An ancient tradition ties Mantua’s Rotonda di San Lorenzo to Matilda of Tuscany, a powerful feudal ruler who between the 11th and the 12th century dominated a number of territories north of the Church States.
The “Great Countess” (or “Gran Contessa” in Italian) is sometimes remembered for welcoming Gregory VII in her castle of Canossa in January 1077. During his stay there, the pope made the rebel emperor Henry IV wait for three days and three nights, out under the rain and in the freezing cold, as he begged for his excommunication to be lifted. Matilda is said to have ordered the construction of the Rotonda, which probably was inaugurated in 1083.
The church’s circular plan links back to a quite popular architectural type in Italy, prominent in Roman mausoleums and, as regards Christian tradition, likely inspired by the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
Abandoned for centuries, at the beginning of the 20th century the Rotonda was brought back to light (after being hidden by other structures, built near the beautiful city Clock Tower) and renovated.