One of the glories of the Romanesque in northern Italy, Modena's cathedral was founded in 1099. Consecrated in 1184, it was dedicated to St. Geminiano, the patron saint of Modena and the bishop of the city in the 4th century. Legend has it that only his intervention convinced Attila the Hun to spare the city. Towering from the rear is the Ghirlandina, a 12th- to 14th-century campanile, 87m (285 ft.) tall. Leaning slightly, the bell tower guards the replica of the Secchia Rapita (stolen bucket), garnered as booty from the defeated Bolognese.
The facade of the Duomo features a 13th-century rose window by Anselmo da Campione. It also boasts Wiligelmo's main entrance, with pillars supported by lions, as well as Wiligelmo bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Genesis. The south door, the "Princes' Door," was designed by Wiligelmo in the 12th century and is framed by bas-reliefs illustrating scenes in the saga of the patron saint.
Inside, there's a dimly lit vaulted ceiling, and the overall effect is gravely impressive. The Modenese restored the cathedral during the first part of the 20th century, so its present look resembles the original design. The marble gallery above the crypt is an outstanding piece of sculpture by Anselmo da Campione, supported by four lions. Two hunchbacks hold up the pulpit, by Arrigo da Campione. And the crypt, now the Capella SS Sacramento, where the body of the patron saint was finally taken, is a forest of columns; here you'll find Guido Mazzoni's Holy Family group in terra-cotta (aka Madonna della Pappa), completed in 1480. Back in the nave lies Antonio Begarelli's delicate version of the same subject, completed in 1527. The left hand apse contains a magnificent polyptych, l'Incoronazione della Vergine, by Serafino dei Serafini (1385), but the lavish gold-leaf mosaics beyond here are actually 19th-century imitations, not Byzantine originals.
The adjacent Museo del Duomo and Museo Lapidario display various cathedral treasures, from ancient stonework and medieval vestments, to precious Flemish tapestries donated to the cathedral in 1598 by noblemen fleeing Ferrara.