In the Middle Ages, the Basilica of St. Giustina housed one of the most important and influential religious communities in Padua. Its origins, however, date back long before the arrival of the monks. The first basilica here was built in the sixth century, when the Prato della Valle area was a cemetery, and it stood on the site of the burial (in 304 AD) of the young martyr Giustina, a victim of the persecution of the Christians ordered by the emperor Maximilian. The Benedictines themselves arrived in Padua in the tenth century and then became a settled community here; it was in this period that the bodies of the saints which had been concealed during the barbarian invasions of previous centuries gradually came to light once more. These included those of St. Giustina and of St. Luke the Evangelist, author of the third of The Gospels and of the Acts of the Apostles; the latter’s remains had been taken from Thebes (in Greece) to Constantinople and from there to Padua.
The present-day basilica, which is 122 metres in length, dates from the sixteenth century and has a Latin-cross floorplan, with a central nave and two side aisles The apse houses the remarkable carved wooden choir, dating from the fifteenth century, and an altarpiece by Paolo Veronese: The Martyrdom of St. Giustina, painted in 1575. The north transept houses the Tomb of St. Luke, and the south transept that of St. Matthew the Apostle; from there an atmospheric Corridor of the Martyrs leads to the Greek-cross chapel built at the end of the sixth century over the tomb of St. Prosdocimus, the first bishop of Padua. The entire monastery was suppressed under Napoleonic rule, in 1810, and would serve as a military barracks right up to 1919, when the Benedictines finally returned to St. Giustina. One needs an authorised guide to visit the fourteenth-century Chapel of St. Luke (which contains the tomb of the very first woman in the world – Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia – to gain a university degree, in 1678), the fifteenth-century wooden choir and the Antesacristy.