Cathedral of San Giorgio (Ragusa)

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The Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa is one of the most beautiful late baroque monuments in the city. Designed by the architect Rosario Gagliardi, it dominates the Ibla panorama with its neoclassical dome. Its Baroque elevation and imposing staircase were the backdrop for several scenes in the television series Il Commissario Montalbano. It has been a Unesco site since 2002: Late Baroque Towns of the Val di Noto.

The history of the Cathedral of San Giorgio di Ragusa

The history of the construction of the Cathedral of St. George of Ragusa begins immediately after the earthquake of 1693 in Val di Noto. There was already a strong rivalry in the city between the worshippers of the church of San Giorgio and those of the church of San Giovanni. Both churches were destroyed by the earthquake, and it was initially decided to build a new church that would stand halfway up. The work never began because of the constant boycotts by the two factions, so in 1738 the Sangiorgiari decided to commission Rosario Gagliardi to design the new cathedral. The architect was specifically asked to design a building that would overshadow the Cathedral of St. John, which was being built by the hated rivals. The work on St. George’s Cathedral was completed with the construction of the dome between 1819 and 1820.

Exterior architecture of the Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa

The exterior of the Cathedral of San Giorgio in Ragusa was built between 1740 and 1775 according to the project of the architect Rosario Gagliardi. It has three orders that give it a tower-like appearance. In the lowest order there are twelve triple columns, in the second six double columns and in the third four. Two pairs of volutes connect the first and second levels, where there are statues of St. George and St. James, and between this level and the upper level, where there are statues of St. Peter and St. Paul. One of the most impressive architectural elements of the church is its neoclassical dome. Made in 1820, it is 43 meters high and is supported by sixteen columns. When designing St. George’s Cathedral, Rosario Gagliardi placed the church a little to the left of the square in front of it so that the dome would be clearly visible.

The staircase of the church and its gate

The Cathedral of Ragusa is enhanced by a majestic staircase, also designed by Gagliardi, who also designed the Jesuit College in Modica, the church of San Domenico in Noto and the façade of the church of Santa Maria delle Stelle in Comiso. In 1876, since the staircase was very steep, some parts were added to make the path more comfortable. The imposing cast-iron gate dates back to 1890 and was made by Angelo Paradiso from Acireale. It is made up of twenty-eight columns with a square base decorated on both sides with circular medallions. The symbols of St. George are represented in high relief: the shield with the cross, the breastplate, the lance and the drum.

Interior and artwork of the Cathedral of San Giorgio of Ragusa

The interior of the Cathedral of St. George of Ragusa is divided into three naves by ten pillars with round arches. Along the thirteen altars that decorate the interior of the church, there are some splendid paintings. Among them are St. Nicholas and the Guardian Angel by Vito D’Anna from Palermo, the Immaculate Conception and St. Gaudenzia by Francesco Manno, the Rest in Egypt and St. George Slaying the Dragon by Dario Guerci from Messina. In a side chapel there is the statue of St. George, which is carried in procession through the streets of the city every year on the feast day dedicated to him. In the sacristy there is an altar tribune made of limestone in 1570. It consists of five life-size niches in which statues of warrior saints were placed. Today only St. George, St. Hippolytus and St. Mercury can be seen.

Interesting fact: during Holy Week in Ragusa, the so-called “Taledda” is displayed in the apse: a large monochrome canvas depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus.

The historic stained glass windows of the church

The Cathedral of St. George of Ragusa is also an architectural jewel thanks to its magnificent stained glass windows. They were made in the 1920s by the Luigi Fontana company of Milan, according to designs by Amalia Panigati. There are thirty-three in all, depicting scenes from the life and martyrdom of St. George. The stained glass windows, divided in a checkerboard pattern by sturdy frames, are embellished with fine backgrounds and framed by baroque-style decorations. Each window bears a family coat of arms or a reference to the person who donated it to the church.

The Cathedral Museum of Ragusa

Next to the entrance of the Cathedral of Ragusa is the Museum of the Church, inaugurated in 2009. Inside are statues, paintings, jewelry and church furnishings that survived the 1693 earthquake. Among the many artifacts are a Byzantine enkolpion, a silver and copper processional cross and a gold monstrance set with diamonds, emeralds and rubies, made by Giuseppe Vella of Palermo in the 18th century.

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