Cattedrale dell'Assunzione della Virgine, Lecce

Cathedral in Lecce

Cattedrale Dell’Assunzione Della Virgine, Lecce
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Holger Uwe Schmitt

On the admirable stage of Piazza Duomo, a prominent place is occupied by the Cathedral, an unshakable bastion of faith dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption and celebrating the new myth of Saint Oronzo, proclaimed the city’s patron saint in 1658.

The Cathedral, originally built in the city forum during the early days of Christianity, was reconstructed in the Norman and then the Swabian periods in honor of Saint Irene. The current structure is a Baroque masterpiece created by the architect Giuseppe Zimbalo, who demolished the ancient temple to build a more splendid and larger one.

Bishop Luigi Pappacoda, a key figure in the Baroque reconstruction, laid the foundation stone for the new building in 1659. The new cathedral was designed to be more spacious and representative, competing with the grand constructions of the religious Orders of the time.

Giuseppe Zimbalo, who became a leader of Baroque architecture in Salento, gave the Cathedral a monumental appearance, featuring two façades. The main façade is simpler and more austere, while the side façade facing the square is richer and more majestic.

The main façade, located laterally, showcases typical elements of Zimbalo’s architectural language. It features a horizontal string course cornice and vertical fluted pilasters ending with four pinnacles beyond the tympanum. Statues of saints, including Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Gennaro, and Saint Louis of Toulouse, are housed in niches, enriching the façade with capitals and fine stone decorations.

The side façade is more exuberant, designed as a scenographic backdrop for those entering the square. It functions as a triumphal arch, celebrating the three new patron saints of the city: Saint Oronzo, assisted by two angels, stands above the balustrade, while Saints Giusto and Fortunato flank the sumptuous portal. The coat of arms at the top of the pediment features a rampant lion “feeding the tail” of the client, Bishop Luigi Pappacoda.

Inside, the Latin cross-shaped interior is divided into three naves by imposing pillars with attached semi-columns. The central nave and transept feature a wooden coffered ceiling dating back to 1685, adorned with large canvases by Giuseppe da Brindisi depicting Saint Oronzo’s preaching, protection from the plague, and martyrdom, along with a depiction of the Last Supper in the transept.

Beneath the transept and presbytery lies a crypt, adding to the Cathedral’s marvels. Built in the first half of the 1500s on the site of an older medieval crypt, it surprises visitors with a forest of 92 Lecce stone columns, each displaying exuberant capitals with countless symbolic and allegorical representations.

Inside the Cathedral, each Baroque altar, superbly elegant and finely carved, narrates centuries of the city’s religious and artistic history. Among these are the altars of the Assumption, Saint Giusto, Saint Fortunato, Saint Anthony of Padua, and Saint John the Baptist, all created by Giuseppe Zimbalo. The marble altar of Saint Oronzo, with two orders, features a central canvas by Giovanni Andrea Coppola depicting the saint crushing the idol of paganism. The Nativity altar, displaying a Nativity scene on two levels, was created by Gabriele Riccardi in the mid-1500s from the ancient Cathedral. The main altar of the Assumption features a precious canvas by Oronzo Tiso, a renowned painter-priest from Lecce who lived in the 18th century.

The Cattedrale dell'Assunzione della Virgine, Lecce appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Lecce!

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Visiting Cattedrale dell'Assunzione della Virgine, Lecce

Address: del Duomo, 1, 73100 Lecce LE, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes

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