Deconsecrated in 1949 by Bishop Agostini, the little church of Sant’Agnese is located between Via Dante and Via Sant’Agnese, in the Ponte Molino district of what is the oldest part of Padua. This section of the city was home to numerous millers, and the mills generated a considerable amount of trade. As was the case in other cities, too, the millers did not enjoy a reputation for honesty and reliability, and the dedicating of the church to Saint Agnes, symbol of purity, had a significance that was, at least in part, purificatory. This move was of even more value, given that the area in question was a red-light district. Ponte Molino was one of the key quarters of the city, which – like the church – underwent myriad changes in the post-Carolingian period, especially from the year 1000 onwards. We cannot be sure of the date in which the foundation stone was laid, but the church appears in a document from 1026, which describes a recent fire. In the Middle Ages, it became one of Padua’s main churches. The structure is mediaeval, and in the 18th century its height was increased. The period during which the church underwent its greatest enrichment and embellishment was in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. During the Second World War, a bombing raid destroyed part of the rectory, which was not subsequently restored. At the end of the war, and following deconsecration, it was sold to private purchasers. It became a garage in the late 1940s, and once that closed in the 1980s the building fell for a number of years into a state of neglect and was boarded up.
The works contained within the church, which were moved when it was deconsecrated, included a painting by Tiepolo (now at the church of San Nicolò in Padua), a number of paintings by the 17th-century artist Ciriello, and more besides. Certain works are now housed at the Diocesan Museum. Of particular note from an artistic and artisanal perspective is the portal of the main facade, with a small statue of Saint Agnes and carefully carved door jambs, dating from the late 15th century. Underneath the church, ruins were discovered of important tombs of a number of celebrated Paduans, such as the author of one of the first bilingual Venetian dialect/Italian (Florentine) dictionaries, a certain Patriarchi. The 15th-century bell tower has an attractive, cone-shaped brick cupola above the bell chamber.
In general, it is no longer easy to access documents and information on the history of the church of Sant’Agnese, because the archive of the curia cannot now be visited, since it has been transferred elsewhere and is undergoing restoration. But the history of the church is exceptionally important, since it bore witness to what was very much a nerve centre of the city for centuries, experiencing first-hand the ups and downs of Padua’s fortunes. The restoration – commissioned by the Alberto Peruzzo Foundation, and still ongoing – has brought to light a plethora of interesting aspects, including a Roman road that passed under the church, now buried two metres down. The Foundation was determined to acquire the church and to take it back to the way it looked several decades ago, as an homage to the city. The aim is to turn it into a cultural hub. The restoration is due for completion in 2019.