Lipari Cathedral

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Lipari Cathedral or Cathedral of San Bartolomeo, is the oldest and most important monument within the walls in the Lipari Rock. The church, built in the 11th century by the Benedictine order, has been destroyed and then rebuilt several times throughout history. Of the original structure it is possible to appreciate part of its splendid cloister. It is one of three examples of Norman cloisters in Sicily and was rediscovered by chance in 1978.

The history of the Lipari Cathedral

The first construction of Lipari Cathedral dates back to the 11th century thanks to the Norman King Roger I of Sicily. In 838 the Arabs conquered the island, destroyed the town and deported almost the entire population. With the reconquest of Sicily by the Normans, the new Catholic rulers also took care to repopulate the Aeolian Islands archipelago. In 1083 a delegation of Benedictines arrived on Lipari and settled on the Castle Rock and built a monastery dedicated to San Bartolomeo (St. Bartholomew). Little remains of this building today because in 1544 the pirate Ariadeno Barbarossa attacked Lipari, destroying the church. Reconstruction of Lipari Cathedral began in the sixteenth century in the Gothic style and was completed in the seventeenth century in the Baroque style. After some extension work carried out during the eighteenth century, the church was partially rebuilt after an earthquake destroyed the vault and gable of the facade in 1861.

Architecture and artwork of Lipari Cathedral

The imposing facade of Lipari Cathedral is in the Baroque style and is characterized by the contrast between the light stone of the lower order and the dark stone of the upper order. Completing the elevation is the imposing bell tower, made in the second half of the 18th century. The central bronze portal, made in the 1980s, depicts four important moments in St. Bartolo’s connection with the Aeolian Islands. The interior of Lipari Cathedral has three naves with cross vaults, frescoed in the 1700s with episodes from the Old Testament. Definitely noteworthy is the Chapel of Our Lady of the Rosary, which has a splendid 17th-century marble altar with blue and ochre hues and a 16th-century painting.

Urns, relics and feasts of St. Bartholomew in Lipari

The interior of Lipari Cathedral also holds two relics attributed to St. Calogero. The first, a finger, is kept inside a silver reliquary in the shape of a forearm. This is placed at the foot of the statue, also made of silver, of St. Bartholomew, and both relics are carried in procession during annual celebrations in honor of the saint. A silver reliquary in the shape of a small ship of the line, called U vascelluzzu, contains a flap of skin instead. Its distinctive shape recalls a seventeenth-century miracle, according to which St. Bartholomew saved the people of Lipari from famine by bringing in a shipment of grain. The Vascelluzzo is also carried in procession, through the streets of the island, during the four annual festivals dedicated to the saint. St. Bartholomew, in fact, is celebrated on Lipari: February 13, March 5, August 24 and November 16. 

The Norman cloister of Lipari Cathedral

Norman cloister of the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew in Lipari

In the Cathedral of San Bartolomeo in Lipari it is also possible to admire one of the three Norman cloisters in Sicily, the others being those of the Cathedral of Cefalù and the Cathedral of Monreale. Its construction probably dates back to 1131 but it was severely damaged during Ariadeno Barbarossa’s assault. In the eighteenth century as part of the work to enlarge the cathedral, the north side of the cloister was incorporated into the right aisle. Having lost its initial function, it was used as a cemetery and covered over by more than a meter. The collapse of a retaining wall, caused by an earthquake, then nearly caused the structure to disappear. In 1978 Luigi Pastore, the sacristan’s son, snooping in the church’s former funeral chapel noticed the capitals and alerted the relevant authorities. After extensive restoration, the cloister is now visible in all its glory.

The architecture of the cloister

The cloister of the Cathedral of San Bartolomeo in Lipari was, in its original form, slightly trapezoidal with a cross-ribbed roof on all sides. For its construction, as throughout the Benedictine monastery, materials from monuments of the Greek and Roman city were reused. The squared blocks of the walls came, for the most part, from the Greek walls of Contrada Diana while many of the Doric fluted column shafts and some of the Doric capitals came from atria and peristyle of ancient Roman domus. Local artisans decorated many of the cloister columns with representations of monstrous animals but also with doves eating dates or drinking in glasses.

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