Saint Orsola Church, today visible in the homonymous street, halfway between the lower and the upper parts of the city, is a precious evidence of the late Baroque. It was built in the mid-15th century in the place where previously a small church was located. It is situated on a rocky slope, in the district formerly known as “delli balati”, from the Arabic “balat” (polished stone, slab). Today, the appearance does not reflect the initial one, due to transformations and decorations added in a second time.

The church is dedicated to S. Orsola, who probably lived in the 4th century and became patroness of girls and schoolgirls. Tradition speaks about the young Orsola, daughter of a Breton king, who agreed to marry a pagan and he promised in return to convert to Christianity. In order to reach the bridegroom, she left with 11,000 virgins, but the young people met the Huns of Attila, who caused their martyrdom. Orsola herself died because of an arrow that pierced her. This legend has a historical basis as evidenced by an inscription in a German church, in Cologne, where the martyrdom of Orsola and the virgins is told.

The upper church

The current complex includes two overlapped churches. The Upper church, slightly larger than the lower one and orthogonal to the older one, was built when, on 29 March 1660, a relic of S. Orsola from Rome was carried to Termini and it assumed its final form in 1765. The elevation of the facade, constituted of limestone ashlars and missing the upper part, is clearly in neoclassical style. It is internally composed of a single rectangular hall, covered by a royal vault decorated by Don Alessio Geraci of the Society of Jesus in 1764. Three themes are depicted on the vault: the Glory of St. Ursula, the triumph of the cross and the souls in purgatory. The church is decorated with fake architectures such as the false small aisles between the pillars or the fake statues and granite columns featured on the high altar. A barrel vault covers the presbytery, here it is depicted the triumph of the cross and there are also the symbols of the Company of Death (the cross, the spear, the sponge, the skull and the hourglass). On the sides of the triumph of the cross, in the side lunettes, the themes of the resurrection and eternal life are represented. Under the altar, the patron saint of the altar boys is portrayed, Saint Tarcisio; while on the sides of the choir there are 2 scenes: on the left, David receives from the priest Alchimelech the sanctified bread, on the right, Judas Maccabeus sends 12 silver drachmas to the priests in suffrage of the souls. Finally, the church has 3 intercommunicating chapels on each side.

Left Chapels

Chapel of the Crucifix

There are the image of Santa Fortunata, a crucifix and a wooden altar, under the latter are depicted the symbols of the Passion.

Virgin of the Rosary

Painted in 1782 by the Palermitan author Pollaci. Saint Domenico, Virgin with Child and Saint Catherine from Siena are represented. In the frontal under the altar there are the symbols of the Dominicans (dog, lily, palm, 8-pointed star)

Canvas of the Immaculate Conception

Also in this case the author is Pollaci. San Giuseppe, San Martino, archangel San Michele and the souls in purgatory are represented.

Right chapels

Virgin of the Letter

It is celebrated in Messina and recalls the episode where two legates of the city accompanied by St. Paul ask the Virgin for the protection of the city. Author of the altar, the only one in marble present in the church, is Vesco.

Saint Benedict Altar

The author of the painting “San Benedetto resurrects a brother” (first half XVII) is officially unknown, although many attribute it to the Calabrian Mattia Preti for the characteristic whiteness of the hands and the realistic faces and gestures.

Chapel of Santa Cecilia

It shows the canvas of Santa Cecilia, protector of musicians. The author of the work is Rosario Vesco, who built it in 1753. On the frontal you can find musical instruments as a tribute to the Saint.

The lower church

The lower church stood under the old Saccari tower (from the Arab Saqqarah rock, hence the name of the current “Rocchiceddi” district), whose base consists of an old Greek-Roman tower. According to the legend, it dates back to the times of Himera. When the upper church was built, this first small church was transformed by the Company of Death into a catacomb of the brotherhood.

Fun Fact

The Company of Death (or of the Blacks) was founded in Termini Imerese on February 6, in 1569, under the influence of the Spanish domination. It included shipowners, master builders, merchants and fishermen. It dealt with works of mercy, such as giving alms, caring for the needy, spiritual comfort to prisoners and the dying, giving burial to those who could not afford a funeral, having masses said in suffrage of the dead. The symbols of the company are the hourglass with wings, the scythe, the cross, the spear, sponge and skull. We can find these symbols on the choir, in the holy water fonts and on the pulpit.

Santo Baddaru, Gaetano Vincenzo Impallaria, was a priest and a spiritual guide of the brotherhood. Tradition handed down to us recalls that, after his death, he laboriously climbed, during the night, among the steep alleys of the Rocchicelle district to comfort the afflicted and the needy, wearing out the soles of his shoes. For this reason, every year the Saint receives a pair of shoes in order to allow him to continue taking care of the neediest people in the neighbourhood.

Bibliografia:

  • “A spasso con Stenio” di Manuela Sinatra e Barbara Indorante
  • “Pittura del XVII secolo a Termini Imerese” di Anna Virzì

Sitografia:

Si ringrazia in particolare Maria Rita Costanza, fonte di preziose informazioni grazie alle quali è stato arricchito questo articolo.

Immagini: Gentilmente concesse da Roberto Tedesco

Revisione: Gentilmente effettuata da Manuela Sinatra

Traduzione: Gentilmente realizzata da Roberta Monastra