The Church of the Holy Trinity (La Magione)



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The church of the Holy Trinity, commonly known as “La Magione“, stands on the southern side of a vast clearing in the homonymous square Magione. A esplanade formed after the aerial bombardments of 1943 (particularly devastating in this area) whose wounds still open could be seen not many years ago.

This church, together with the adjoining abbey, was founded at the end of the 12th century by Matteo D’Aiello, chancellor of Tancredi, the last Norman king, who had received the royal crown from Matteo in 1190, according to the testimony of Riccardo di San Germano “est per ipsum Cancellarium coronatus Rege”.

The church-monastery complex occupied an urban sector within the walls of the city of Palermo, with sparse construction, where it was the only architectural element of the place, and was surrounded by a large garden, so large, that in times of famine, was planted with wheat to feed the population.
Matteo D’Aiello wanted to name it after the Holy Trinity, a choice not by chance, as a form of response to those doctrines considered heretical, which in those days, in the form of theological and philosophical currents, tended to alter the concept of “Trinity”.
For the same reason, the church and convent were donated to the Cistercian monks that St. Bernard of Clairvaux, at the request of his friend King Roger, had sent to Sicily years earlier.
In fact, this monastic order, at that time the most influential within the Catholic Church, was a real bulwark in defense of the Catholic Dogma of the Holy Trinity against all the heretical doctrines of the time.
The Cistercian friars kept the possession of the church and the abbey for a few years, in 1197 in fact the Swabian Emperor Henry VI, hunted the Cistercians, who had been hostile to him, granting the buildings to the order of the Teutonic knights (“ordo hospitalis Sanctae Mariae theutonicorum Jerusalem”) which counted the Emperor among its brethren.
From this moment the church took the title “Mansio Sanctae Trinitatis”, becoming the house of the Teutonic Knights, that is the “mansio theutonicorum”, hence the name Magione.
The Knights heavily tampered with the church and convent, distorted the original architectural structure, created new chapels inside the church, enlarged the convent and built a hospital for pilgrims of Germanic origin coming or going to the Holy Land.
They owned the religious complex until 1492 when the Magione was erected as a commandery (i.e. given in custody) and ruled for almost two centuries by Abbati commendatari (the first of which was Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, the future Pope Alexander VI) and they also made new changes by concealing pre-existing medieval structures. Finally, in 1787, Ferdinand III of Bourbon aggregated the church with all its assets to the Constantinian order of San Giorgio.

The church, built by workers and artists of Islamic origin, which was probably built incorporating a pre-existing religious structure (mosque), is one of the last products of medieval architecture of Sicilian Fatimid imprint (which was a Shiite Muslim dynasty that imposed itself between the tenth and twelfth centuries in some Mediterranean regions, including Sicily) and shows in a reduced key, the same iconographic scheme of the cathedrals of Palermo and Monreale.
The exterior has a rich variety of decorative motifs and possesses the unmistakable characteristics of the architectural culture of the Arab world that are found in almost all ecclesial architecture built in Sicily between the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
The façade is made up of three ogival portals with rincasso ferrules, one larger in the centre, which is also the entrance to the church, and two smaller side portals. Above are five windows, three of which are blind at the center and two luciferous at the sides, also, in the highest order, there is a window placed in axis with the main portal.
The rear part of the building ends in three apses, of which the central one is designed by well-protruding interwoven arches, while in the smaller ones these are barely mentioned and in the sides the motif of the blind windows with rincasso ferrules is proposed again.

The interior of the church, spacious and airy, combines the type of longitudinal plan with a Latin cross, with a central body with three apses. The result is a traditional basilica with three naves separated by large ogival arches supported by monolithic columns of different heights, with capitals with stylized plant motifs of different shapes and decorations. The motif of the columns is represented again in the area of the presbytery that appears raised, like the central nave with wooden ceiling, once magnificently painted.
In the past, the church, which must have been rich in precious artifacts and works of art (paintings on boards, painted icons and marble wall coverings), today we find it almost bare, there are few works but certainly of great artistic value.

Entering on the right side we find a 1953 Pietà by Archimede Campini. Next to the entrance, always on the right, a beautiful stoup of the sixteenth century, then, leaning against the wall, a Christ blessing the workshop of the Gagini and still a triptych marble late Gothic, with in the center a Madonna and Child and St. Catherine.
On the wall of the left aisle there is a stone cross with the emblem of the Teutonic Knights, below is the funerary sarcophagus of Francesco Perdicaro, Rational Master of the Kingdom, by Vincenzo Gagini. Then, attached to the wall, a Madonna and Child, also by the Gagini workshop, and further on an elegant Renaissance portal attributed to Francesco Laurana, leads to the sacristy.

In the more than eight centuries of its life, the church has undergone numerous restorations, the most important being those of Giuseppe Patricolo and Francesco Valenti who brought the church back, as far as possible, to its original appearance.
Finally, after the disastrous bombardments of the last war, it was once again restored and partially rebuilt.

This monument, which is located on the edge of the traditional tourist circuits, always has its own particular charm, almost spiritual: the bare stone, the simple lines of its structures, the bare ornamental apparatus, seem not to make us forget that religion before anything else, must be “poverty”.

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Samuele Schirò
Samuele Schirò
Direttore responsabile e redattore di Palermoviva. Amo Palermo per la sua storia e cultura millenaria.


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