tour through Sicily’s religious sites and monuments allow
the tourist to experience unique impressive places, major symbols
of Sicilians’ strong and abiding religious faith. Sicilian
religious (and cities’) architecture has much evolved over
the centuries, also due to natural devastating catastrophes being
the cause of extensive restoration or reconstruction works.
and successive dominations have left indelible traces also, today
more or less clearly visible in the many catacombs, churches, monuments
and pieces of art scattered across our Island which make it a major
destination of religious tourism. Paleo-Christians, Byzantines,
Normans, Arabians, Swabian, French and Spaniards left unmistakable
traces of their passage.
tour through Sicily’s religious sites starts in Palermo, the
Island capital, showing a mixture of architectonic styles.
imposing Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Assunta is one of the
city’s most praised monuments. Begun in 1184 on the site of
a former Muslim mosque, it shows a splendid Norman-style façade
with two characteristic bell-towers. Its three-naves are framed
by numerous pilasters bearing sculptures dedicated to the Saints.
It houses plenty of impressing sacred works like the Chapel of S.
Rosalie, where repose the relics of the Saint, and the Cappella
del Sacramento containing a wooden crucifix dating back to around
1300 and a 15th century marble statue representing the Virgin and
Norman Palatin Chapel is housed in the well-known Norman Palace.
Begun in 1130, this has three naves and a dome ornamented with an
impressive mosaic of the Christ Pantocrator surrounded by Angels
and Archangels and is enriched with numerous other mosaics from
different epochs, portraying biblical figures or events.
Anglican Church of the Holy Cross was founded by a British community
that settled here in the 19th century, and later enlarged. Visitors
may admire several works of art: stained glass windows in the apse,
amazing mosaics and columns’ capitals, a rose window representing
The Adoration of the Lamb.
The church dedicated to Saint Mary of the Admiral or Martorana was
built in 1143 at the behest of Giorgio of Antioch, an admiral of
Roger II, and was later run by the Convent founded by Eloisa Martorana.
A splendid Norman-Arab bell-tower is what remains of the ancient
temple. The church is built in the form of a greek cross and preserves
some of the most beautiful mosaics produced in Sicily in the 12th
century, displaying scenes of the New and Old Testaments, of the
Apostles, the Prophets, the Blessing Christ at the centre of the
Cupola, and King Roger being crowned by Christ, attributed to the
hand of Borremans. From around 1930 the church is part of the Byzantine-Catholic
diocese of Piana degli Albanesi.
Santuario di Mondello, atop Mount Pellegrino, is dedicated to Saint
Rosalie, a young woman of the 12th century, thought to belong to
the Norman ruling family, who settled and lived there as a hermit.
After her death many miracles were attributed to this saint, among
which that of having stemmed a plague that ravaged Palermo in the
17th century. The picturesque baroque-style shrine was built in
1624 and houses many effigies of the Saint.
in the Palermo hinterland, overlooking the Conca d’Oro, is
a popular worshipping and tourism site; in the past it was a favorite
retreat of the Norman rulers. Still it offers a dramatic panorama
thanks to its privileged location. It boasts several worth-mentioning
is the well-known Cathedral, a monument that reflects various influences.
Built in the 12th century on a latin-cross layout, it preserves
numerous pieces of art: a magnificent mosaic of the Christ Pantocrator
– an image often recurring in the churches of the island –
surrounded by the angels ornaments the main apse, above the image
of the Virgin on a throne. Other splendid mosaics depicting scenes
from the New and Old Testaments. Its imposing façade, retaining
the square towers, one of which remained incomplete, bears impressing
bronze doors divided into various panels illustrating biblical episodes.
in the Palermo province, is a picturesque city nestled along the
Tyrrhenian coast, below a wide mountain chain. It saw its heyday
under the Norman rulers. The Norman Cathedral going back to Roger
II reign is outstanding, much alike the one in Monreale. This impressive
building has a basilical plan with three nave and aisles divided
by granite columns bearing finest capitals and arches. The dominant
feature of the cathedral are the two majestic front towers. The
façade has a magnificent portico and a richly decorated marble
doorway dating back to the 15th century. A lovely Crucifix dating
back to the 15th century and rich mosaics are preserved indide.
