Sicily

Day 5 - Churches inside the city walls


Descriptions of three of the churches within the city walls


The CHURCH OF ST CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA is set back off Corso Umberto near the Palazzo Corvaja and is built in the C17th on the ruins of the Roman Odeon, which can be seen behind the church. The church was restored in the 1970s when part of the Roman theatre was exposed beneath the floor.

The simple exterior is built from pink Taormina marble and has a small bell tower in one corner. In a niche above the portico is a statue of St Catherine. The church is best visited between 9 to 9.30 in the morning when the sunlight streams through the west door lighting up the main altar.

The single nave is white plaster with Baroque spiral pillars decorated with vine leaves and cherubs. Chandeliers hang from the ceiling.  

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Taormina

The painting above the main altar depicts St Catherine surrounded by saints. At the top is God the Father.

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Taormina

There are more pictures on the side walls and three large side altars, one with a crucifix.

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Taormina

Also in the church is a marble statue of St Catherine dated 1493. This came from the original church of St Catherine which was outside the city wall and taken over by the Capuchins in 1559. In her left hand she is holding a book. In her right hand she is holding a sword used to kill a devil at her feet.

Church of St Catherine of Alexandria, Taormina

The CHURCH OF VARO (Church of the Visitation) is not the easiest of the Taormina churches to find. It is best approached up the steps just before the clock tower and Piazza 9 Aprile. These lead to a small square with the church on the top side. The outside of the church just looks like plain stone building constructed of Taormina stone. The only indication that is is a church is a red brick cross on the top of the steps.

Chgurch of Varo, Taormina

The church dates back to C15th, when the Spanish ruled Sicily and the word Varo is Spanish for Visitation. The crypt at the back of the church dates from the early years of Christianity. The frescoes are C17th and the church was restored and enlarged in the late C18th/C19th. Originally the church used by the important noble families, hence the elaborate decoration. By the end of the C19th, the congregation had dwindled and church was closed. It has recently been restored and reopened.

It is worth finding as it is a wonderful example of Baroque work with walls and ceiling covered with decorative plaster. The only light comes through small windows set in the ceiling.

Church of Varo, Taormina

Church of Varo, Taormina

Even the pulpit is plaster.

Church of Varo, Taormina

At the back above the west door is a small gallery supported by two fluted plaster pillars.

Church of Varo, Taormina

Above the side altars is a niche with a statue, surrounded by pillars and cherubs.

Church of Varo, Taormina   Church of Varo, Taormina

The main altar has a huge gilt and silver host box surrounded by big retable with more plaster pillars with cherubs and a half canopy at top. In a glass fronted niche is a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows, which is carried in procession round the town every Easter. Above is a crucifix with paintings of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene on eithert side.

Church of Varo, Taormina

The fresco above the altar dates from1699 and represents the Triumph of the Cross with Archangel Michael wielding a cross and surrounded by angels.

Church of Varo, Taormina

The impressive tomb to the right of the main altar is the tomb of the Count Giovanni Romano Denti who died 1699. The Romano family are thought to have been responsible for funding the original church.

Church of Varo, Taormina

The CHURCH OF ST DOMENICA is very different. It is set in the middle of Via Giovanni Di Giovanni, below Corso Umberto and is surrounded by housing and shops. It is a very simple church with no fancy Baroque work and dating from around 1600. It was restored in 1958 when the roof was raised and the walls made taller. 

Church of St Domenica, Taormina

The inside is equally as plain, with simple plaster walls with paintings and niches containing statues. At the back, a spiral staircase leads to a gallery above the door.

Church of St Domenica, Taormina

The effect of raising the height of the walls can be seen very clearly on the very tall chancel arch, set on marble jambs, which looks out of proportion. The small apse is dominated by the massive marble altar and reredos.

Church of St Domenica, Taormina

The statues to the right of the arch are St Cosma and St Damiano, two brothers, who were martyred in Asia Minor in 303 AD at the time St Dominica was also martyred. To the left is a statue of St. Rita da Cascia, a C15th Augustinian nun who was canonized in 1900 by Pope Leo XIII.

The mosaic of St Michael on vestry door actually looks real until you take a closer look, and realise it is painted.

Church of St Domenica, Taormina

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