Church of the Catalans

The Church of Santissima Annunziata dei Catalani or Chiesa dei Catalani (Church of the Catalans) is one of the most interesting churches in Messina. It is a splendid example of the harmonious fusion of very different styles. Indeed, there are Norman, Byzantine and Arab elements, along with some examples of late Romanesque architecture from Pisa and Lombardy. In 1534, Polidoro da Caravaggio painted ‘Andata al Calvario‘ (Going to Calvary) for the church, which now hangs in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples.

History of Church of the Catalans

The Church of the Catalans in Messina was built in 1150 on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Neptune. Its name is a testimony to Messina’s former mercantile tradition. The city on the Straits of Messina was, in fact, home to a Catalan community that had followed Peter III of Aragon, who established a flourishing trade and his Order here.

Interesting fact: The Church of the Catalans now stands below street level. Its floor level is that of Messina before its reconstruction following the 1908 earthquake that destroyed the city. 

Architecture and construction of the church

The layout of the Church of the Catalans is of Byzantine design with three naves, three apses and a dome grafted onto the transept. On the outside, it has elegant lines characterised by blind arches surrounding the main apse and the small dome tower, with geometric inserts of black and white stone typical of the Saracen style. The interior, which today appears quite bare, once featured many works of art. Two of these are now in the Regional Museum of Messina. They are the Last Judgement by painter Girolamo Alibrandi and a painting of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. The latter, which used to decorate the high altar, depicts not only Mary and the Angel but also Eulalia of Barcelona, now the patron saint of the Catalan city. In 1534, Pietro Ansalone, consul of the Catalan nation, commissioned Polidoro da Caravaggio to paint Andata al Calvario. However, the painting was sold in the 18th century and has been in the Capodimonte Museum in Naples since 1812.

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