Visit Church of San Nicolo Inferiore
The Church of San Nicolo Inferiore is an ancient church in the heart of Modica, in south-east Sicily.
Explore the Church of San Nicolo Inferiore
Italy This Way comment: the church of San Nicolo Inferiore has some impressive frecoes from as early as the 12th century, but be aware the entire church is very small and most of the frescoes are in a poor condition, so a visit will only take a few minutes - but it is a very unusual church and worth the small entry charge
The entrance to the church is rather hidden: you can find it at Piazetta Grimaldo 85 (on Via Clemente Grimaldi where it meets Strada Castello), in the heart of the old town. The roads are rather complicated to follow in the old town of Modica: you want to be about 100 metres east of the Chocolate Museum, which is on the main road through the town.
The original church was lost during the earthquake that hit south-east Sicily in 1693, and over the course of the centuries the church of San Nicolo Inferiore become hidden behind more recent buildings.
After the earthquake the church of San Nicolella was built above the ruins of the original cave church. This church became a private building early in the 20th century. It was in 1987 that a boy playing football discovered a broken area of wall, and behind it discovered the church and frescoes.
The entire Church of San Nicolo Inferiore is built within a single cave, about nine metres long. The frescoes are along the rear wall of the cave, and were painted in various stages of history:
The central fresco shows Christ surrounded by angels and was painted in the 12th century. Christ has the letters IC XC either side, based on the Greek for Jesus Christ, is carrying the Holy Book and represents the Holy Trinity with the fingers of his right hand: these are all traditional elements of a Byzantine painting of Christ that you will see in many churches in Sicily
To the right you can see two saints on horseback, and then a fresco of two bishops, to the right of the apse. These were also painted in the 12th century.
In the 14th century more frescoes were painted on the wall of San Nicolo Inferiore, most to the left of the main painting of Christ. These represent various characters:
- Saint Peter
- Saint Vito
- A monk
- Virgin Mary
- Saint Michael
- A bishop, thought to be a French bishop from Paris
The last frescoes, the panel to the right of the others, was added in the 16th century. It was also at this time that the graves next to the apse were carved in the rock.
To the right of the main church you can see an area that was once a natural spring that flowed into a large pool, used for baptisms.
The town of Modica is one of our favourite towns in this part of Sicily and you will certainly want to visit when you tour the region. Other important baroque towns in the region include Scicli, Ragusa and Comiso.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.