NAME: Chiesa di San Giovanni – Church of St. John
LOCATION: Corso Umberto, 203
DATE OF DI CONSTRUCTION: The Church of San Giovanni was built around 1500.
HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The church dates back to at least 1500, as evidenced in a letter written by the Bishop of Monreale during a pastoral visit to Bronte. The church has been restored several times over the course of the years. On the architrave we can read the dates 1680 and 1790, most likely the dates of restructuring. The most recent restoration, in 2009, was undertaken to convert the space into an auditorium. Modern audiovisual technologies were added in order to create an adequate space to hold conferences or concerts of classical and scared music.
INTERIOR: The single nave is surmounted by a barrel vault ceiling and terminates is a very ample chancel, which is unique for its shape and size. There are seven altars:
- To the right of the entrance the first altar is that of the death of St. Joseph; it is decorated with a Baroque style oil painting from the first half of the 18th
- Next is the Chapel of Santa Rosalia (the church is also dedicated to St. Rosalia, as can been read in the architrave of the large window on the facade). Bronte was under the domain of the Ospedale di Palermo from 1494 to 1799 and the cult of the Palermo-born saint—completely forgotten today—had been imposed upon them for three centuries of rule by Palermo. The chapel is in the typical 17th century Sicilian Baroque style. Here, in the narrow space, the unknown artist created flamboyant triumph of decoration among friezes and frescos depicting the life of the saint. On the altar at the center of the Chapel we find an early 18th century Sicilian Baroque statue of Santa Rosalia in papier-mâché.
- The next altar is that of the Crucifix and is an equally important example of Sicilian Baroque of the early 19th century. The artist is unknown, but the decoration is in sculpted wood decorated with gold leaf. The Cross is known in Bronte as the “Notary Cross.” According to popular legend, when the peasants of Bronte did not have the necessary resources to pay the notary’s required fee for the drawing up of contracts, they would go before this Crucifix to make a binding verbal contract and shake hand to seal the deal. It is said that no one ever betrayed a promise made before this Cross for fear of retribution.
- The first altar of the left is dedicated to Santa Maria degli Agonizzanti (Our Lady of Last Agony) and contains an oil painting from the first half of the 19th century. The painting is important for the Church of St. John, since it was once the seat of the congregation of priests that assisted the dying in the last moments of their life. One of the duties of this congregation was to announce the deaths of fellow citizens to the people of Bronte, through sounding the church bells. The number of rings allowed people to understand whether it was a man or a woman, a noble or a peasant, etc.
- Next is the altar of the Dead Christ, decorated with an early 18th century Sicilian Baroque oil painting of the deposed Christ among the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and St. John Evangelist.
- The last altar of the left-side of the church is that of St. Anthony the Great, with a Sicilian Baroque-style wooden statue, embellished with gold leaf (early 18th century). The story goes that during times of war, the statue was camouflaged with various materials, to prevent theft or vandalism.
- The main altar is reserved for the Madonna del Lume (Our Lady of Light). The sculptural group that adorns the altar is constructed of modeled painted plaster, sculpted and carved wood and is painted with gold leaf; it dates to early 18th century, and is in the Sicilian Baroque style. The statue depicts the Madonna who holds the smiling Christ Child; with her right she casts a sinful soul into the flames of Hell. On her left, a kneeling Angel holds up a basket in which Jesus conserves the hearts of the penitent sinners, converted by the intercession of the Madonna. The altar is constructed in polychrome marble. Two pairs of twisted columns support an ornamental arch that defines the niche of the altar, above which there is an additional decorative Baroque structure. There are two additional niches on the sides of the altar; these were believed to be the original location of two small statues of St. John the Baptist, and St. Rocco, found during the last restoration.
EXTERIOR: From the beginning the Church was dedicated to both St. John the Evangelist and Santa Rosalia. In fact, both names can be noted in the inscription carved into the architrave of the window on the facade: «Ad honorem divi. Joannis Ev. et D. Rosaliae – Ph.s Sottosanti, 1659».
Also carved into the architrave are two dates: 1680 and 1790. With all likelihood, these indicate the eras of the first significant endowment to the Church on behalf of a baronial family, the Sottosanti, and the second restructuring carried out by the Abbot Don Francesco Sanfilippo, whose name appears carved into the lintel of the door, when it was restored and embellished with arabesque designs and stuccos.
The basalt door frame dates to 1799; the moldings and decorations draw from the style of local stonemasons.
The massive and stocky, black stone bell tower is distinguished by its eight-sided conical lantern.
HOW TO GET THERE:
by car: you can easily arrive by car in Corso Umberto. Parking is available along the Corso.
by foot: The Church is located about one block south of Collegio Capizzi in Corso Umberto.