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Messina Off The Beaten Path: 15 reviews and 17 photos

 
 

c\da Badiazza



In the surroundings of Messina, in a valley at the feet of Peloritani Mountains, we find the wonderful medieval church of ' S. Maria della Valle o della Scala' ( St. Mary of the Valley or of Stairs); the church was born nearby an important communication road, which, through

long stairs climbing up the Peloritani,connected the eastern valley to the Tyrrhenian zone and to Milazzo plains. Its foundation goes back to the XI century, and was realized by Benedictine nuns, who, near the Abbey, possessed also a Monastery, whose remains are scarce. From its foundation, Badiazza had a great prestige, collecting many royal privileges ( beginning with that of William II d'Hauteville, in 1168), that were reconfirmed by all medieval sovereigns. About its foundation, a legend exists. Once, in the interior, there was a picture of the Virgin, who had stairs nearby. According to the legend, a ship, with merchants coming from Syria, landed to Messina and, after discharging goods, prepared to leave, hiding the Virgin's picture, stolen in the East. After many attempts, merchants realized they were holded by a supernatural force, and so decided to declare the possession of that precious picture. They went to the Archbishop and, in front of King Frederick II Hohenstaufen, declared their theft. So, it was decided to disembark the picture and the ship was able to sail; in the meantime, the picture was loaded on a cart pulled by oxen, and it was let free, until it stopped in the place where now the church lies. In 1282, during the Vespers' war, French soldiers, who were besieging the city, after pillaging the church, set it on fire.
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It was rebuilt and enlarged by Frederick II of Aragon and was later abandoned, because of the great pestilence, in 1348, when Virgin's image was brought in procession to the city, to avoid the pestilence. After it came to an end, nuns decided to move to a new Monastery, built inside the city, and used to return to the old one only in summer. Its decline, anyway, growed, because of torrents' overflowings and earthquakes. From 1982 it underwent a new restoration. The church is a fine example of medieval art and puts together many aspects of Sicilian architecture of that time. The Latin cross church is divided into three aisles; the cupola, which collapsed in the XIX century ( but we can see it in some printings), was hemispherical, maybe influenced by Arab architecture. Later, gothic-like forms were added, as we can see in its characteristic ogival elements: apses' shrines, cross-vaults ( with mixed material of limestone and lava) and the portals. Aisles are divided by powerful pillars, surmounted by fine capitals with vegetable motives ( with hooked leaves and crosses). We do not possess almost anything of church's artistic patrimony. Apses were covered with fine Byzantine-style mosaics, made in the Swabian period: of them, only a little fragment remains, which represents St. Peter's head (now in the Regional Museum). In the Regional Museum, we also find a wonderful 'tondo' ( circle), in majolica, of the 'Madonna della frutta' or 'Madonna col bambino' ( Virgin of the fruit or Virgin with the child), attributed to the Florentine Luca della Robbia, of the XV century. The painting of the ' Madonna della Scala' ( Virgin of the Stairs), moved to the new Monastery in Messina, has been lost because of 1908's earthquake. The exterior of the church, in the entire perimeter, is characterized by a battlement, recently restored.

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  • Written Aug 24, 2002
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