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Recent travels- Duomo di Catania, Sicily

I found myself in Catania recently, which is a small city on the east coast of Sicily. I ended up one night at the duomo of Catania, the lavishly beautiful Baroque cathedral dedicated to St. Agatha and designed by Gian Battista Vaccarini. So I wish to share a picture that I took. You will find lovelier ones elsewhere, I am sure, and certainly ones showing better detail by daylight, but I am personally attached to my own experiences.

Catania Cathedral
The Cathedral of Catania, dedicated to St. Agatha.

The figure at the top is, of course, St. Agatha. Agatha was from Sicily, specifically from Catania. Naturally, she is the patron saint of Catania. In the hagiographic literature surrounding her life and acts, Agatha was martyred for speaking out against Roman pagan icons and statues. As Christianity struggled to gain a foothold in the 3rd century, and as followers and Fathers tried to define a doctrine that by then had too many tentacles to control, it had to define itself in relation to the pagan world that dominated it. Some Christians believed that pagan statues were symbols of evil, representing a polytheistic world that denied the supremacy of the one true God. But symbols are representations. Agatha was one who believed that the statues were themselves demons. She would not worship the pagan Gods or accept her Roman husband, having dedicated herself to the virtue of virginity. Among the tortures visited upon her was the cutting off of her breasts.

Giovanni Lanfranco- St. Peter Healing St. Agatha, 1614
Giovanni Lanfranco- St. Peter Healing St. Agatha, 1614

15 thoughts on “Recent travels- Duomo di Catania, Sicily

  1. This curch looks very beautiful. Is it as impressive from the inside as it is from the outside? I’ve never heard of Saint Agatha of Sicily before but that’s not very surprising considering the number of Roman Catholic Saints.

    1. There is a Catholic saint for everything. The inside is as beautiful as the outside, as Catholic churches tend to be being that they have such great love for ritual and lavishness. I milled about outside and enjoyed the main square around the church; there is a wonderful fountain nearby that is topped by a very Hannibal inspired elephant.

      If anything, the outside architecture and art is lovely enough.

      I do have a certain appreciation for Saint Agatha of Sicily if only because I find her story to be interesting. She was one of the earliest martyr’s after all. Even today she is included in the Mass of Roman Rite, and that is quite a considerable place of importance being that, I believe, only six or seven women are included.

      I have always found the stories of those who suffer to be beautiful. That is why, despite my doubtful consideration of God or a higher power, I am drawn to the Church. It is inconceivably beautiful how so much beauty can rise out so much suffering.

      1. I agree, there is so much beauty in religious art. But when I think of the Statue of St. Sebastian in the little baroque church of my childhood, the cages on the church tower at uni or the fresco of judgement day in the Sistine chapel I cannot forget that fear and cruelty can be used as instruments of power.
        I love visiting churches, but I’m never completely free of a certain, very slight feeling of oppression. There’s but one exception. The Sagrada familia in Barcelona. There aren’t words enough to describe the beauty and friendliness of this place. Have you ever been there?

        1. St. Sebastian pierced through with arrows? I have always found his representations uncommonly appealing. Beautiful would be a better word. Again, the beauty in suffering, but then that is what is intended when the word “rapture” is used to name spiritual pain.

          The history of religion has always been blood, hate, violence, and war. It is amazing that people have preserved it so faithfully when it has corrupted so much. I know that underneath the death and sorrow, there are messages of love and eternity, and this must be what people cling to. I cannot presume to take that from them. But what am I but a godless pagan, after all?

          You know, as a matter of fact I have yet to visit the Sagrada Família. I must make haste to as soon as possible.

        2. Yes, the very same. “Rapture”, this describes the facial expression of this statue very well, I think. He doesn’t look angry or desperate.
          Mh, in my case the seed definitely didn’t fall on good soil. I am unable to grasp religion, I always was despite growing up in a very, very Catholic area, despite knowing my bible better than most people and despite listening to Haydn’s wonderful Missa in Angustiis I love so much every day since a few months. The core of it, the bit that really matters is beyond my ability of understanding.

          About the Sagrada Família once again: You’ll feel something’s different as soon as you enter. You should aslo try to visit is as early in the evening as you can because the light and the coloured windows are beyond comparison.

        3. Religion is something some people need or want, and also what other’s find unnecessary or not very fulfilling. You find your fulfillment in other ways. You, with your science, appreciate the facts of the world, the very processes that create the world around us. God is unnecessary in that equation. Reason over faith, logic over religious doctrine.

          I love Catholicism. I do not believe in God or saints or miracles, but I love the splendor, the art, and the ritual of Catholicism. There is such grace in the Church, but I find their doctrine to be outdated, foolish, and dangerous.

        4. No, I don’t need religion but I’ve always been araew that there are things I cannot understand and which aren’t science cannot explain and probably should not try to explain. There are things I know and things I don’t know and that’s it.

          My feelings towards Catholicis, will always be mixed ones. I’m quite resilient and qucik to forgive but not quick to forget. But I think it’s wonderful you can appreciate the good adn the great aspects of this religion. Maybe some of it can only be seen from the outside and with a little distance.

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        5. There is value in everything. Though the problem with Catholicism is mainly Catholics themselves. They don’t exactly make themselves likable, not when they use a philosophy of peace and love to justify exclusion and hate.

        6. Most Catholics I know are very moderated. Laertis for example is a true angel even. Unfortunately it’s often hard to talk about this sensitive topic. People quickly feel under personal attack or cornered. So I usually just listen. But one is true, a religious idea or text alone never hurt anybody.

