Abbey of Santo Spirito (Agrigento)

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The Abbey of Santo Spirito (Holy Spirit) is located in the heart of the historical center of Agrigento. It consists of the church of Santo Spirito and the adjacent convent. Both buildings were built starting from 1290 in Gothic style with Chiaramonte elements and then remodeled in the following centuries. Inside the convent are some sections of the Civic Museum of Agrigento. Moreover, the nuns who still live in the building are famous for the preparation of sweet specialties, the recipes of which are secret.

History and architecture of the Abbey of Santo Spirito in Agrigento

The Abbey of Santo Spirito was built around 1299 by order of the Marquise Rosalia Prefoglio, wife of Frederick I of Chiaramonte. The people of Agrigento call it Bataranni, which means Big Abbey. The complex consists of the Church of the Holy Spirit and the adjacent convent. The church is one of the best examples in Sicily of the Chiaramonte style. The façade has a beautiful Gothic portal surmounted by a rich rose window. In contrast, the crowning of the elevation, with three small bell towers, is Baroque. In a niche, immediately after the entrance, there is a marble statue of the Madonna del Fonte with Child, a work of the Gaginesque school.

The Church of Santo Spirito in Agrigento: interior and artworks

The interior of the Church of Santo Spirito dates back to the 18th century and has a single nave with a coffered ceiling supported by large pointed arches. The existing stuccos were made by Giacomo Serpotta and represent four scenes of Christ’s childhood: the Nativity, the Adoration of the Magi, the Presentation in the Temple and the Flight into Egypt. These decorations date back to the period between 1693 and 1708, when the artist was in Agrigento. It was during this period that Serpotta painted the stuccos in the Church of the Purgatorio. Other works in the church of Santo Spirito include a 16th century stoup and a Madonna of the Gaginesque school.

The Monastery of Santo Spirito

Adjacent to the church of Santo Spirito is the convent, built entirely with local materials: sandstone, limestone and bastard mortar. Outside, a long corridor leads to the garden, with a 14th century fountain in the center, and to the cloister. On the ground floor of the monastery are: the chapel, the chapter house and the refectory. An internal staircase leads to the dormitory and the rooms of the abbess and prioress. In these rooms you can see a wooden ceiling supported by pointed arches from the seventeenth century and a series of niches intended for storerooms or individual chapels. In the northern part of the dormitory, there are medieval frescoes reminiscent of those in Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri in Palermo.

Interesting fact: The Benedictine nuns of the Abbey of Santo Spirito prepare exquisite desserts whose recipes are secret. Among the preparations are: pistachio couscous, royal pastry shells stuffed with a royal pastry filling, as well as sweets prepared for special holidays, such as sweet lamb for Easter and martorana fruit for November 2.

The Civic Museum

The Convent of the Holy Spirit also houses two permanent collections of the Civic Museum of Agrigento. On the second floor there is a rich collection of medieval statues, while on the fourth floor there is the Ethno-anthropological section of the Civic Museum, with domestic and peasant objects that recall the Sicilian civilization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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