty, the red of the building creates a perfect play of colors with the surrounding green to give it even more prominence.

If you don’t have one, you might also be interested in how to rent a car in Bologna.

Amazing pics of the church of St. Luca

FAQ about the Sanctuary

Starting from Porta Saragozza, you can reach the Sanctuary of the Madonna di San Luca in about 1 hour on foot.

By car, the route to follow will be longer, as you will have to turn into via di Casaglie and follow the road signs. In total you can reach the destination in about 15 minutes.

Nel nostro articolo dedicato a al percorso per San Luca, consigliamo di partire da Porta Saragozza.

In our  walking tour to San Luca, we recommend starting from Porta Saragozza.

The path to the church of San Luca is 3.6 km long and follows the longest portico in Europe, crossing 666 arches.

The sanctuary can be reached:

Il santuario è raggiungibile:

The walking path to the basilica includes 498 steps.

If you want to reach the top of San Luca on foot, it is advisable to leave the car at the Certosa car park, the monumental cemetery, in Largo Vittime dei Lager Nazi di and then start the walk directly from the Arco del Meloncello instead of from Porta Saragozza.

If you need more information, read our article on how to park in Bologna.

Continue your journey!

If you love churches and other sacred places, absolutely do not miss the Basilica of Santo Stefano and the Seven Churches with its surprising architectural structure and the fascinating Basilica of San Petronio that dominates Piazza Maggiore. If you prefer to explore the city and its medieval alleys, take a look at our section dedicated to the tours of Bologna! Ivan Agolino Bologna Guide
4.7/5 - (3 votes)
This article was written by:
Camilla Viviani
With a keen passion for food, art, and history, I’m always eager to uncover Bologna’s hidden gems and indulge in its cultural offerings, never passing up a chance to explore its myriad museums. As an enthusiastic cartographer and meticulous planner, I thrive on crafting uncommune travel itineraries that promise to delight travelers, offering unique experiences that leave lasting memories.
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