San Giovanni Rotondo is a large town to the west of the Gargano (and the Gargano peninsula and national park) in the Puglia region of south-east Italy that is especially well known for its important religious monuments.
Our visit will focus on the churches and monastery since these are the most important artistic and cultural heritage in the city, and span the last 700 years from traditional roman style design to the modernist design of Renzo Piano.
Between the 16th and 17th centuries work started on the Franciscan Monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie, a monastic structure. The main altar has a tempera painting of the “Madonna delle Grazie”, from the middle of the 16th century, a work by the local school of Cesare Turco (1510-1560) and Decio Tramontano (active between 1556 and 1599). The painting of the Virgin is part of a triptych with S. John the Baptist.
In the sacristy of the Holy Shrine of Santa Maria delle Grazie there are some paintings depicting St. Anthony of Padua, St. Michael and of the Eternal Father, on the front door of the corridor between the old and the new vestry. They are attributable, probably, to a Neapolitan Mannerist painter of the late 16th century.
In the old sacristy three paintings are framed: “The crucified Jesus with the holy women and St. John Evangelist”, the “Lady of Sorrows”, and “Jesus crowned with thorns”, painted by monks of the time. Besides these important paintings note also the “Adoration of the Crucifix”, in oil on canvas and by an apprentice of Giacomo del Po (1652-1726).
The style of the church is very simple with clear references to the Romanesque style. The façade is in travertine and a rectangular shape divided by two rows of monolithic columns. Among the sculptures you can see the statue of the “Madonna delle Grazie”, by Antonio Bassi da Trani (18th century). A large mosaic depicting the image of “Our lady of Grace between Angels” also stands out, along with many other works by contemporary painters and sculptors.
After the death of Padre Pio, his brothers built the new Church of Padre Pio in San Giovanni Rotondo to accommodate an influx of believers, and commissioned a leading modern architect, Renzo Piano, to design it. The church is truly monumental, probably has little in common with what you expect from a cathedral in an Italian town with its soraing curves, curved roof and glass facade, and is also remarkable from the artistic point, being enriched with many statues by the sculptor Giuliano Vangi (born in 1931), made of “Apricena” stone, the bronze cross and Altar Apricena stone, by Arnaldo Pomodoro (born in 1926).
The tabernacle in lava stone and silver is by Floriano Bodini (1933-2005); the glass in the Chapel of Sacramento is by Michele Canzoneri (born in 1944), while the bronze doors and the baptismal font are by Mimmo Paladino (born in 1948), the "Eaglet" of marble on the wall is by Mario Rossello (1927-2000); the window of the church depicts scenes of the Apocalypse.
The Church of Saint John the Baptist gave the city its name due to its round shape. This church was probably a baptistery in the 7th or 8th century built on ancient foundations, perhaps an ancient temple of Janus.
Heading back to previous centuries, we conclude our tour of the religious buildings in San Giovanni Rotondo with the Church of S. Ursula, dating from the 18th century and with interesting contemporary paintings and also 15th century Flemish brasses in the sacristy. The external façade of the Baroque-Rococo style is adorned with fine statues and stucco while its interior is decorated with frescoes in tempera by Natale Penati (1884-1955).
The Church of Saint Hermit Onofrio, located near the city dates back to the 14th century, and has a Gothic façade complete with a rose and a portal with a bow worked in relief with acanthus leaves resting on two lions supported by two columns. The first construction of the Church of Our Lady of Loreto dates back to the 16th century.
You can see that San Giovanni Rotondo is a town characterized by the religious character of its tourism and art, but nearby there are also various opportunities for more classic tourism based on the seaside and nature.
You should also take the the opportunity to discover the traditions related to local handicrafts and the cuisine of Puglia - in this regard, the typical dish of San Giovanni Rotondo is the "Miscisca", mutton or beef, dried and then flavoured with herbs and enjoyed with a glass of the local good wine.
See also history of San Giovanni Rotondo