St. Agatha’s Abbey
Opposite the north side of the Cathedral, on the via Vittorio Emanuele, the church of St. Agatha Abbey, and its ex monastery annex (now owned by the municipality) occupy an entire block.
The soft fabric of the façade, gathered in rhythmical gentle waves, draws attention to itself which would otherwise be distracted by the other baroque elements of the Cathedral, the fountain of the Elephant and the Municipal Hall.
The edifice we see today rests upon the ruins of the ancient church and monastery, dedicated in 1620 to St. Agatha by Erasmo Cicala, and later destroyed b y the 1693 earthquake.
Vaccarini, architecture in balance with the environment
“Vaccarini was not one of those architects who pretend to put their knowledge into operation without taking into consideration the place where they are called to operate; a place intended as both the preexisting physical scene and the figurative traditional characters stemming from tradition. He succeeded in achieving the extraordinary task of creating architecture which was in harmony with the principles of his time and at the same time totally Catanese, so intimately was he able to penetrate the distinctive character of the local materials and of their chromatic effect in the violent light while so skillfully interpreting the style codes of the traditional repertoire.
Vaccarini did not hesitate if he had to include parts which had already been built or elements already drafted by others in the drawing of his plans and, as in the Senate Building (Town Hall), where he was able to graft onto preexisting footings with ashlar decoration the graceful dash of the flat “lesene” of the superior orders, so in St. Agatha’s Abbey he did not refuse to incorporate in the taut wave of the concave wall a portal flanked by twin columns and ornamented with minute decorations that the Abbess had already had constructed”. (Giuseppe Pagnano in La pietra di fuoco, 1994).
The church of St. Agatha’s Abbey, which is an architectural masterpiece by G. B. Vaccarini (1735-1767), has its plan in the shape of an elongated Greek cross inscribed inside an oval with its major axis perpendicular to the façade. The latter alternates convex-concave-convex surfaces on the first storey and thrice concave on the top storey echoing a theme very popular in baroque architecture: movement.
This amazing visual liveliness makes the broken lines of the edifice express such a plastic shaping effect so as to infuse movement into the entire structure and all its decorative parts. The constructions is closed at the top by a dome.
This expressive strength is repeated inside the church: the choice of the Greek cross reveals an aspiration towards perfection balanced between static and harmony. The interior decoration is simple and essential, white plaster decorations on the walls, statues, precious altars and marble embroidery on the floors.
There are glossy plaster statues of St. Euplio, St. Joseph, St. Agatha, the Immaculate and St. Benedict on each altar. Around the walls white half columns frame the gilt shutters.
Twenty-five small lights hang from the high apsis while a railing decorated with candlesticks runs around the cornice. Unlike other religious buildings the church does not have any paintings, while in the sacristy many of sacred character are displayed.
S. Boscarino, Sicilia Barocca. Architettura e città, 1610-1760, Roma 1981.
G. Dato, La città di Catania. Forma e struttura, 1693-1833, Roma 1983.
AA.VV., Enciclopedia di Catania, Catania 1987.-Guida di Catania e provincia, a c. di N. Recupero, Catania 1991.
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