The Cathedral of Reggio Calabria
The Cathedral of Reggio Calabria is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Reggio Calabria- Bova and is the biggest religious building of the whole district, 94 metres in length, 22 metres in width and 21 metres in height.
The Cathedral has gone through a lot of vicissitudes because of the alternating links firstly to the Latin Church of Rome and then to the Greek- Byzantine Church until the Norman Conquest (1061) and the following renewed latin influence, the several rebuildings after earthquakes, wars and sacks, some of them recorded in the 1632 memorial stone (right side aisle) until the latest rebuilding after the 1908 earthquake.
On the initiative of the Bishop Rinaldo Camillo Rousset, the rebuilding works started with the laying of the foundation stone on the 15th July 1917and went on until the 2nd September 1928, date of the inauguration and dedication of the church. The works ended in 1929 when the bell tower was built.
The original project by Father Carmelo Angelini underwent several adjustments to the technologically advanced structure in reinforced concrete. The building is higher than the facing great square to which it is linked by a flight of steps 10 metres deep, on which there are two statues of St Paul on the left and St Stephen from Nicea on the right, both made by the sculptor Francesco Jerace (1934).
The Cathedral is dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption and it was raised to the dignity of Basilica Minore by Pope Paul VI (1978), its style is neo Romanesque following the canons of the Italian architectural tradition but with particular features resulting in an original impressive building.
Three bronze portals stand out (1988) from the façade, divided in three sectors by four turrets, inaugurated during the XXI National Eucharistic Congress in Reggio: the left Portal Madonna della Consolazione by Biagio Poidimani, the right portal Saint Paul by Nunzio Bibbò, and the central Portal Our Lady of the Assumption by Luigi Venturini, protected by a protiro on bundles of columns.
The interior is spacious and bright thanks to the big polychromatic stained-glass windows decorated with figures or geometric ornamental patterns; it has an impressive plant with three aisles interrupted by three transepts and divided by three rows of marble columns with bell-shaped bases.
The presbytery, higher than the hall and linked to it by a large flight of stairs, ends with a polygonal apse ; it is furnished by a wooden choir (1926) and is surmounted by a big wooden Crucifix (dated between 1600 and 1800).
The whole building is embellished by works: tombs of bishops 5th- 6th century, Pulpit and Medallion by Francesco Jerace, High Altar, two ambos and two holy-water fonts by Concesso Barca (1929); Bishop chair by Alessandro Monteleone; (1950) Marble Elliptical altar surrounded by a continuous bronze bas-relief by Antonio Berti (1970); valuable wooden full-relief Crucifix (sec XVIII), in the third side chapel on the right; nineteenth century paintings in the Presbitery Chapels: “The Assumption of the Vergin Mary”(1804?) (left side) by Crestadoro (2 X 4,50 mt) and “The Bishop consecration of Saint Stephen from Nicea” (823) (right side); Silver bronze Baptistery with lid (1818); valuable pictorial ornaments of the walls, transepts, vaults, apses.
The Church in Reggio Calabria and Saint Paul
There is a special tie between Saint Paul and the church in Reggio Calabria since the latter originated from the preaching of the Apostle, who landed in Reggio from Siracusa during his journey from Cesarea to Rome in 61 A.D. and stayed for a day as the Acts of the Apostles (28,13) state: "And from there, following the coast, we reached Regium."
We can find the inscription in the upper part of the protiro.
The column of the miracle
Saint Paul was the first to preach the Gospel and to start the first Christian community, led, afterwards, by Saint Stephen from Nicea, who was named bishop and left by the Apostle as bishop when he went to Pozzuoli.
According to an ancient tradition, Saint Paul's landing on the beach of Reggio along the seafront, where there is the "Cippo" was in the celebration day in honour of Diana Fascelide.
The story says that Saint Paul was given the permission to speak to the pagan and distracted celebrating crowd until the oil lamp which was placed on a column burn out. As soon as the lamp stopped burning a wonderful event happened. The stone column broke out in flames and continued burning and with its light Saint Paul's preaching lasted until the following morning. As we know that Saint Paul's first followers were Jewish or people from the eastern countries and the Romans regarded Christians as followers of eastern cult, we could see the story from a different prospective. Light has a symbolic meaning in the eastern tradition which, later, was handed down to the Romans. It means that it is a sign of God's revelation and the effectiveness and strength of preaching the Word of God.
The burning of the stone column, during Saint Paul's speech has also a symbolic meaning: it means that Saint Paul's words had the power of melting the hardness of the listeners' hearts. Thus, taking into consideration this symbolism, we could reinterpret what the ancient tradition has passed on to us. The passion of the Apostle's words inflamed the Brutium people's hearts converting them to Christianity.
