Catania Cathedral faces the city’s main square, and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
As you stand in Catania’s main square and look at the exterior of the cathedral, you’ll be impressed by its beautiful Baroque features. The many lovely marble figures decorating the exterior and grounds of the building add to its uniqueness. It’s easy to see why the cathedral is one of Catania’s most popular buildings — both during daylight hours and at night.
Catania Cathedral is also known as Saint Agatha Cathedral in honor of a young Christian martyr named Agatha who was killed at this site in the third century. Agatha was said to have been a beautiful and pious young girl born into a good family. She caught the eye of a Roman power broker, but she repeatedly rejected his advances and was rewarded with torture, mutilation (her breasts were cut off) and death. Agatha’s spirit is thought to have been a protective force in Catania for over 1700 years, and she remains a popular saint.
Catania’s Cathedral was built in the 11th century on the site of Roman baths (the bath ruins are partially preserved and can still can be visited by special admission), and the church still has some original Roman era columns within it. The cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt several times because of earthquakes and lava eruptions from nearby Mount Etna. The church was last very severely damaged in a 1693 earthquake, and was subsequently rebuilt in the Broque style we see today.
As I entered the church, I was struck by how much lava rock was incorporated into its construction. Much of the stone used in the building of the original church was harvested from nearby ruins of the Roman empire.
There are many tombs in the church, but perhaps the best know is one resting on a pillar close to the entrance. Here lie the remains of Vincenzo Bellini, Catania’s most famous composer.
Also notable is the Chapel of St. Agatha, which is said to contain the saint’s relics. The main altar area, with a unique pulpit and mosaics, are another highlight.
St. Agatha is commemorated every year from February 3 to 5 with all night processions through the streets of Catania. We had just missed seeing the processions by a few days, but several of the “floats” used in the parades were still on display in one of the side aisles of the church.
The cathedral has many lovely decorations and artworks and is a pleasure to explore. Here’s some more of what we also saw during our visit.