From the first European church to the "most beautiful church in the world," the holy sites of Sicily belong on every Catholic's "bucket list."
Sicily is the Mediterranean’s largest island, and one that has marked the history of Italy and its surroundings in a profound way. It was here that the ancient Greeks established the so called Magna Graecia settlements—literally “Great Greece”—that acted as a cultural bridge between the Hellenic civilization and the the Romans, who later ruled the island. And Sicily was also the place that first welcomed Christianity to European soil. St. Paul stopped there on his way to Rome after leaving the Christian church community of Antioch, in modern-day Turkey. Since then, the island has played a pivotal role in the spread of Christianity in the Mediterranean, becoming home to some of the most important Catholic sites around Europe. Here is a list of five not-to-be-missed destinations.
1. Cathedral of Syracuse, Syracuse
Syracuse is home to the majestic Cathedral of Syracuse. Built in the 7th century over a pagan shrine, the Cathedral of Syracuse still features the original 5th-century BC Doric columns from the Temple of Athena. Over the centuries it was subject to new additions and stylistic changes that reflect the diverse history of the island. In the late 800s, when the Arabs conquered Syracuse, it was converted into a mosque. It was then re-converted into a church in 1085 by the Norman King Roger I, who commissioned a new roof and a series of mosaics. Its imposing facade was damaged during a powerful earthquake in 1639 and redesigned between 1728 and 1754 by Andrea Palma, one of the main exponents of Sicilian Baroque art, who added statues by Sicilian sculptors Ignazio Marabitti and Pietro Rizzo, including one of Saint Lucy, the patron saint of the city. Considered to be one of the most important examples of Sicilian Baroque art, the “Duomo di Siracusa” was nominated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.