Postcard from Lecce, Italy: Lavish Baroque details grace Basilica di Santa Croce

basilica di santa croce

Lecce’s natural supply of a soft stone must have been a Baroque architect’s dream come true. Sculptors could carve leaves, flowers, winged creatures and lacey curvaceous Solomonic columns to their hearts content. Baroque architecture dominated Lecce in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the Basilica di Santa Croce perhaps standing as the queen of Lecce’s distinctive elaborate style inside and out.

Santa Croce was built between 1549 and 1646 by the Order of Celestines, a branch of Benedictines founded by Pope Celestin V (1215-1296). The pope was a reluctant one, serving for less than six months before resigning. His edict confirming a pope’s right to abdicate legitimized the retreat of Pope Benedict XVI more than eight centuries later.

Some of the building materials for Santa Croce were salvaged from the temple and homes of Jewish families in Lecce who were expelled by order of the Kingdom of Naples in 1510. Much of the decoration viewed above is the work of Giuseppe Zimbalo (1620-1710). While the atlantes, men, and creatures supporting the balustrade appear whimsical, they are a symbolic celebration of the Holy League’s naval victory over the Ottoman Empire in the 1571 Battle of Lepanto. More than 400 ships participated in the battle, and the death toll at the end was a loss of approximately 7,500 Christians and 30,000 Turks. A devastating defeat for the Ottoman Empire.

The hunched atlantes represent some of the 10,000 Turks captured; the animals guarding them represent the allies who took part in the victorious coalition organized by Pope Pius V (1504-1572) with major financial and naval support from Philip II of Spain (1527-1598). The cute-looking griffin below represents the Kingdom of Genoa; the dragon the Boncompagni family.

 

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Friendly since Phoenician times

This Phoenician woman appeared so friendly in the Cadiz Museum, as though welcoming us to town. Her wave in this post can be considered “adios” because these snapshots are our parting ones.

Love the sensuous Solomonic columns we encountered in random locations, the colorful azulejos benches and the braid left in a church alongside milagros. I had never seen a braid offered in gratitude for a prayer believed answered outside of churches in Mexico.

Next stop Cordoba.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: A piece of a saint to answer almost any prayer

Above is simply the underside of one low altar found along a wall of San Luis de los Franceses. The photo probably is not clear enough for you to really get the picture, but the entire length of it is a repository for bones. Sacred bones. Remnants of saints. And they are found everywhere in this former church. Some shards are almost microscopic and certainly appear so in our photos.

But most people probably visit San Luis for its unusual architectural bones.

By way of introduction, the building is dedicated to Saint Louis of France, King Louis IX (1214-1270). San Luis was the favorite saint of the woman who originally donated the land to the Society of Jesus if they agreed to honor him.

The titular honor also represented a politically correct move for the always-in-trouble Jesuits as a respectful tribute to the Bourbon monarchs ruling over Spain at the time. Appropriately, a majestically crowned portrait of San Luis by the prominent artist Francisco de Zurburan (1578-1664) dominates the main altar.

The Baroque structure was designed by architect Leonardo de Figueroa (1650-1730) on the plan of a Greek cross. The cross is crowned by an ornate cupola and features major gilded altars at the end of each of its four arms. Figueroa also incorporated a heavy dose of my favorite columns – helical or Solomonic twists.

Distinctive octagonal towers top the sculptural façade, a façade difficult to appreciate on such a narrow street. The four evangelists, the three archangels – they were all meant to address a major plaza below. The plaza envisioned did not materialize. Despite their tribute, the Jesuits ran into problems with the powers that were.

With the expulsion of the Jesuits from Spain in 1835, their properties came under the control of the crown. It is hard to imagine how much it pained the Jesuits to abandon the hundreds of precious relics of saints stored and displayed in every nook and cranny in this former church.

Repurposing of San Luis never resulted in irrevocable alterations affecting its original architectural integrity. The Provincial Council of Seville refurbished San Luis and reopened it to the public only two years ago.

While the former church is not consecrated, the bones still attract the faithful. Many of these probably received Vatican authentication for veneration centuries ago.

Think there is a portion of a patron saint housed within San Luis to meet almost any need for prayers that could arise.