The Basilica of Santa Caterina of Alessandria

Ciao Belli! How are you?

Today I want to share the history of a fantastic medieval building, the Basilica of Santa Caterina of Alessandria the masterpiece of Galatina!

A Romanesque style church, very simple outside, completely covered by frescoes inside! We are in Salento area, southern part of Puglia region, right on the heel of Italy.

Before starting, please note that Galatina is also famous for the yummy “Pasticciotto” pastry, invented here by a pastry maker Mr. Ascalone. The family still run their pastry shop in town.

Are you ready? Andiamo!

We have 4 main characters here:

  • Maria d’Enghien, an aristocrat and heiress of a big fortune
  • Raimondello Orsini del Balzo, a noble knight, first husband of Maria
  • Ladislao d’Anjou, King of Naples, second husband of Maria
  • Giovanna II, sister of the King Ladislao and sister in law of Maria

According to tradition, after a crusade in the Holy Land, Raimondello went to the sanctuary dedicated to Saint Catherine of Alexandria on Mount Sinai (Egypt). Before leaving, pretending to kiss the mummified hand of Saint Catherine, he suddenly detached her finger with a bite, and he went back to Galatina with this precious “relic”.

The Basilica was built in order to celebrate Saint Catherine, the relic and of course the glory of Raimondello and his family.

Years later, during the siege of Taranto, the troops of King Ladislao killed Raimondello! Imagine the difficult situation of Maria! She used diplomacy, she reorganizes the troops, she asked military help to the Pope -with no answer-. She did her best, but she was a woman, alone, with children. And we are talking about the middle age!

So, she changed strategy sending a letter directly to the king telling him she was ready to surrender only if he married her! The king was really impressed by her proposal and he accepted! (I’ve told you that was better than a soap opera!)

After a few years of marriage, King Ladislao died (and all problems started!) In fact, Giovanna, sister in law of Maria became the Queen: she was bad, lustful, spoiled, power-hungry and she hated Maria so much that she imprisoned her for a while.

After many ups and downs Maria was finally released and went back to Galatina where she carried on with the indoor decoration of the church.

Beware! She never forgot the treatment received by her sister in law, so she made an eternal “revenge” painting Giovanna in a scandalous way in one of the frescoes!

Today it is possible to visit the museum that is in the monastery of the church.

Watch the video and see it with your own eyes!

Un bacio.


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