Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce

Basilica in Lecce

Basilica Of Santa Croce, Jewel Of Lecce Baroque
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Bultro

Known for the decorative richness of its central rose window, the Basilica of Santa Croce in Lecce tells the triumph of Christianity through a rich repertoire of images. The facade captures the eye with its exuberance, where celestial figures of angels and saints are juxtaposed with human and almost bestial figures.

Historical and Architectural Notes

The Celestines arrived in Lecce in the 14th century and built the Church of Santa Croce to house the relics of the True Cross, near the Castle of Lecce. The original church was demolished during the expansion of the castle by Charles V in the mid-16th century. The current structure was constructed between 1549 and 1646 in the ancient district of San Martino, which hosted the Giudecca until 1541, the year of the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Naples.

The church’s construction and decoration involved some of the most important sculptors and architects of the Lecce Renaissance and Baroque periods, including Gabriele Riccardi, Cesare Penna, and Francesco Antonio Zimbalo. The interior, illuminated by a 16th-century dome, features Baroque altars, with the altar of San Francesco da Paola, created by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, standing out for its artistic significance.


The complex facade of the church evolved over a century. The lower order retains a Renaissance flavor, while the upper order, completed in the 17th century, bursts into full Baroque splendor. Between the two orders is a continuous frieze with the church’s dedication, “Templum hoc Deo Crucis vexillo dicatum” (To God and the Banner of the Cross). Above this runs an imposing stone balustrade surmounted by thirteen putti, supported by zoomorphic and anthropomorphic brackets with strong symbolic meanings: oriental soldiers, real and fantastical animals, typical of medieval bestiaries.

The intricate imagery is generally interpreted as referencing the Battle of Lepanto (1571), symbolizing the defeat of the Ottoman Empire’s fleet by the Holy League and the victory of good over evil, celebrating the Triumph of the Cross.

Altar of Sant’Oronzo

An example of popular devotion, this intriguing canvas depicts Saint Oronzo saving Lecce from the earthquake of 1743, as described in verses in the Lecce dialect. These verses recount the event:

(1743. It was Sant’Oronzo who freed us from the great earthquake that he caused on the 20th of February: the city shook for a while, and it did not fall. He, he, looked at her from heaven, and no one among the population suffered. It’s great, Holy! Indeed, one of the greatest Saints – holy men – and gives graces and miracles to millions)

Altar of San Francesco da Paola

The meticulously decorated columns of the altar of San Francesco da Paola, created by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo between 1614 and 1615, evoke the delicate beauty of lace embroidery. The triptych structure features a 19th-century canvas of the saint in the center, replacing an older statue. The side doors, like a narrative, display 12 reliefs illustrating miraculous episodes from the saint’s visionary life. Notably, some scenes relate to the capture of Otranto by the Turks in 1480. It is said that Saint Francis foresaw the fall of Otranto to the Turks but warned the Aragonese rulers in vain. Otranto was taken and remained under Turkish control for a year. Today, Saint Francis is a co-patron of the city alongside the famous Martyrs of Otranto.

The Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Lecce!

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Visiting Basilica di Santa Croce, Lecce

Address: Basilica di Santa Croce, Via Umberto I, Lecce, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes

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