Saint Paul is, therefore, considered the founder of the church in Reggio and father of the Christians in Calabria.
John Paul II proclaimed him the main Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of Reggio Calabria in 1980.
The liturgical memory of Saint Paul's arrival in Reggio is on the 21st May.
The remains of the column are kept in the right side chapel in the Presbitery.
On the right wall of the same chapel there is a memorial stone with a Latin inscription celebrating the wonderful event of the conversion of Regium people.
[AVE COLUMNA NOBILIS / ELECTRO ET AURIO DITIOR / ILLAQUE MOBIS IGNEA / COLUMNA FORTUNATIOR / UOD ORE PAULUS PRAEDICAT/ TE FULGURANTE COMPROBAT/ TE CONFLAGRANTE RHEGIUM / CHRISTI FIDEM COMPLECTITUR / ERGO COLUMNA RHEGIA / HEBREOS UT ISRAELITICA / IN TERRAE OPIMA TRANSTULIT / TU NOS IN ASTRA DUCITO]
Hail oh noble column brighter than amber and gold and more provident than the fìre column of Moses. What Saint Paul says through his words is confirmed by your brìghtness. Thanks to your flames Reggio embraces Christianity. So, as the Hebrew flame led the Hebrew people to the Promised Land, you, royal column, lead us to Heaven.
The miracle is depicted in many works:
* Front relief on the Pulpit
* Golden bronze lunette in the altar in the “Saint Paul Chapel”
* Bronze bas-relief on a tile of the Cathedra
* On the right Portal
The Chapel of SS. Sacramento
Built at the end of the seventeenth century by the SS. Sacramento Congregation, this Chapel is the most important Baroque monument of the Archdiocese of Reggio Calabria – Bova.
The chapel essentially dates back to the times of the Spanish Archbishop Ibanez de Villanueva (1675-1695) who renovated the Cathedral employing Baroque forms. In the late Eighteenth century it was the nicest chapel inside the great Latin cathedral (Norman in origin) repeatedly destroyed by Turkish invasions).
The terrifying earthquakes in 1783 and on December 28 1908 caused serious damages to the monument causing it to be reconstructed. In the new current Cathedral the reconstruction works of the chapel endured over several decades and were interrupted by the damages provoked by a bomb in 1943. During these works, the original place of the chapel (in Cornu Evangelii) was not respected to prefer the end of the left transept. The chapel was finally reopened with the intervention of the Archbishop Giovanni Ferro on December 25 1965.
The chapel has a square plan with corner pillars and its architectural structure is made of groups of half columns which separate the niches housing the statues from the frames with paintings.
All the walls are covered with polychrome marbles inlaid with motifs of flowered racemes and birds. The lower parts are decorated with large drawings with wider chromatic areas, whilst the upper parts are decorated with a number of densely distributed smaller drawings.
Over the altar, four huge and valuable monolithic columns colored with yellow-hinted Nero Portoro marble edge the nice painting by the Seventeenth century painter Marolì from Messina representing Melchizedek’s sacrifice and prefiguring the Holy Eucharist. The whole structure is reminiscent of the opulent Roman Baroque.
In the walls’ niches eight marble statues represent the four Evangelists, Saints Peter and Paul, St Thomas and St Bonaventura (reconstructed in the twentieth century). The two paintings The Dinner of Emmaus and An Angel Awakens the Prophet Elijah are modern reinterpretations by the local painter Bava, as well as the frescos in the upper lunettes (The Multiplied Bread and Water from the Rock). The two candlestands in the form of angels placed on the altar’s sides are signed by Di Raco, a sculptor from Reggio Calabria. Near the columns, great white marble flowered scrolls with little angles stand out, but the altar is decorated with a series of tarsias except for the Paliotto (the altar frontal) that is inlaid with racemes around the central elliptic part where the chalice with the consecrated host is clearly perceivable. This part was realized earlier than the decoration of the rest of the chapel that is a typical example of the “spectacular” Baroque decoration with tarsias or marble fragments very commonly used in Sicily. The grandiose decoration, reminiscent of the incredibly sumptuous Neapolitan marquetries, is made of Sicilian marbles (the Rose marble from Taormina, the yellow Castronuovo) and of other marbles varieties, primarily porphyries, tourmalines and chalcedonies. This work was performed by the marmorai (marble workers) from the city of Messina, a significant artistic centre in the Eighteenth century.
The chapel decorative motifs (which can be found, in Reggio Calabria, in very valuable holy vestments dating back to the same historical period) are perfectly in harmony with the classical structures of balustrades, capitals, cornices and the rich white marble decorative friezes, thus making emerge the whole peaceful beauty of this gorgeous church Reggio Calabria boasts.