The Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral of Messina has undergone many renovations and reconstructions in the course of its history. As a result of multiple earthquakes and a fire caused by air raids in 1943, not much is left of the original church.
History and description
Although the Duomo di Messina was constructed during Norman rule over Sicily, consecration did not take place until 1197. This happened in the presence of Emperor Henry VI of Swabia and Queen Constance of Hauteville.
The facade, including the portals and marble slabs, was completed between the 14th and 16th centuries.
Towards the end of the 17th century, the decorations got a Baroque style facelift.
The original 90 meter bell tower was destroyed in an earthquake in 1783. It was replaced by two smaller towers on top of the side apses.
During the earthquake of 1908, which killed 60,000 people, the cathedral was mostly reduced to rubble.
The new cathedral was consecrated in 1929.
Air raids in 1943 caused the church to catch fire. After having burnt for two days, most of the art works were destroyed. The cathedral was reopened in 1947.
What to see
The central one of the three Gothic portals was built around the turn of the14th and 15th century by Antonio Baboccio da Piperno. In 1468, Pietro de Bonitate added a high relief of a “Madonna and Child”.
The right side portal is the work of Rinaldo Bonanno, made in 1545 after a design by Polidoro da Caravaggio.
The main feature of the bell tower is the astronomical clock, built by the Ungerer firm of Strasbourg in 1933. It is the largest astronomical clock ever constructed. The bell tower itself was completely reconstructed after the eartquake of 1908.
The cathedral houses the funerary monuments of several archbishops.
The main apse baldachin and mosaics had to be redone after the 1943 fire, as was part of the right apse.
The baldachin contains an gilded copper relief by Pietro Juvarra (1660) depicting the “Delegation of the People of Messina to the Virgin”.
The Byzantine-flavored wooden ceiling was created after the fire of 1943, by the painter Daniele Schmiedt, based on a model of the original. It features depictions of saints, angels, the Madonna, Christ, symbols of the four Evangelists, and Old and New Testament characters.
The chandelier in the centre of the nave is a copy of the original, a donation by King Ferdinand II of Bourbon in 1847.
The floor is also a post-war reconstruction. The original 16th century design was the work of Giovan Angelo Montorsoli, a pupil of Michelangelo.
The side aisles contain statues of the Apostles, designed by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli in 1550. The only original one is “St John the Baptist”, made in 1525 by Antonello Gagini. All the others are reproductions, since the originals had melted in the 1943 fire.
The left apse mosaic is a leftover of the original 14th century church.
The Salvator Mundi mosaic in the triumphal arch was made by the Scuola dei Mosaicisti Vaticani in occasion of the 2000 Jubilee. Its design is based on a painting by Antonello da Messina. Antonello da Messina himself is depicted next to Jesus, together with St. Luke.
The organ is the second biggest one of Italy, after the one of the Duomo di Milano.
Address: Piazza Duomo, 29 – 98122 Messina. Phone: +39 090 774895. Opening hours: From 07:30 till 12:30 and from 16:00 till 19:30. Admission: Free. Audioguides are available (3 Euros).