The Cathedral of Saint Mary Assumed into Heaven, called ‘Matrici’ in the local dialect, is one of the most beautiful and interesting historical churches in Sicily.
According to tradition, it was founded in 1233 with the name of ‘Santa Maria della Platea’, a name probably linked to its position along the main street of the city. Recent excavations have revealed the presence of numerous stone blocks that are probably part of an ancient Greek building, a sign that the builders used a pre-existing base belonging to an ancient public building, or even a temple.
Over the centuries, the Cathedral has undergone numerous transformations that characterize its present appearance. The Latin cross plan consists of three naves, with numerous side altars decorated with magnificent altarpieces from the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, some of which by Tresca and Paladino. The facade, in neoclassical style, was built in 1844 by Di Bartolo-Morselli in two orders, Doric and Ionic. Metopes, Triglyphs and acroteria at the top recall the ancient splendour of the Greek city of Gela. The imposing bell tower was built in the second half of the 18th century on the north side.
Among the most known and remembered historical events is that concerning the kidnapping of the Bishop of Syracuse, Tommaso de Hermes. In 1393 the Barbary pirates, attracted by the possibility of loot, attacked the city and kidnapped the bishop, who was at the Cathedral at that time. He was released a few years later under payment of a substantial ransom.
There is also an icon of medieval origin inside the Cathedral, depicting a Madonna and Child. According to tradition, the icon comes from the Holy Land and was brought to Sicily by the Teutonic Knights – this is why it is called St. Mary of Alemanna or St. Mary of the Alemanni. According to another version, it is dedicated to Our Lady of Manna and it is to her that we owe the salvation of the city during the great earthquake that devastated eastern Sicily at the end of the seventeenth century. The city’s patron saint is celebrated on 8 September with a large fireworks display and an impressive procession.
|YEAR OF CONSTRUCTION
|It is thought to have been built on the remains of an ancient Greek building
Written by: Giuseppe La Spina