Church of Santa Maria Alemanna

The Church of Santa Maria Alemanna in Messina is a rare example of Gothic art in Sicily. In 1220, Frederick II built the church and entrusted it to the Priory of Teutonic Knights. The knights used this church and the adjoining hospital as a shelter and resting place during the Crusades. After a long period of neglect, the building has been restored several times since 1949 and has been open to the public since 2001.

History of the Church of Santa Maria Alemanna

The construction of the Church of Santa Maria Alemanna in Messina dates back to 1220. In this year, Frederick II of Swabia granted the Teutonic Knights the right to erect a Grand Priory with a church and adjoining hospital. It was here that the Crusaders, on their way through the Straits of Messina, could rest and also receive medical care

Interesting fact: One of the people who benefited from the hospital’s care was the writer, Miguel de Cervantes. The author of Don Quixote de la Mancha was hospitalised in 1571, after being wounded during the Battle of Lepanto.

The church belonged to the Teutonic Knights until 1485, when its administration passed to the Magione di Palermo, who ran it until 1605. From this moment on, the Church of Santa Maria Alemanna began a period of gradual decline. It was first damaged by lightning in 1612 and then by earthquakes in 1783 and 1908. The first renovation of the building dates back to 1949, while the construction of the wooden roof and the glass closure on the west elevation dates back to 1994. Since 2001, the church has been open to the public and is used for exhibitions, events and performances.

Architecture of the church

The Church of the Alemanni is a rare example of an entirely Gothic building in Sicily. It has a basilica layout with three naves and three apses. The naves are separated by triple rows of pillars with half columns. From this point, narrow arches radiate out across and lengthwise, terminating in half-pillars along the perimeter walls. In addition to marble and limestone with grey-green veins, the main material used is plaster. The remains of the main portal and the side portal on the north elevation bear witness to direct inspiration from Byzantine and Romanesque sculpture. Inside, too, the Continental Gothic style is clearly recognisable, although the only remaining decorative elements are the floral motifs and human faces on the column capitals.

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