NAME: Chiesa di “San Brandanu”.
LOCATION: Via Benedetto Radice, 51.
DATE OF CONSTRUCTION: There is no concrete documentation about the date of construction, but it is known that a chapel dedicated to the Irish St. Brendan (c. 484 – c. 577) already existed in Bronte in 1574. From early on, the church was not well-maintained and, when the Archbishop of Monreale, Ludovico Torres, came to visit Bronte, he threatened to have the church destroyed if it were not repaired.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The reasons for dedicating a church to Saint Brendan are still unknown and probably untraceable, but the tradition of St. Brendan in Sicily was most likely introduced through the Norman invasion and the settlers that followed. The “Chiesa di San Blandano” (or Church of Saint Brendan) may have replaced an older Chapel with such name that existed previously in the same location. Due to an epidemic of malaria in mid-1695 and to the devastating earthquake 1693, the Basilian fathers of the Abbey of Maniace were forced to move to Bronte and to build a new monastery. They received permission to move the monastery to Bronte in 1698, to the convent of S. Blandano, which was finally authorized in 1708 by the Judiciary of the Royal Patrimony. Even in the new monastery, the monks remained devoted to “St. Mary of Maniace.” They transferred to Bronte all of their relics and devotional objects, even the Byzantine icon of Santa Maria of Maniace (although it is still disputed whether the icon in San Blandano is a really copy and not the original). The laws of suppression established in 1886, shut down the Basilian convent of San Blandano. The monastery was later demolished and rebuilt for a period of time as a municipal building. The only remaining trace of the Congregation of St. Basil is the name of a nearby street: Via Orto Basiliani.
INTERIOR: The floor plan is simple, rectangular, and formed of a single-nave. There are five altars:
- The first on the right is dedicated to St. John of Damascus (the work of Giuseppe Dinaro, dating to 1827);
- The second is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin of Sorrows;
- The first on the left is dedicated to St. Lorenzo of Frazzanò (the work of Giuseppe Dinaro, dating to 1827);
- The second is dedicated to Saint Basil the Great;
- The high altar is dedicated to St. Mary of Maniace. The icon is set within a tabernacle, carved from a single block of marble. At the top of the tabernacle a large scallop shell and two palm fronds are sculpted, and flanking the niche, are two kneeling angels.
The Church of San Blandano has a great number of relics, many of which were donated to the Abbot Filippo Spitaleri. Some of them have been lost of the years and through the various reconstructions. One of the oldest organs in the province of Catania can be seen inside the church; it dates back to 1762. Despite the fact that the church takes the name of San Blandano (St. Brendan), there are no images of the Irish Benedictine who lived in Scotland around 570. Legends tell that St. Brendan visited Hell in his mortal form, and for seven years he sailed the oceans looking for the Garden of Eden.
EXTERIOR: The Church of San Blandano was built following classical linear and harmonious lines. Today the church appears almost suffocated by the building that have since sprung up around it. Some relief is gained through the two ramps of basalt stairs leading up to the facade on either side, which are also the only way to access the church. The simple linear aspect of the facade emphasizes the portal in dark gray basalt with the inscription: “S. Maria a fundamentis quasi edificata anno D.ni 1820“. Above the cornice we can admire the triangular tympanum in which are the Bishop’s seal: miter, crosier, and the Patriarchal cross of St. Basil.
ENTRANCE: Free, but the church is not always open
HOW TO GET THERE:
By car: From Corso Umberto, at the corner of Collegio Capizzi, turn onto via Cardinale De Luca, then left on Via Benedetto Radice, continue n. 51.
by foot: From Corso Umberto, turn onto via Scafiti or Via Annunziata, then turn right on via Benedetto Radice.