From the Castle to the Chiesa Madre

Ancient symbols of power
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Chiesa Santa Maria dell’Alto

Next to the Castle stands the solemn Santa Maria dell’Alto, the Mother church. Its exterior is characterized by a linear and simple architecture, with gabled roofs and a façade of neoclassical taste, built in the early 20th century. This is considered to be the most ancient Christian building of Paternò, as according to some scholars it is built on previous places of worship; originally of Norman foundation, the church has undergone several renovations that have altered the old style. In 1342, (as attested by a plaque placed in the sacristy) the church was rebuilt and another transformation was carried out in the following centuries, when even the orientation of the entrance was changed. The entrance that originally faced the West was changed and opened to the East, eliminating the ancient apses of which just the contours at the beginning of the 18th century stairway seem to remain. The interior of the temple, large and solemn, is also quite bare, both for the tampering suffered in the past and for the carelessness during the 20th century, despite the fact that in the 1990s the clergy of Paternò started the project of restoration.

The church has a basilica plan with three naves and a double row of basaltic pillars connected by round arches. The large barrel vault that covers the nave and the tiled floor was replaced in the 1980s with a design similar to the one removed. The elegant contrast between the grey of the lava stone and white plasterwork highlight the few but interesting works of art preserved here. On the walls there are large paintings of different eras: La Madonna del Riparo, Saint Peter Enthroned, San Nanieno and the guardian Angel, works dating from the 16th to the 18th centuries. There are also works of recent composition. On the high presbytery one can admire what remains of the Baroque wooden stalls of the Coro del Capitolo of the Collegiata, while the ancient painting depicting the Black Madonna of Santa Maria dell’Alto (in the past placed above the altar) is kept in the church dell’Annunziata of the ex-Monastery. At the bottom of the left aisle stands out a fine altar in variegated marble (17th-18th century), while in the bottom of the right nave there is a large altarpiece reliquary and a realistic Crucifix of the Baroque period. There is an ancient folktale linked to the baptismal font: if you place your ear against the font, you can hear the gasps of the underlying volcano.