The Church of Holy Mary of the Annunciation and
The Mother Church of Forza D'Agrò represents the ambition of village
citizens who, conscious of their cultural riches and proud of their
the feudal Lords and governors, decided to rebuild a large church as a
symbol of their civilisation. The reconstruction of the Cathedral was
completed at the beginning of the 18th century. The original church,
built in the 15th century, underwent serious damage in 1648 and then
again in 1693 due to earthquakes. The reconstruction was clearly
influenced by the religious and architectural ideas of the time: the
resulting counter-formation style and characteristic influences
of the Sicilian baroque are obvious.
The general layout of the new church is different, its
floor plan intersects that of the old church, of which the apse and the
transept behind the sacristy still remain. The beautiful and elaborate
entrance door dating from the 16th century, and miraculously spared
during the earthquakes, was reused from the original church. As well as
another two doors also surrounded by sandstone with carvings shaped into
the upper parts.
As often happened in the 18th century, the church was
seen as the monumental conclusion of a designed urban space, with an
elevated facade and a wide staircase leading up to the church. In the
new, north-west facing facade, the architecture of the church reflects
Spanish compositional and decorative elements. However, the undulating
and pyramidal shapes of the structure create a predominantly dynamic
form with snailing spirals and plumes, reflecting the typical style of
the Sicilian Baroque.
The facade of the church proudly points towards a
sky that seems to be made of the same material as the earth itself only
coloured differently. The two, round side windows and the small central
one are surrounded by full-circled arches decorated with floral motifs.
The large architraved window that opens onto the central nave is also
wonderfully ornate. Two very tall pilasters extend up the front of the
church and together with two horizontal ashlars positioned corresponding
to the side naves, divide the facade into five areas. The pilasters,
ashlars and ornamentation of the doors and windows, made from the local
grey sandstone, stand out magnificently against the background of the
facade. Running the length of the right side wall of the church, that
also contains an entry door, is an open space bordered by a low wall
with a bench. To the left of the facade an archway opens into a small
courtyard which contains a well and the entrance to the presbytery.
The bell tower of the church is distinctive for its
simple and harmonious architectural line, with well placed large arched
windows on each side. Restored several times over the years, it has
always been impressive for its green colour that stands out beautifully
against the spectacular countryside scenery.
Already admired for its architectural harmony, the
Cathedral of Forza D'Agrò was refined in the 1500's by the addition of
the main entrance door, "delicate work designed with a vivid and
detailed elaboration and a rare sensitivity" (from "Forza D'Agrò" by
The new entrance, made entirely of ornate sandstone,
adds further expression to the facade with two long, grooved columns
topped by classical capitals. Over the thick architrave graced by an "angel's
face", another decoration in sandstone is probably the frame of a
The interior of the Cathedral is equally elegant
due to the light succession of arches and columns that divide the space
into three well proportioned naves. On the inner surface of each of the
ten arches is found a circular decorative motif. The slender columns are
made from stone extracted in the nearby
Magghia district, near the church of St. Sebastian. About
three quarters of the way along the length of the church, the transept
traverses the three naves. The walls of the central nave end in a wide
curve (the apse) over which is the "scratched" basin of the apse,
referring to the semi-cupola subdivided into "segments" and finely
decorated in gold, with two side windows and a third in the centre. In
the apse, at the
top of four marble steps masterfully crafted by the artists of the time,
is the main altar of inlaid marble in varied colours.
The Cathedral has a trussed roof with exposed beams of
solid wood from which were suspended delicate crystal drop chandeliers.
On the arch of triumph, among bas-reliefs of angels and gold friezes,
and above a recently positioned wooden crucifix is the inscription:
M A G N I F I C A T
A N I M A M E A
D O M I N U M
that emphasizes the devotion of the church to the Virgin as these were
the words spoken by the Madonna after the angel's annunciation. On the
large arch over the main altar, between gold friezes and cupids holding
wreaths, is written:
A V E G R A T I A
P L E N A
The background is stark white and embellished by the
finest decorative mouldings. Architecture, sculpture, painting and
decorative marble work integrate successfully and harmoniously. Various
materials are used in the adornments enriched by stucco reliefs, the
placement of statues and especially by the chapels and
their polychrome marble compositions with
intertwining leaves and flowers. The most frequently used colours of
marble are grey, green, white, red and brown. The two side chapels on
either side of the main altar, and also resting on marble steps,
particularly stand out for their excellent workmanship. The other
thirteen altars of the church are true works of art in themselves that
highlight the skill and careful work of the artisans.
Of particular note is the first altar on the right as
you enter, dedicated to the Souls of Purgatory, with pairs of small
columns and capitals decorated with both floral and geometric motifs and
on which appear bas-reliefs of skulls and souls emerging from flames. At
the top is written the following:
PURGANTES ANIMAE DE SAXIS
NE CITO DUPESCAT MENS.
PENITUS OVE RUAT.
On the same wall, the holy stone of St. Gaetano is
noteworthy for the bas-relief of the Saint in white marble and for the
following inscription placed above the altar itself:
IN AERUMNIS, HIC CURRE
Various works undertaken over the years of
reconstruction have left behind faith inspiring inscriptions that can be
read at several places around the church.
