A CHURCH, A TREASURE
Located in the heart of Ortigia, a few steps from the Duomo di Siracusa, the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia represents, for Sicily, an architectural unicum, a perfect mix of cultures and forms in which the late baroque style is well integrated with the Memories of the Spanish age and the suggestive painted ceramic flooring.
A MONASTERY AND
The actual date of the foundation of the church and the adjacent monastery is not known, but old documents indicate the existence of a monastic complex here in the mid-XV century. In 1483, the church and the monastery were enlarged and restored thanks to a hefty donation from Queen Isabella of Spain, but the catastrophic earthquake of 1693 destroyed the entire complex. The nuns immediately began planning for a new church and nunnery. In 1695 construction on it began and, ten years later in 1705, it was completed. The entrance to the new church, which faced east in keeping with Byzantine-Norman custom, was on Via P. Picherali, looked out over the Piazza del Duomo and became the building that closed the square. It was a triumph of Baroque and, as a result, the shapes were as brand new and amazing as the church itself.
The new façade, made entirely of clean light calcareous rock, flows upwards without any significant spatial interruptions, with the exception of a wrought iron balcony that divides the façade into two levels.
The balcony does not date to the construction of the church, the original one was removed during the Second World War as valuable scrap metal. The one there now came from elsewhere and was cut and adapted to fit in its new place, upon careful inspection you can see that the symmetrical axis of the balcony does not correspond to the that of the façade.
The sumptuous Baroque entry, and the adjacent spiral columns, is surmounted by an arched gable containing sculpted emblems of the martyrdom of St. Lucia. This is repeated twice along the façade, perhaps to make them visible from various points of view. The two side panels feature the heraldic shields of the Spanish royal family.
The church has a single, wide, rectangular nave and is closed by a domed presbytery. The church has two distinct areas: the nave and the apse. The walls of the nave are lined on either side by columns between which there are four Baroque altars and it is decorated with plaster. The apse is an octagonal space as wide as the nave, and the altar sits at its centre. In 1783, the church was renovated and the ceiling decorated with a large fresco depicting the 1646 miracle of St. Lucia, a miracle that took place inside the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia. They say that while a large crowd of worshippers was in the church asking for her help to survive the great famine that had struck the city, a dove sat on the bishop’s throne and in that moment word arrived that a large ship packed with wheat and fruit was willing to give up its cargo in exchange for hospitality. Since then, every year on the first Sunday of May, there is a celebration in memory of this event, commonly known as “Santa Lucia of the Quails.” This name is rooted in the ancient custom in which nuns would free doves and quails on the balcony of the abbey during the festivities.
The complex has changed over the years, the most significant intervention taking place after the Second World War, which had taken its toll on this building as well.
The floor of the nave is a copy of the original Baroque one, which had to be replaced in 1970 after it had been seriously damaged by chronic humidity.
Via Santa Lucia alla Badia, 2 , Siracusa, SR, 96100
Chiesa di Santa Lucia Alla Badia
The Burial of Saint Lucia
Every day from 11:00 to 16:00
Archbishop Curia of Syracuse
tel. +39 0931 65 328
CARAVAGGIO AND THE BURIAL OF SANTA LUCIA
The last three years of the life of Caravaggio, from 1608 to 1610, were tragic ones. On 6 October 1608 he had already fled Malta and on the 6th of December he was in Messina. During this short period of time, he was commissioned to paint the Burial of Santa Lucia
for the Church of Santa Lucia al Sepolcro in Syracuse: it was completed in less than a month.
The painting clearly contains autobiographical elements, full of the unmistakable signs of the artist’s tormented life and his efforts to bury his own pain along with the body of the saint. The dominating colour is that of the background, the colour of the earth into which Lucia is about to be buried, but there are also some rust colours on which the radiant sun emphasizes the gradual scaling down of the figures.
The composition is run through by a double movement: one that is diagonal from the mitre of the bishop at right towards the lower figures at left, and one in the forefront which reveals the physical tension of the two gravediggers. The figure of the virgin saint lies supine on the bare ground, the only horizontal element of the entire painting.
At the centre of the canvas, as though to form an upside-down T with the body of the saint stands a young man wearing a red cape: the red of passion, of blood, the only note of colour in this brown painting.
The figures in the background are clearly tormented: the woman with her head leaning on her left hand and the woman hiding her face in her hands are the painter’s mother, Eutichia, and his wet nurse. The bishop’s staff marks a pictorial afterthought on the part of the painter, which in the first version was pointed towards the right, towards the edge of the painting. In the final version, Caravaggio turned it to point inwards, towards the figures to close his composition.
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