tour then moves on to the ancient Siracusa, whose religious monuments
are as much noted as its Greek Theatre and remnants. Notably, the
Catacombe di San Giovanni s attest to the city’s prominence
in the early centuries of the Christian Era.
important are the Duomo dedicated to St. Lucy, sitting in Duomo
Square, on Ortygia’s smallest Island. The church is preceded
by a splendid flight of steps graced with 18th century statues dedicated
to Saints Pietro, Paolo, Marziano – the first Syracusan bishop
– and Lucy, the city’s patron saint. The cathedral has
remotest origins, being built on the site of a former pagan temple
dedicated to Athena built at behest of tyrant Gelone to celebrate
Syracuse victory over Carthage. In the 7th century AD the temple
was turned into a christian church soon to be the seat of the Cathedral.
Highly damaged by two devastating earthquakes in 1542 and 1693,
it was restructured to a baroque look. Inside, it has nave and aisles
divided by ancient greek columns and chapels, among which outstanding
are that of St. Lucy, erected in the 18th century, containing a
silvered statue of the Saint made by Rizzo in 1599, the chapel of
the SS. Sacramento with many beautiful stuccoes, and the 17th century
Chapel of the Holy Cross, guarding a wooden Byzantin Crucifix.
Church of St. Sebastian, at Melilli, Syracuse, was erected in 1751
and is especially noted for its paintings by praised Olivio Sozzi
depicting The Crowning of San Sebastian, The Triumph of the Faith
and other pieces of art that attest to people devotion to the titular
impressive Noto, in the Syracuse province, is regarded as the Capital
of Sicilian Baroque. Following 1693 earthquake the city governors
and notables wanted a rich and elegant reconstruction of the city
centre destined to become a major destination of tourists from across
18th century Mother Church is by far Noto’s most beautiful
monument. The church, dedicated to Saint Nicholas from Mira, was
elevated to Cathedral status in 1844. It has three-naves with dome
and side chapels. Inside, it preserves outstanding works of art
like a 16th century polychromatic sculpture depicting the Madonna
delle Grazie surrounded by the Cherubs, a chapel dedicated to Saint
Corrado Confalonieri guarding a silver urn with the Saint’s
relics. The chancel is adorned with frescoes of the Evangelists,
of the Christ’s Resurrection et al.
cathedral is, alas, under restoration due to the dome collapse following
the 1999 earthquake. On Duomo Square also stand the Bishop’s
Palace, next to the church, and the Chiesa del Salvatore, with an
adjoined monastery. The church, currently under restoration, was
erected in the late 1800s with an elliptical plan.
not largest, Noto boasts other noteworthy sacred monuments, like
the Hermitage of Saint Corrado Fuori le Mura (outside the city walls),
a 1759’s baroque church dedicated to the patron saint of Noto,
housing very important works and paintings.
final mention must go to the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Scala,
now a major goal of pilgrimages, built in the early 1700s on the
ruins of a church razed to the ground by the 1693 quake. Outstanding
is the image of the Madonna della Scala painted on a rock, likely
in the Byzantine epoch.
interesting shrine is located at Ragusa Ibla: the Duomo, in the
old side of the city, dedicated to St. George. Its baroque look
results from the extensive reconstruction on the former St. Nicholas’
church following the 1693 quake disaster. A fine, slightly asymmetric
– after the square before – staircase leads up to the
front doorway. The church was designed by the well-known architect
Gagliardi with an imposing bell-tower. The eye-catching façade
is divided into three storeys, with a richly decorated main doorway,
a Neoclassic dome by Carmelo Cutrano in 1820. The interior has a
latin-cross plan with three naves ornamented with works of art among
which outstanding are several altar-pieces by the noted Vito D’Anna.
in Ragusa Ibla stands the 14th century Chiesa di Santa Maria delle
Scale, built in the 14th century on the site of an ancient convent
and rebuilt after the 1693 disaster. Of the ancient building only
remain a gothic pulpit and renaissance and gothic chapels. Worth-noting
is a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Assunta, guarding a 1538 polychrome
Cathedral dedicated to St. John the Baptist was completed in 1760
with a wide baroque façade enriched with three statues of
the Immacolate Virgin, the Baptist and of St. John the Evangelist.
The front elevation features a spired bell-tower and a glorious
portal. Inside, it is divided into three naves and richly decorated
with stuccoes, works of art and holy pieces, such as a pitch-stone
statue of St. John dated 1513, unearthed from the ruins of the ancient
temple. It also preserves some precious paintings portraying Jesus
Christ, St. Philip Neri and Saint Gregory the Great.
in the Ragusa province, accommodates a number of interesting churches
and sites. The church of Santa Maria Maggiore contains precious
stuccoes and 18th century frescoes by Sozzi. Notably, the central
nave is frescoed with biblical episodes and figures from the Old
and New Testaments. The aisles bear medallions depicting the four
Cardinal Virtues. The dome, also, is adorned with admirable frescoes
dedicated to the patriarchs, the prophetes, the virgin martyrs,
the prelates and the founders of religious orders. The church façade,
dated 1700, underwent restoration work in the 19th century.
Chiesa di Santa Maria dell’Annunziata, erected in the early
1700s, is renowned for its cycle of stuccoes dating from the 18th
century depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.
also preserves a group of statues, dedicated to the Resurrected
Christ, that survived the quake of 1693 that, instead, largely destroyed
the original building.
St. George cathedral is majestic. According to historical documents
the cathedral rose on the ruins of a little church dedicated to
the Holy Cross and destroyed by the Arabs in 845. The Cathedral
was built by order of the Norman Count Roger of Hautville in 1090,
who, according to legend, meant to celebrate the saint knight who
in a dream had suggested him how to defeat his enemies. Over the
centuries, this has undergone various changes and restorations.
The magnificent stairway, connecting the low and the upper sides
of the city dates from around 1700. The imposing baroque façade
is divided into three architectonic orders. The five-nave interior
is ornamented with such incredible works as a precious polyptych
behind the major altar, by Bernardino Niger, portraying, in nine
panels, scenes from the life of knight saints George and Martin,
the Old and New Testaments et al. Equally precious are a painting
by Paladino, dated 1610, depicting the Madonna Assunta in Cielo,
self-portraying the author near a group of Apostles; a picture depicting
the martyrdom of St. Hippolyte, by Cicalesius, and a small ark containing
the saint’s relics; a statue of the Madonna della Neve dated
town has plenty of churches although many have been desecrated over
the years. The stately SS. Peter and Paul’s Church, set in
the city centre in front of the historical Jewish quarter, has a
fine stairway enriched with statues of the Apostles, the so-called
Santoni. It was built in the 14th century and, as well as many others
in this part of Sicily, was extensively reconstructed following
the 1693 noted quake that devastated the entire Noto Valley (defining
the south-eastern Sicily). Its late-baroque façade bears
four statues of the Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. Cataldo and St.
Rosalie. It has three naves adorned with various pieces of art.
Noteworthy are the ceiling medallions portraying the Doctors of
the Church, a marble statue of the Madonna di Trapani, a wooden
sculpture depicting Saint Peter and the Paralytic made by Civiletti
subsequent stop is at the well-noted, just restored church of Santa
Maria di Betlem, built in the 15th century on the ruins of four
small local churches. Of the ancient churches only remains, on the
west side of today’s building, a low-relief portraying the
Nativity. The church interior has three naves graced with a lovely
wooden caisson ceiling and appreciated works like the chapel of
the SS. Sacramento, also known as Palatin Chapel, dating from between
15th and 16th centuries and containing some tombs of noble families.
A lovely Christmas Crib, inside the chapel, have contributed to
make the church a favorite destination of tourists. This consists
of 60 painted terracotta pieces, made by Fra’ Benedetto Papale
Minimo in 1882. The Holy Crib is made from several local materials
such as limestone and carob wood.
picturesque Scicli, in the Ragusa province, is an ancient river
outpost that boasts several worth-seeing churches and works.
church of Santa Maria La Nova situated near the hills of Santa Cassa
and Rosario, was erected in the 15th century and successively enlarged.
It has a neoclassic look and contains several precious works: among
these is a statue of the Immacolata dating from the first half of
the 19th century, a wooden statue of the Resurrected Christ, a marble
statue of the Madonna della Neve from the late 1400s, stuccoes and
frescoes depicting scenes from Jesus Christ’s life, a choirstall
in the main altar representing The Nativity of the Virgin Mary,
Matthew’s Church is really amazing albeit heavily damaged.
It dates from the 12th century and has a baroque façade remained
church of Saint Bartholomew, in the Cava (valley) of the same name,
dating from before the 15th century, is one of the few having survived
the 1693 quake almost undamaged. It shows an imposing look and contains
very interesting works including a fine wooden (from lime-tree)
Holy Crib by Padula, from the second half of the 18th century, several
paintings and stuccoes.
Messina area also offers many beautiful churches and religious sites.
Duomo, of Norman origin, in Messina, dedicated to Saint Mary, have
an extremely unfortunate history, having suffered several fires
(1254 and 1940s) and earthquakes (1693 and 1783), that caused loss
of or damage to works of inestimable value. It was consecrated in
1197 in the presence of the Emperor Henry IV. Many of the works
contained inside are just reproductions of originals gone destroyed
by the said catastrophes. The today’s interior has a basilical
plan divided into three naves by monolithic columns and contains
interesting figurative works, a statue of St. John the Baptist attributed
to praised artist Antonello Gagini, a 15th century shallow-relief
depicting Saint Jerome and a wooden 18th century crucifix. The façade
is graced with a fine campanile, detached from the main building.
Its three doorways are preciously decorated.
church of the Annunziata, dating from between the 12th and 13th
century, was erected on the site of a former pagan temple. Its beauty
owes much to the mixture of different architectonic styles.
18th century Chiesa di S. Maria degli Alemanni, in Messina, derives
its name from the military order of Teutonic Knights who built it,
and a hospital next to it. It is one of the fewest gothic monuments
remained in Sicily, although it retains little of its two original
buildings. The Teutonic Knights abandoned this area around the late
15th century, what contributed to the decline of the buildings.
The remains consist of an ogival arch belonging to the ancient hospital,
and the church’s original three naves – divided by pillars
graced with a fine cross-vault and decorations – and images
of humans and monsters in the capitals.
Cathedral in Santa Lucia del Mela is a much interesting monument
dating back to the Norman epoch, then rebuilt and enlarged between
the late 16th and the early 17th century. Its Renaissance interior
design has three naves divided by columns with doric capitals. It
contains several precious works. Two are especially mentioning:
a table dedicated to Saint Mark the Evangelist, by Guinacci, from
the end of the 16th century, and a 18th century wooden Crucifix.
ancient Duomo in Milazzo is a lovely baroque church with a fine
portal in the late Renaissance style. Today, it is in poor conditions
and requires an extensive restoration.
Cathedral, dated 1131, has undergone considerable works of reconstruction
as show the numerous relics and works dating from the 1300s and
1400s and its 16th century Campanile, dated 1588. The most important
changes were carried out after the 1693 earthquake and the more
recent 1978’s. It has a single-nave and houses many prized
relics and pieces: two interesting 18th century chapels, a 16th
century painting by Antonello de Saliba and an outstanding marble
sepulchre dated 1557, dedicated to Count Roger’s wife, Adelaide,
mother of Roger II, who died in Patti in 1118.
is home to many religious monuments that fairly attest to the city’s
abiding christian faith.
church of S. Agata al Collegio, began in 1605 by the Jesuit Fathers
is the most attractive and important. Designed in the form of a
greek-cross, the interior is enriched with marble pieces and other
works like the altar dedicated to the Madonna del Carmine.