On the third roof beam is written:
Hoc opus fecit M. Antoninu S. Villarà 1707
On the central window it reads:
Hoc opus elemosinis completum
On the left part of the arch of triumph there is the
ECCLESIA HUIUS CIVITATIS MATER DEO BONORUM OMNIUM
LARGITORI EIUSQUE INTEMERATAE VIRGINI MATRI TOTIUS CLERI AC POPULI
LABORIBUS: DEVOTIONEQUE PARATA SUMMA OMNIUM LAETITIA DE ORD.ne REV.m VIC:
GEN: BENEDICTA FUIT PER A. R. D. IACOBUM GARUFI APOST.cum PROT.m COMM.m
SANTI OFFICII AC ARCHIPRESBITERATUS LOCUMTENENTEM.
XXIV DECEMBRIS MDCCXVI
Thus, on the 24th of December 1716, the church of the
people dedicated to the Virgin Mother was completed, with the
contribution of all the clergy and citizens, it was adorned with great
devotion and rejoicing and blessed by the Rev. Iacopo Garufi acting for
The following wording dating from 1747 is on the last
pillar on the left before the transept
CAROLO BORBONIO UTRIUSQUE SICILIAE HIERUSALEM DEI
GRATIFICANTE GRATIA GLORIOSISSIMO REGE HISPANIARUM INFANTE PARMAE
PLACENTIAE CASTRI DUCE, MAGNO HEREDITARIO ETRURIAE PRINCIPAE REGII AC
FIDELES PATRIAE PATRES D: DOMINICUS TRIFATI N. s D: NICOLAUS PAGANO D:
IOSEPH GIARDINA IURATI IN AMPLIOREM IURATORIAE DIGNITATIS CULTUM HANC
EREXERE SEDEM ANNO DOMINI MDCCXLVII.
It is dedicated to the then reigning King of the two
Sicily's, Charles III the Bourbon, by the Jurors of Forza D'Agrò who
placed the inscription in observance of religious rites carried out in
Between the third and fourth altars on the right, a
tombstone commemorates the "mortal remains" of the Marquis Giovanni
Mauro, descended from a long line of nobles, who died on the 29th
To commemorate his appointment as parish priest on the
14th of September 1901, Father Sebastiano Riolo attached a marble
crucifix on the left of the arch of triumph.
Above the main altar, a true work of art in itself for
the polychrome marble work, is a large painting of the
The Mother Church of Forza D'Agrò is a good example
of the development of religious craftsmanship between the 1600's and
1700's, particularly in reference to the tradition of wood carving and
the work of goldsmiths, that resulted in an abundant and polished
production of sacred ornaments. The lower part of the apse behind the
main altar is adorned by a choir stall in
carved walnut wood, by an unknown artist belonging to
the Messinese school from the middle of the 18th century. The choir
stall is composed of 24 "stalls" in two rows and is where the church
singers were seated during religious celebrations.
Scenes relating to the life of the Madonna and Jesus
Christ are depicted on the back of each stall. The choir stall has
recently been restored.
The priests of the village were buried in the
The left nave ends with a side chapel that is
exceptional for its marble walls and ceiling frescoes. The altar of the
Sacrament is also found here.
Without a doubt, the most "famous" altar is that of the
Holy Crucifix, the patron of Forza D'Agrò,
represented by a wooden crucifix from the 14th century, originally in
the church of the same name in the Castle. Also noteworthy is the altar
where the statue of St. Catherine
of Alexandria is now situated, previously in the
church of the same name.
Of particular excellence among the sacred vestments are
a lively and delicately embroidered pluvial from the end of the
17th century in which the central part depicts the Annunciation, also
a chasuble and two silk cassocks embroidered with floral
Eighteenth century motifs are found on some chalices
and a crucifix with reliquary. The Cathedral of Forza D'Agrò once
possessed other ornaments from previous centuries. In particular, a 43
centimetre high reliquary in silver filigree dating from the end
of the 16th century. It was oval in shape and decorated with floral
motifs on a gold background which gave it a distinctive chromatic effect.
Unfortunately, in 1981 two chalices were stolen. The typical form of the
16th century is seen in a characteristic zinc flask that is 60
Dating back to the 18th century is the magnificent,
pipe organ featuring pedals and bellows. Until recently, it
accompanied the religious ceremonies carried out in the Cathedral. With
its finely detailed and spacious "balcony" directed towards organist and
choir, the organ is still supported on the nave to the left as you enter.
The structure has recently been restored.
The "Mother Church" also contains some paintings
from the 17th and 18th centuries, including works by well-known Sicilian
artists such as Celi and Filocamo. The former is the author of "St.
Gaetano and the Virgin", the latter of a "Sacred Family". Also worthy of
note is the painting by Giovanni Comandè representing the "Madonna of
the Rosary between Sts. Dominic and Catherine" (17th century).
In recent times the parish priest Father Di Natale, at
his own expense and that of the community, commissioned a representation
in relief of the Annunciation for the cathedral dedicated to Holy Mary
of the Annunciation and Assumption.
All over the region since the times of feudalism the
dead have been buried in churchyards. "Our" Cathedral was no exception,
underneath which are enclosed numerous tombs in various crypts
that, until the 18th century and for part of the 19th century, was the
graveyard of the citizens. The areas in front of the entrance and along
the side of the church, dedicated to the burial of the faithful and as
such called "upper cemetery", may even conceal a tomb that is larger
than what it seems, possibly even extending beyond the street below.
From the elevated wooden
pulpit of the church, also now restored, you can almost hear the "sermons"
of the old priest, the series of advice, admonishments and reprimands
directed to the faithful for their instruction and spiritual benefit.
Exhortations to the fulfilment of personal duties and virtuous practices
made to a proud community, forever sensitive to the religious word.