The early and wide diffusion of Christianity in the Paduan territory is testified by the outstanding religious heritage, which graces Padua and its province. A strong faith combined with a great artistic fervour have left a great number of sacred places and monuments all over the territory, real and true shrines of faith and art.
Following the tradition the Basilica di Santa Giustina was built on the place where, Giustina, one of the first martyrs of Christianity, was buried around the year 304. The huge 16th-century Basilica -the ninth largest Christian church in the world-, contains elements of an older church (12-13th c.), the martyrs’well, with bones of varius martyrs, the Sacellum of San Prosdocimo, which dates back to the 6th century, thus representing one of the earliest places of worship in town.The adjacent Benedictine monastery with frescoed cloisters has a rich library and a famous restoration book centre.
Just few meters from the Basilica di Santa Giustina is the Basilica di S. Antonio, one of the major places of Christian worship in the world, with about 5 million pilgrims visiting it every year. An architectural masterpiece of the 13th to 14th centuries, the Basilica also presents a unique pageant of Paduan past history – the shrine of St Anthony, the tombs and memorials of famous people, and works of art realised between the 14th and the 20th century, the most famous of which are the beautiful 14th-century frescoes, the Renaissance marble bas-reliefs, and Donatello’s bronze statues and reliefs on the main altar. The complex of the Basilica comprises four cloisters, the Antoniano Museum, St. George Oratory, which is decorated by an enchanting 14thc. fresco cycle, and the Scuola del Santo, adorned by various frescoes, three of which by Titian.
A ten-minute walk leads to the Sanctuary of S. Leopoldo Mandic, which keeps the remains and the confessional cell of the beloved Dalmatian saint.
The historical part of the city centre corresponds also to the heart of Christian Padua. In Piazza Duomo stands the sixteenth-century Cathedral. Its Baptistery represents one of the landmarks of Padua history. The oldest part of the building dates back to the 12th century; inside, it is lined with beautiful fourteenth-century frescoes by Giusto de’Menabuoi, a follower of Giotto’s. The breathtaking representation of the Paradise on the dome was commissioned by Fina Buzzaccarini, wife of the most eminent 14th c. lord of Padua, Francesco il Vecchio da Carrara: the hundreds of saints portraied on the dome watched over Fina and Francesco’s tomb, once placed exactly at the centre of the baptistery.
Many other churches, even though often less well-known, keep unexpected treasures: the Eremitani Church has fine 14th-century frescoes and the famous Mantegna’s cycle in the Ovetari chapel, which was badly damaged during WW2; in the Scoletta of the Basilica del Carmine you can admire a colourful 16th-century fresco cycle; the church of S. Sofia is one of the most ancient religious building of the town with great medieval architecture outside and a very spiritual atmosphere inside; in the church of S. Francesco 15th century frescoes and a Renaissance bronze funeral monument are kept; the little Romanesque church of S.Nicolo' stands in one of the most lovely corners of the town and keeps works by Jacopo da Montagnana, Stefano dall’Arzere and Giandomenico Tiepolo.
Embedded in the greenery of the Euganean Hills, the Benedictine Abbey of Santa Maria di Praglia is one of the oldest monasteries of the region. It was founded in the 11th century but almost entirely rebuilt in the 15th century, when the abbey became one of the main centres for land reclamation and conversion into farmland of the whole Paduan territory. The wide complex includes a fine Renaissance church (1448) with frescoes and paintings of Venetian school, and a crucifix attributed to the followers of Giotto’s, the medieval monastery with ancient refectory and guest house, cloisters, the Old Library, and finally the worldwide famous book restoration centre. Nestled on the top of the hill, the Monastery of Monte Rua, is still a Camaldolite hermitage. Even though visitors are not allowed in the monastery, from the spot where it rises one can enjoy a beautiful view on the surrounding hills.
The Abbey of Santa Maria di Carceri near Este is an ancient former monastery (12th century), which was partially converted into private mansion by the Carminati noble family at the end of the 17th century. The huge complex includes church and abbey, cloisters, guest-rooms, and a library with fine frescoes. Not far from Carceri, in Urbana, stands the former monastery of San Salvaro with its ancient church dating back to the 11th c. adorned by frescoes (14th c.) and a collection of old maps, papers and finds, which document the history of this part of the paduan territory.
An important example of the romanic style of North-East Italy is the church of S. Stefano at DueCarrare. Once part of an important abbey, the church survived the terrible earthquake of the year 1117, which destroyed almost all the main buildings which had been built up to that year. S. Stefano’s Church still keeps its original medieval structure and belltower, fine 11th century and 14th century mosaics and the tomb of Marsilio da Carrara, prince of Padua at the beginning of the 14th century.
Many churches and sanctuaries are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and they often rise where a miraculous event took place. The Sanctuary of Santa Maria di Monteortone in Abano Terme began its history in 1428 when a soldier, a certain Pietro Falco, bathing himself in the grotto at the side of the present church to heal himself of the plague, obtained a cure and, following a divine command, exctracted from the healing water a panel representing the Madonna, which is still displayed on the altar of the apse.
On the Monte della Madonna (Rovolon) is the fifteenth-century Sanctuary of the Madonna, with small Benedictine monastery and beautiful view on the surrounding landscape. In Este a church dedicated to the Madonna delle Grazie (our Lady of the Graces) keeps a venerated Byzantine Madonna on wood realized in the 15th century. Another sanctuary dedicated to St. Mary is in Ospedaletto Euganeo. The so called Santuario del Tresto was erected in 1468 in order to host a miraculous image of the Virgin, who had appeared to a boatman.
In Piove di Sacco, the most important centre of the south-eastern part of the province, two important religious monuments are to be visited: the Cathedral, dedicated to st. Martin and the Sanctuary of the Madonna delle Grazie (our Lady of the Graces), built in 1484 to hold an effigy of Mary, which the people believed to be miraculous.
In the north of the province, in Camposampiero, stands the Santuario del Noce (Walnut-tree Sanctuary), dedicated to the most beloved saint of Padua and its province, St. Anthony. As the legend goes, this small church was built precisely on the spot where St. Anthony delivered a memorable sermon while standing at the top of a walnut-tree.