Cathedral of S. Maria La Nova and St. Michael, in Caltanissetta,
built between the late 1500s and the early 1600s is much appreciated
by tourists. The church interior, in the shape of a latin-cross,
is divided into three naves. In the central nave there are stuccoes
and frescoes by Guglielmo Borremans dating back to the early 1700s.
The chapel of the Immacolata, containing a nice wooden statue, and
the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, with a polychrome wooden
statue are its best attractions.
Gela stands the small and ancient Capuchins’ Church dedicated
to the Madonna delle Grazie. It is a single-nave building that the
Friars erected around 1261. Originally situated out of the city
walls and constantly subjected to raids by Saracens, it was moved
to a safer location towards the end of the 16th century. Recently
restored, it claims among its main works a wooden carved altarpiece
and eight windows in gothic style.
small church of Saint Mary, erected in 1230, was seriously damaged
by the 1693 earthquake and reconstructed larger in the form of a
latin cross with three naves. It retains the remains of a doric
column, and, above the two side entrances, two marble tombstones
bearing ancient inscriptions. The bell-tower was built in the early
monuments and buildings in the Agrigento province.
Cathedral of Saint Gerlando, whose construction dates back to the
11th century, has undergone considerable changes throughout the
centuries. It is designed in the shape of a latin-cross with three
naves divided by ogival arches supported by octagonal pillars. The
roof bears images of Saints and Bishops, and several heraldic symbols.
A small chapel dedicated to St. Gerlando, the city patron, guards
a silver reliquary. The church preserves other pieces of art like
a marble statue portraying the Virgin Mary and Child dating back
to the late 15th century, and several sepulchres, among which is
that of Gaspare de Marinis, inside a chapel of the same name. Outstanding
is the Cathedral’s Treasure with, among others, a beautiful
image of the Virgin Mary. The exterior of the building is graced
with a lovely bell-tower and windows recalling the Catalan-Gothic
architectonic style. The façade is in the baroque style.
medieval church of Santa Maria dei Greci, complete with a 13th century
gothic portal, has three naves housing a fine wooden statue of the
Virgin and Child dating back to the early 1500s.
rose on a 5th century BC doric temple, probably dedicated to Athena
and still retains remnants of the old building.
Roman-Gothic Church of Saint Nicholas, in the old city, was built
by the Cistercian fathers in the 13th century on the ruins of a
temple from the 1st century BC. It has a single-nave with four chapels
and many interesting sacred and figurative works, such as a 16th
century cycle of frescoes dedicated to Saints, a sarcophagus within
one of the chapels, a wooden Crucifix, a marble statue of the Virgin
and Child dating back to the 16th century.
Caltabellotta, few kilometers from Agrigento, is the Hermitage of
S. Pellegrino, comprising a monastery and a church. The building
sitting on a plateau overlooking the city was built in the 18th
century and later enlarged.
the western end of Sicily stands the Trapani province, an area that
saw a largest prosperity under the Phoenecians in the 8th century
baroque Cathedral of San Lorenzo, built in the early 1600s with
a lovely façade, was erected on the site of a 1300’s
church. It has three-naves and houses precious works: a fine crucifix
attributed to Trapani painter Lo Verde and the coat of arms of Genoa.
Sanctuary of the Annunciation dates from the 14th century and was
long since restored. It retains its original façade with
a rose-window, a gothic portal dating back to the 1400s and statues
of the Angels and the Virgin Mary. The church interior has one large
nave with two beautiful chapels: the Baptistery Chapel of the Fishermen,
from the late 16th century; containing a gothic arch, 16th century
frescoes and important gothic and arabian-norman relics; and the
Chapel of the Virgin Mary, containing a marble arch and a marble
statue of the Virgin and Child known as the Madonna di Trapani.
beautiful Erice (Eryx), founded by the ancient Elymians, is home
to an impressive Mother Church dedicated to the Our Lady of the
Assumption built in the early 1300s. The building exterior is graced
with a bell-tower, probably serving as a watch-tower during the
Aragonese reign. The interior has three naves and recalls the gothic
architecture. It houses a 14th century statue portraying the Virgin
and Child and a marble altarpiece dating from the early 1500s.
