By Maggie Bell
On February 9, 1941, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo in Genoa was bombed by Allied troops during Operation Grog. A shell pierced the roof of the cathedral, landing in the south-eastern corner of the nave. Miraculously, according to many, the projectile did not detonate, and the event is commemorated today by a replica of the bomb displayed in the nave alongside the words:
QUESTA BOMBA LANCIATA DALLA FLOTTA INGLESE PUR SFONDANDO LE PARETI DI QUESTA INSIGNE CATTEDRALE QUI CADEVA INESPLOSA IL IX FEBBRAIO MCMXLI
A RICONOSCENZA PERENNE GENOVA CITTÀ DI MARIA VOLLE INCISA IN PIETRA LA MEMORIA DI TANTA GRAZIA
(This bomb, launched by the British Navy, though breaking through the walls of this great cathedral, fell here unexploded on February 9, 1941. In perpetual gratitude, Genoa, the City of Mary, desired to engrave in stone, the memory of such grace.)
The malfunction of the bomb preserved centuries of history. The Cathedral of San Lorenzo was constructed in the late 11th century, and was consecrated by Pope Gelasius II in 1118. In the fifteenth century several new side chapels were added, including one housing the ashes of Saint John the Baptist. In 1550, the city governors hired the Perugian architect Galeazzo Alessi to reconstruct the cathedral–work that was completed in the seventeenth century by the addition of Lazzaro Tavarone’s gilded stucco Stories of San Lorenzo in the apse.
Photograph, 1941, of the unexploded bomb in the nave of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo.