Churches and Palaces in Termini Imerese

At the time of this writing, there is still little information available regarding the arrival of Christianity in Termini Imerese. There exists the ruins of the church of Sant’ Elia (c. 300), located  to the east of Termini in Brucato, and built on a hill high above the Torto River Valley, but that is all. Elia is Sicilian for the Greek form of the Biblical name Elijah the Tishbite, which is written Ηλίας (Elias) in Greek. Elijah and Moses appear with Jesus during the miracle of the Transfiguration mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels. Most probably this church was Greek Orthodox, because St. Elias figures prominently among the saints venerated in Eastern Orthodox Churches.

c.300-Church of S. Talia near Termini

Ruins of the Church of Sant’ Elia (c. 300) built on a hill high above the Torto River Valley in Brucato, the latter of which lies several miles to the east of Termini Imerese on the other side of Mt. Calogero.

From 827 until 1061 Sicily was ruled by the Moors who were Muslims. The later date is the year in which the Normans, who were Catholic, invaded Sicily and took Messina. By 1071 the Normans had reached Palermo, the area in which Termini-Imerese is located. It still took another 200 years before the Moors left the island and Catholicism firmly took root. Perhaps Greek Christianity was known in Termini prior to 827, but still there is no information confirming this.

The oldest church still standing in Termini-Imerese is the Cathedral of San Giacomo completed in 1209. As its name implies, San Giacomo was the seat (cathedra) of a bishop. To be sure, its completion fits in perfectly with the end of the Muslim Era. So one can only surmise that Termini-Imerese had at least one Mosque before that time, the most logical location being in the castle above the city built by the Moors. The castle was slowly dismantled after 1860 when Sicily and the many principalities on the Italian Peninsula were united to form the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).


With relatively few residents, one might wonder why so many churches were built in such close proximity in Termini-Imerese during the centuries which followed the construction of San Giacomo. Part of the reason rests in the concept of Purgatory, where the souls of the faithful who had sinned and had already been forgiven via the Sacrament of Penance, still had to be purged (apparently by fire) after death before being admitted to Heaven. The crux of the problem lies in the fact that the Sacrament of Penance was useful only for obtaining temporary forgiveness for the sins committed by a human being during his or her life on earth. Having masses said for these individuals after they had died was perhaps the most efficient way to lesson the number of days, months, and years they would spend suffering in Purgatory.

Many churches in Termini include a necropolis beneath their edifices, in which the fully-clothed and mummified bodies of the church members who had died were placed. Clearly, in earlier times it was important to the residents of Termini Imerese to be as close as possible to the relic of the saint placed in the altar-stone of the church (or buried in the crypt beneath the altar) for the Eschaton, at which time the souls of all those had lived and died on earth would, once again, be joined to their  physical bodies for the Last Judgment.


Purgatory in the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

In the years following 1439, when the Council of Florence formally dealt with these matters, chapels added to existing churches and brand-new churches were built in Termini to deal with the number of masses needed to be said daily by the priesthood for the repose of the souls of the faithful departed.

Several churches in Termini were established by guilds or confraternities to care for the departed souls of their members. The church of San Crispino & San Crispiagnano was dedicated to the patron saints of shoemakers and cobblers, and stands in an area of Termini originally lined with shops where those professions were practiced.

In addition, there were monasteries and convents located in Termini which included attendant churches for the celebration of Mass and the Canonical Hours.

Published on July 26, 2009 at 5:02 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Impressive history lesson and photographs. I only wish and pray I could visit and do some genealogy research.

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