La Basilica di Santa Croce

1 Mar

The Basilica of the Holy Cross is much loved by the citizens of Lecce. It stands as a testament to the Baroque archtectural style taking two centuries and three architects to complete.

The Basilica was built in three phases in the late 1500s and 1600s. Gabriele Riccardi designed the lower facade in the 16th century. Lecce born Francesco Zimbalo created the three main portals in the early 17th century. And later in the 17th century Cesare Pena completed the upper facade. All three architects worked in the Baroque style and designed elaborate carvings on every surface of the structure. Though there is a strong contrast among the figures and symbols used in each phase of the ornamentation.

The master stone masons and carvers of Lecce worked with limestone rock (leccisu) unique to Salento. This limestone is precious biocalcarenite, a particular soft stone that is unusually malleable and lends itself to intricate carving. The softness of the stone allows elaborate shapes and forms that another harder rock would not permit. But Lecce limestone is also porous leaving it vulnerable to the stress of centuries of aging and the elements.

Animals, figures, grotesques, saints, vegetables and putti (cherubs) oppulently decorate the exterior walls. Above the ballustrade the putti play with symbols of spiritual and temporal powers.

The interior of the Basilica continues the Baroque tradition with seventeen altars lining the side naves. Each altar is framed by multiple limestone pillars, no two the same. Elaborate corinths complete each pillar, a different motif for every pillar at every altar.

The highly ornamented wooden caisson ceiling looks down on the main vault of the Basilica.

The final glory of the Basilica lies in the Rose Window designed in Romanesque style and sited above the entrance of the church allowing light to gloriously flood the interior of the church.

8 Responses to “La Basilica di Santa Croce”

  1. leah george March 2, 2022 at 2:29 am #

    These photos are so great and the carving is amazing. Thanks Dana for showing the details of those figures! So informative, thanks you two. ;o)

    • Jill and Dana March 2, 2022 at 6:49 am #

      Hi Leah, You really have to stand and look for a long time. The thematic detail is astonishing. There are small churches throughout Centro Storico, many Baroque. Sunday morning is the best time to walk as most of the doors are open.

  2. Dede March 1, 2022 at 6:23 pm #

    I had to laugh when I read the word putti. I remember hearing it for the first time in an art history class in college. “Poo-ti”. It just made me smile. The details here are extraordinary. Thank you both for this beautiful and informative report.

    • Jill and Dana March 2, 2022 at 6:51 am #

      What I love about putti is the word actually sounds the way the figures look…chubby angels.

  3. Terrence Murphy March 1, 2022 at 6:11 pm #

    Fantastico! Two questions. How close is your apartment to the basilica? Just up the road in northern Puglia was an enormous air force base, both allied and Nazi, in Foggia. I’m wondering if Lecce suffered any damage during the war from bombing. What a tragedy it would have been to lose this magnificent structure. Thank you for the tour. Terry

    • Jill and Dana March 1, 2022 at 6:20 pm #

      Hi Terry, Our apartment is very close to everything in Centro Storico. We take walks every morning in a different direction each day. We stroll by many of the historical sites of Lecce on those walks. So far we have not seen damage from WW II. We will ask. It is astonishing that so many of the buildings here have survived so many wars. One of the facts I uncovered when researching the Basilica is that stones from the houses of the Jews who were expelled from Lecce in 1511 were used in the base of Santa Croce.

  4. Marty Farnwsworth March 1, 2022 at 3:56 pm #

    Your post makes me “see” the basilica better than I saw it when I was there! Good job!!

    • Jill and Dana March 1, 2022 at 4:45 pm #

      Thank you Marty. Dana’s photography is such a big part of that. He really sees the detail that others might not see. We know that there are any number of articles on the net that cover our choices in a much more thorough and complete way. Our hope is to capture a random detail that can stand as an exemplar for the feeling of being there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: