Visit Palermo church of Saint-Cataldo
The Church of Saint-Cataldo is in the centre of historic Palermo, in the northern region of Sicily. The church is oftn used as a 'symbol' of Palermo and is one of its most important monuments.
Explore the Church of Saint-Cataldo in Palermo
Italy This Way comment: the Church of San-Cataldo is unusual among Sicilian churches because it is not decorated with mosaics and paintings and is now restored to its original form, which makes it very interesting as a contrast to the many baroque churches you will see on the island.
Built in the 12th century, the church of San-Cataldo combines two architectural styles: Arab and Norman. It was originally built as the chapel for an important palace, although no trace of the palace remains today. By the late 12th century the church had been given to the benedictine monastery, who retained ownership until the 18th century and used it as a hospital.
After the 18th century the church of San-Cataldo was used as the "post office" by the Sicilian government, and was apparently in a very poor condition. In the 19th century it was restored to the church we see today and it is also at this time that the architects chose the red colour for the domes and resolved the problems with the domes leaking. This red colour is now used by various churches in Sicily.
Many of the arches are "blind" windows, and most light enters the church through windows in the rectangular box that supports the three red domes.
From the outside the church is quite unremarkable, a simple rectangular box with rows of roman style arches, a simple facade and a roof on which three red domes are clearly visible. Inside, the layout is also simple with a central nave, two side aisles, and a small altar area, and walls of bare stone.
It is the three domes that give the church of San-Cataldo most of its character, because the interior has numerous columns and arches to support these domes and the entire interior space is open apart from these columns. In the side aisles, the ceiling is a ribbed vault which further enhances the effect, and many of the columns also support carved capital stones with interesting carvings.
The interior walls were plastered and decorated during a renovation in the 17th century, but these interior decorations were removed as part of the 19th century renovation. There is now very little interior furnishing in the church, apart from a crucifix in the altar area and a marble pulpit.
Although there are no mosaics decorating the walls in the church, the floors are of mosaic, made of marble and laid in an attractive pattern with both Muslim and Byzantine influences.
It is interesting to remember that although the church we see today is an independent building, that was never the case during its active history: it was always part of a palace, or group of post-ofice buildings, and had other buildings on most sides so it is quite a recent transformation that we can appreciate the building poperly.
There are numerous beautiful churches in the centre of historic Palermo including the Palatine Chapel in the Royal Palace, the Church of Santa-Caterina and the Church of La Martorana on the same square as the Church of San-Cataldo and Palermo cathedral, and a short trip out of the centre takes you to Monrale cathedral. See our Palermo guide for information.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.