The Basilica di Santo Spirito: Design & Layout

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  • 00:00 Santo Spirito and Brunelleschi
  • 00:54 Church Architecture
  • 2:13 Brunelleschi's Designs
  • 4:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the design and layout of the Basilica di Santo Spirito in Florence, Italy. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Santo Spirito and Brunelleschi

Gather 'round, gather 'round. All those wishing to take the next tour of Santo Spirito, please gather up your belongings as we are preparing to leave. A brief bit of background before we go.

The church we are touring today is called Santo Spirito; it is an Augustinian basilica in Florence, Italy. The original church was built back in the 13th century but in 1434, the church hired a new architect to rebuild it. That man was Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the greatest architects of the Renaissance. Although he died before seeing the church completed, Brunelleschi's designs have been applauded as having created one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in all of Italy.

So, do we have our children, cell phones, and other belongings? Great. Please hold all questions until the end of the tour and oh yeah, no flash photography. It's bad for the computer screen.

Church Architecture

Facade of Santo Spiriti

We're walking, we're walking, and here we are: Santo Spirito. Now, you'll notice that the exterior façade has been left empty. Brunelleschi did have plans for this façade, but died before it was completed, and the next architects decided to keep it simple, pure, and flat. Originally, Brunelleschi designed this church to have four doors, in order to keep with the four aisles he planned to build inside. However, this was a controversial move. Catholic churches most often have three doors to symbolize the trinity. You may notice that the Santa Spirito does, in fact, only have three doors, the plans being changed after Brunelleschi's death.

The interior of the Santo Spirito basilica
Interior of Sainto Spirito

And here we go inside the church. One of the first things you may notice about this church is the layout. This does follow the basic cruciform plan of most Catholic churches, meaning it had the shape of a cross. This is done with a long, narrow section of aisles called the nave and a shorter section that cuts across it called the transept. Over the section where the transept and nave meet is a large dome. The use of columns and arches, vaults and domes throughout this church is one of the ways we identify this as a Renaissance church. Renaissance architecture revitalized many building styles of ancient Greece and Rome, so you'll see those sorts of features a lot.

Brunelleschi's Designs

The aisles of the Santo Spirito are a series of small, identical squares topped with domes
Aisle of the Santo Spirito

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