Duomo of Marsala, dedicated to Saint Thomas of Canterbury, built
in 1628, on the site of a former Norman temple, has undergone many
restorations over the centuries. It has a three-nave plan and boasts
several outstanding works such as a Chapel housing a marble statue
of the Assunta and marble panels by the praised artist Antonello
del Vallo’s Cathedral was built in 1093, when the Eparchy
was established. This three-naved basilica contains outstanding
works by Antonello Gagini and by his son Antonino.
houses an important museum.
the only Sicilian province having no outlet to the sea, offers a
variety of monuments.
Cathedral, built in 1307 was destroyed by a fire in the 15th century
and then reconstructed. The three naves inside are divided by pointed
arches supported by finely decorated columns. Some capitals bear
the Evangelists’ heraldic symbols made by Gian Domenico Gagini.
The church houses many interesting works such as statues, altar-pieces
Duomo of Piazza Armerina, dedicated to the Assunta, dates from the
early 1600s. Designed in the shape of a latin-cross, it has a single
nave and houses many important works, among which outstanding is
a Madonna believed to be a gift from Pope Nicholas II to Count Roger.
Cathedral of Nicosia, dedicated to St. Nicholas, was built in the
14th century on the ruins of a Norman church. It has undergone many
restorations over the centuries. The building exterior features
an impressing 1300’s bell-tower and three portals. The church
is the seat of a bishop.
the second largest Sicilian city, boasting an ancient history and
seat of a famous university, has plenty of amazing religious monuments
city Cathedral, dedicated to patron Sant’Agata, is by far
its most renowned religious building. It was built by the Count
Roger in the early period of the Norman rule in Sicily on the site
of a Christian temple, of which remained a part of the transept
and three semi-circular apses. Inside, tourists may admire the sepulchres
of the Aragon monarchs and the tomb of the praised composer Bellini.
The bell tower was raised in 1868 by the architect Carmelo Sciuto
Patti. Inside, it has three naves divided by pilasters that bear
paintings by Borramans. Outstanding is the St. Agatha Treasure containing
precious relics of the saint and offerings by her devotees.
church of S. Benedetto dates from the early 1700s. It is a single-nave
church with vault frescoes and a precious 18th century major altar.
Collegiata Church is Catania’s Royal Chapel. Built in the
early years of the 18th century, it is complete with a fine late
baroque façade. The interior, in the shape of a latin-cross,
has three naves and outstanding dome frescoes and paintings.
Church of St. Nicholas was completed a few years before the devastating
earthquake of 1693 and long since rebuilt. It is a beautiful church
with a latin-cross plan and three naves housing numerous sacred
images dedicated to St. Gregory and St. Joseph, and scenes from
the New Testament. The Benedictin Monastery, standing next to the
church and dedicated to Saint Nicholas, today houses the Faculty
of Literature and Philosophy.
church of S. Agata la Vetere, rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake,
replaced a paleo-christian basilica and preserves an interesting
sarcophagus of St. Agatha.
church of Maria SS. della Stella, in Militello Val di Catania, is
one with such outstanding works of art as a terracotta ancona depicting
the Nativity, and another depicting the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew.
Duomo of Acireale, dedicated to the Annunziata and Santa Venera,
was built between the late 1500s and the early 1600s. The central
nave bears interesting frescoes portraying the two Saints.
Basilica of Saint Mary, in Randazzo, is an ancient holy construction
of Norman-Swabian origin. Completed in 1239, it underwent many restorations
throughout the centuries. The central vault bears interesting frescoes:
one, dating back to the 13th century, portrays the Madonna del Pileri.
church of S. Margherita in Sciacca, Agrigento, was willed to the
city by Eleanore of Aragon and successively completed by the Teutonic
Knights. It was enlarged in the 16th century.
it has a simple structure with windows and doorways. Its single
nave is decorated with beautiful polychrome stuccoes.