The basilica Maria Santissima dell’Elemosina, better known as the Collegiata Basilica, is a late baroque church located along the Via Etnea, a short distance from the University building in Catania, in the Basilica Collegiata district – San Giuliano.
History of Basilica
The church stands on an ancient pagan temple dedicated to Proserpina. In the early Christian centuries, a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built on the site, which in the Byzantine era was called Madonna dell’Elemosina. In 1396 it was elevated to “Regia Cappella” as it was much frequented by the Aragonese, masters of the Sicily of that time. The church was rebuilt in the early eighteenth century, like most of the city of Catania, destroyed by the earthquake of 1693, before which the entrance of the building was in the current initial section of Via Alessandro Manzoni and after the catastrophe it was decided to invert it, making the church appear in via Etnea. In February 1946 Pope Pius XII raised the church to the dignity of a minor basilica.
Description of Collegiata Basilica
The project is attributed to Angelo Italia, who overturned the orientation of the new building compared to the previous one destroyed by the earthquake, in order to make it prospect on via Uzeda (the present via Etnea), foreseen by the reconstruction plan. The facade, designed by Stefano Ittar, is a masterful example of Catanese baroque.
The Facade of Collegiata Basilica
The bell tower facade (typical of the Sicilian tradition) is on two orders and in the first order has six stone columns, surmounted by a balustrade. In the second order there is a central window and on the sides four large statues of St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Agatha and St. Apollonia. On the second order a central element houses the bells. The church is accessed via a large staircase, on which, to delimit the parvis, there is a wrought iron gate.
Internal of Collegiata Basilica
The interior has a basilical plan with three naves, delimited by eight pillars, and three apses, of which the central one is considerably elongated for the realization of the choir of the canons, second in importance only to those of the cathedral. In the right aisle there is the baptistery and then three altars with paintings representing Saint Apollonia and Saint Euplio by Olivio Sozzi and a Martyrdom of Saint Agatha by Francesco Gramignani. At the end of the nave is the altar of the Immaculate, protected by a marble balustrade, on which a marble statue of the Madonna is placed. In the apse of the central nave is the high altar with an icon of the Madonna and Child, a copy of the Byzantine icon of the Madonna called the Elemosina (della Misericordia) worshiped in the collegiate sanctuary basilica of Biancavilla (CT). Behind the main altar there is a wooden organ from the 18th century. Laterally a wooden choir with 36 stalls, and to the side two paintings by the painter Giuseppe Sciuti.
In the left aisle in the apse is the chapel of the Blessed Sacrament with a marble altar. Continuing on, we meet three other altars with paintings representing St. John of Nepomuk, the Holy Family and St. Francis of Sales. In 1896 Giuseppe Sciuti frescoed the vault and the dome of the church with various images of the Blessed Virgin Mary, angels and saints.