I’ve always had a soft spot for Sicilian churches which are a bountiful source of art and a depository for local history. From the cathedrals in the major cities to the ‘chiesa madre’ of any small ‘paese’, the humble Roman Catholic church contains a wealth of beauty which is hard to resist. It is a secret ambition of mine to visit as many major Sicilian Cathedrals or ‘Duomi’ as possible, it may take me a while as there are literally hundreds.
I visited Noto, Syracuse last spring for the Infiorata flower sculpting festival and managed to finally see the lovingly restored Duomo.
Noto was a little less magical and more decrepit than on my first visit seven years ago. The economic crisis is evident with many empty stores and dirty crumbling edifices who are obviously dressed up for the ‘festa’ and mostly abandoned during the year. I ask myself what is the good of being a UNESCO world heritage site if nothing is maintained? Yet there is some hope in the spectacular Duomo which has been pristinely restored and maintained.
The Cathedral of San Nicolo, heartbreakingly collapsed during an earthquake in 1996 and left the church draped in scaffolding until a little before 2009 when it was finally reopened. Thank goodness the people of Noto had the patience, fortitude and desire to restore it to its former grandeur.
You don’t have to visit any major Sicilian city to experience the artifice of Sicily, just go into any open church in Sicily (and in fact in the whole of Italy) they are usually open at all hours during the day, you will find many pieces of art, at no cost and often you will have the church to yourself, unless there is a service underway, then it usually courtesy to wait until it is over to walk through the church.
I found myself near Catania for a wedding this March and the bride was terribly late which gave me plenty of time to explore the stunning church of the Madonna at Biancavilla. Apart from a few other guests who were milling around I had the place to myself filled with grand marble floors, stucco detailed high ceilings, hand drawn sketches of the stations of the cross depicting the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, elaborate golden framed baroque style paintings of the Saints, delicate marble statues and lights made from delicate blown glass.
So when you come to Sicily, as I know you will, don’t programme every moment give yourself time to walk, explore the anonymous churches and you will be delighted.
-Rochelle Del Borrello