          It’s not too personal, just something I still don’t really understand: Until I was fourteen I was a Catholic and in consequence I had religious instruction from kindergarten on (I went to public kindergarten and school but that’s Bavaria 😉 ). In grade 3 those lessons were given by a priest because it was the year of First communion. He was a choleric and a traditionalist. Woe on the one who didn’t know P and X are the Greek letters Rho and Chi or if the Agnus Dei comes before or after the Eucharist. He made us come to church at least every second Sunday and we all had to go to confession…what horrible sins could 9 year old possibly have committed?
          Well, I got through that but three years later when it was time for confirmation I had preparing lessons again with this guy. At this time I was already aware that I didn’t believe and actually never really had. I didn’t want to have confirmation but my mom asked me to give it a last try and I wanted to make her happy.
          So one day this priest gave us a kind of questionnaire to fill in. It contained questions like “Why do you think people believe in good?” or “Do you want to be a good Christian?” or “What role does Jesus Christ play in your life?”
          I, in my nativity answered all those questions honestly. The questionnaire was anonymous but when he saw mine, he read it out in front of the whole class and started shouting. He said it would be “forbidden to think like that”, it would be “heresy”, “wrong”, “insolent” and some other things I can’t remember. I was shocked. I hadn’t written anything bad, just the way I was feeling. I had made up my mind to leave church before that incident already but it confirmed that decision. Confirmation was a very unpleasant day for me. I felt like a traitor of my own heart. Every single word of the credo hurt like a blow in the face.

          But that’s all past now. I’m not angry with the priest any more, nor with my mom and just a tiny little bit with myself. That’s what I have forgiven. But it showed me one thing for sure, I won’t have anybody telling me what to think. That’s what I’ll never forget.

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        7. The problem with religion isn’t religion, but what people do with it or because of it. Here in Italy, people remain strongly Catholic, though increasingly and most interestingly, more and more people are beginning to criticise the Pope for some of his statements. This is such an abrupt departure from the past, though I thought it only a matter of time. Blind faith is a dangerous thing, and questioning faith should not be blasphemy. Religion has the most horrible tendency of alienating people, and is solely responsible for the depleting numbers. Since when did extremism help anyone? Tolerance, love, moderation, now those are qualities people can rally behind. Though no matter how the Church evolves, I will continue to find better things to do on my Sunday evenings.

          I can’t imagine a nine year old guilty of too many sins, certainly no mortal sins. And what a shame it when when religion or religious leaders try to stop independent thought and growth. When those qualities are demonised, yes it is time to move on. I’m glad you had the personal strength to remove yourself from the Church. There are many out there who question organisation or hierarchy of the church, yet they fear to break away because they fear what will happen to their soul should they deny the Church.

          Believing in something solely because you are scared of what will happen to you if you do not seems terribly insincere.

          Thank you for sharing such a personal experience with me. I respect you even more now having read it.

  2. Yes, pope, right. I know two sorts of people: The one looks at him with very critical eyes, the other blindly adores him. Guess which sort I belong to.
    Don’t laugh at me, but I wrote this man a letter once. It was a very polite one but I sincerely doubt he ever read it himself.

    Sin is a conception I haven’t fully understood until this very day. I was afraid of many things as a child and I’m still quite good at worrying too much but the salvation or damnation of my soul never troubled my mind. What is te difference between sin and crime in your opinion?

    Breaking free form church definitely was a liberation for me. I was lucky though in the same year when I was old enough to do so ( here that’s 14 years) I also changed schools. In short that meant I left deeply catholic Bavaria (they still have an exceptional permission to put up crucifixes in every classroom, even in the public schools) for the much more tolerant north (where nobody even asked about my confession). I’m also very glad my family respected my decision and by now my father and brother took the same step. My mother cannot do it because that would mean risking her job.

    🙂 No, thank [i]you[/i] for simply listening and not asking the usually inevitable question: “But what do you believe in then? You have to believe in something!”

    Well, that’s it but I also had to learn that no matter how un-pious a person I am Christian culture has had an influence on me I cannot deny. As every year I am with my family now and we just finished decorating the Christmas tree 😉

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    1. I think it was really quite brave of you to send such a letter, and it must have been wonderfully cathartic. I don’t think people in religious communities know how they damage people by insisting upon stigmatising sin. I would like to meet a person who is without fault or flaw; the Pope himself is not even a creature without sin. But he has the kings to the kingdom, so he is allowed to Lord over all, and shake children to their core by threatening them with an eternity burning in hellfire? Scare them from doing bad or else, “God” forbid, parents must teach their children morality and ethics, and also empathy. It is so much easier to scare them from immoral behaviour through fear. And why do they get to judge what is immoral? Why are harmless things that hurt no one, that damage no one, immoral? It makes no sense, and I would rather my life of pleasure.

      Decorating your tree? That sounds so very fun. Tell me about your favourite ornaments. I understand people attach meaning to much that they put on a Christmas tree.

      1. Yes, it felt good. Especially since I hate it to remain inactive once I’ve understood something. Actio and reactio. I come to the conclusion I’m not made to believe so in consequence I want to stop to pretend I would.
        That’s how my mind works and doesn’t leave much space for “but”. It’s also the reason why I’m such a bad liar.

        I don’t get it either. All I want is to be left in peace and find my own way to happiness.

        Oh yes, decorating a Christmas tree is something very nice. We have porcelain bells and balls my mom collects to put on the tree and also straw stars. That looks very classy but I never put much meaning in those ornaments. This year I added an angel ornament Laertis gave me.

        1. I wish I could share some part of your resoluteness. It seems that my mind is an endless fountain of every single possible “but” in the universe. I don’t suffer from crippling doubt, I just over think everything to the point of thinking it into the ground.

          Being a bad liar is a virtue.

          An angel ornament sounds beautiful, and how very sweet of her. At least now you have something there that has true sentimental meaning. Those are always the best kinds.

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