Sicily

Day 6 - The Cathedral, Ortygia


Better known as the Duomo, this is an example of a Greek temple that has survive as a Christian church


In the C5th BC, the Greek temple to Athena dominated the Acropolis on the highest point of the island. It was a typical Greek temple with six columns on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides. It became a church when the island was evangelised by St Paul. The present cathedral was constructed in the C7th by Saint Bishop Zosimo of Syracuse. The Doric columns became part of the outer walls. These, along with the three stepped platform they were built on, and can be seen along  Via Minerva.

Ortygia cathedral

Arches carved through walls of cella to form nave.

Ortygia cathedral

The church was elevated to a Byzantine cathedral in 640AD. During the Arab settlement, it was converted into a mosque. 

When Sicily fell to the Normans, they appointed Latin bishops and the building became (and still is) a Roman Catholic Cathedral. The original roof was removed and the walls were extended upwards and crenellated. An apse was added at the east end.

The west front was damaged in the 1693 earthquake and was replaced by the splendid Baroque facade with the statue of the Virgin Mary above the west door. On pinnacles on either side are St Lucia, the patron saint of Siracusa and a C5th bishop, St Marciano.

Ortygia cathedral

Next to the cathedral is the Archbishop’s palace, which looks very plain in comparison.

Ortygia cathedral
 
Splendid Baroque doorways with decorated columns lead into the cathedral.

Ortygia cathedral

Inside, the cathedral is unique and has a very different feel to other Christian churches and cathedrals. It still has the feel of a Greek temple. The only natural light comes through windows high in the walls adding to the intimate feel.

Ortygia cathedral

The original Doric columns can still be seen along the outer walls of the side aisles and on either side of the west door.

Ortygia cathedral

Ortygia cathedral

At the end of the north aisle is a simple Norman apse with a blocked Norman window containing a small stone altar with a statue of the Madonna of the Snow.

Ortygia cathedral

It is very different to the main apse at the east end with its white plaster walls, Baroque altar and reredos with a painting of the Nativity of the Virgin, which feels out of place compared to the rest of the building.

Ortygia cathedral 

Ortygia cathedral

A passage to the right of the main altar leads to the Chapel of the Crucifix, with its C13th crucifix and painted dome. his is very dark with little natural ligh.

Ortygia cathedral

Ortygia cathedral

On the side walls are massive altars containing reliquary boxes with the bones of saints.

Ortygia cathedral

There are Baroque chapels off south aisle behind decorative metal grille doors. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for private prayer and has a massive Baroque altar with gilded pillars and a huge tabernacle. On either side are large Baroque plaster doors with fluted pillars and the painted ceiling has C17th frescoes.

Ortygia cathedral        Ortygia cathedral

Next to it is the Chapel of St Lucia. The altar holds a silver reliquary box with bone fragments from the saint. Above is a portrait of St Lucia. A C16th silver statue of the saint in a locked glass fronted niche is paraded round the streets on December 13th, her festival day.

Ortygia cathedral

Ortygia cathedral

At the back of the right aisle is a small baptistry with a C13th Norman stone font with seven bronze lions round the base.

Ortygia cathedral

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