Galatina’s Holy Treasure: Basilica di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

Martedì, 10 Gennaio 2017 10:31
Galatina’s Holy Treasure: Basilica di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria

La travel blogger americana Victoria De Maio omaggia ancora la Puglia, in particolare il Salento, con un interessante post sul suo blog www.postcardzfromvictoria.com, raccontando del suo tour nella meravigliosa città di Galatina, in particolare nella Basilica di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria.

Among the most important cities in Puglia’s Salento sub-region is Galatina. A lovely Baroque gem, it is located midway between Lecce and Gallipoli, in the heart of the Grecia Salentina.

Until 1861 Galatina was called San Pietro in Galatina in honor of the apostle who passed through here during his journey to Rome. And, if you have the opportunity to pass through, you will find a visit to be well worthwhile.

That Galatina was once affluent is apparent in the ornate Baroque façades of faded palaces and edifices…

As you stroll through the streets and squares, you are often invited to pause and admire their elegant grace and sophistication…

However, there is another reason to visit Galatina and that reason is theBasilica di Santa Caterina d’Alessandra. As you enter Piazzetta Orsini, at first the exterior is quite unassuming until you approach the elaborate entrance and belies what awaits you once you step inside…

But first a little history…

In the late 14th century Raimondello Orsini del Balzo, the wealthiest noble of the Salento, decided to build a new church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexander. In order to guarantee the importance of the church, the story has it that he traveled to the Holy Land to visit the relics and Sanctuary of Santa Catherine d’Alexandria. And, furthermore, while kissing the hand of the Holy saint, he actually bit off a finger and brought it back as a holy relic! Why? Because possession of such a precious relic would raise his status and the stature of the church to being designated as a basilica by the pope. And, so it was…

But first a little history…

In the late 14th century Raimondello Orsini del Balzo, the wealthiest noble of the Salento, decided to build a new church dedicated to St. Catherine of Alexander. In order to guarantee the importance of the church, the story has it that he traveled to the Holy Land to visit the relics and Sanctuary of Santa Catherine d’Alexandria. And, furthermore, while kissing the hand of the Holy saint, he actually bit off a finger and brought it back as a holy relic! Why? Because possession of such a precious relic would raise his status and the stature of the church to being designated as a basilica by the pope. And, so it was…

Construction took place between 1384 and 1391 and the new cathedral was built in Romanesque Pugliese style by the Franciscans. Princess Marie d’Enghien de Brienne, a Frenchwoman married to the wealthy Raimondello Orsini del Balzo, became a dedicated patron of the church.

Between them, they had enough wealth to commission a court of artists from all over Italy, especially from Tuscany and Naples, to work on the spectacular interior.

And it is indeed, spectacular…

Entering the Basilica di Santa Caterina d’Alessandra is like entering a positively breathtaking jewel box with spectacular, richly frescoed walls, columns and ceilings, and dramatic niches…It is the dazzling frescoes adorning virtually every surface with their brilliant colors accented by the vivid lapis blue background that enrapture us. Exquisite and heavenly angels, saints, cherubs everywhere…

Decorative symbolism and biblical stories surround us embellishing every surface…

A glorious cycle of seventeen subjects including scenes from the Old and New Testament, of the Apocalypse, Noah’s Ark, Genesis, the life of Jesus, the four evangelists, the life of the Virgin and, of course, of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.

Extraordinary and resplendent in scope and grandeur, it is said to be second only to the acclaimed frescoes of the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi…I believe you will agree…

www.postcardzfromvictoria.com

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