Visit Palermo church of Saint-Catherine
The Church of Saint-Catherine is in the historic centre of Palermo, on the north coast of Sicily. The church is just south of the Pretoria fountain and the square called the Quattro Canti.
Explore the Church of Saint-Catherine in Palermo
The churches are one of the highlights of a visit to Palermo and three of the most impressive among them - including the Church of Saint-Catherine - are almost next to each other, so a visit is very highly recommended. Even if you think you don't like the excesses of Baroque decoration I am confident you will like this church!
The Church of Saint-Catherine was built at the end of the 16th century and once formed part of a Dominican convent. Typical of Italian churches built at this time, it incorporates Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo elements and almost every surface is covered with paintings, cherubs, decorative marble and colour. The photos on this page will give you a better idea than my words ever could!
Before you enter the church, take a look at the facade. This is quite in the late Renaissance style, and in a recess above the entrance there is a 17th century marble statue of Saint-Catherine. The facade is quite plain compared to the interior and gives you no clue wht to expect...
When you first enter the church it is rather overwhelming, with an excess of decoration and artworks all around you. Before exploring further take a minute to sit down and understand the general plan of the church.
There is a raised gallery on red marble columns next to the entrance, then a central nave with six chapels, three on each side of the nave, followed by the transept and then the high altar, covered with jewels and gilded copper and with silver statues either side, below a frescoed dome.
Most of the decoration was added to the during the 17th and 18th centuries, although many of the artists names are unknown. Most visitors will simply enjoy the overall impression created by the interior of the church but it is also useful to have some information about the individual highlights so I have mentioned some of them below.
The statues in the pillars along the nave are of the important dominican saints. There is a great deal to see in the chapels along the sides of the nave:
Right side of the nave
- Chapel of the Seven Pains: paintings of the Last Supper and the Deposition of Christ
- Chapel of the Holy Cross: a large wooden cross from the 17th century
- Chapel of Our Lady of Mont Carmelo: paintings include the Lady of Mont Carmelo and the Virgin helping souls lost in purgatory
Left side of the nave
- Chapel of the Immaculate Conception: paintings of the Virgin, the nativity of the Virgin and the nativity of Jesus
- Chapel of Rosary: painting of Our Lady of the Rosary and statues of dominican saints
- Chapel of Saint Dominic: paintings include Saint Dominic and the Albigensian Massacre (an event that took place in France during the crusades) and the burning of forbidden books
The altar of Saint-Catherine is in the right transept, and contains a 16th century statue of the saint by Antonello Gagini in a large recess. In smaller recesses to the sides there are two more statues, representing Strength and Prudence.
One unusual feature in the church that you might not notice unless you are looking for it is a wooden wheel next to the altar of Saint-Catherine. This was used to pass items into the church that were required during the service.
If you pay extra to enter you can also go onto the roof of the Church of Sant-Catherine and get magnificent views across the roofs of Palermo and of the fountain in the square below (open 10.00 - 19.00 every day, entrance on Piazza Bellini). On Fridays and Saturdays the roof is also open from 21.00 - 24.00 so that you can see across the town at nght.
There are numerous other attractions in Palermo, including several other very impressive churches, and it is our favourite large town in Sicily: see the Palermo guide.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.