Church of San Giovanni al Sepolcro

Church in Brindisi

San Giovanni Al Sepolcro
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Holger Uwe Schmitt

The Church of San Giovanni al Sepolcro, also known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or the Small Temple of the Sepulcher, is a Romanesque church located in the historic center of Brindisi. Although it is no longer used for worship, it is open to the public for guided tours.

This Norman construction, dating back to the 11th century, is believed by local tradition to have been erected by Bohemond upon his return from the Crusades. Contrary to some unfounded theories, it was never a baptistery nor rebuilt on an early Christian temple. Architecturally, the church follows the circular or octagonal designs common in medieval Italy, inspired by the Rotunda of the Anastasis in Jerusalem, built around the Holy Sepulcher, which was under the protection of the Crusaders. Similar structures, such as the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in Bologna and the Rotunda of San Lorenzo in Mantua, were erected in the same period.

The church was likely affiliated with the Canons of the Holy Sepulcher as early as 1126, when prior Arnone was appointed by Pope Honorius II to judge a dispute between the Benedictines of Santa Maria Veterana and Archbishop Bailardo. It remained under this Order’s jurisdiction until 1220, as documented by several papal records. In 1489, Pope Innocent VIII dissolved the Order of Canons of the Holy Sepulcher and transferred its assets to the Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem and Rhodes, at which point the church adopted its current name.

In 1761, an earthquake caused significant damage to Brindisi’s buildings, including San Giovanni al Sepolcro. The church’s trusses and roof collapsed, displacing the supporting columns. This damage led to a prolonged period of deterioration and the loss of 80% of its frescoed surfaces until restoration efforts in the mid-19th century. The church then served as the temporary Civic Museum from 1850 to 1955. Excavations have revealed Roman-era artifacts, including the floor of a domus, visible through an opening in the current floor.


The church has a circular plan with perimeter walls made of large carparo ashlars. The main portal is particularly noteworthy, featuring architraves framed by a cusped porch on two columns supported by lions with capitals decorated with fantastic figures. The richly decorated portal jambs display reliefs typical of Apulian Romanesque, including scenes of mythological and real animal fights, Old Testament references (such as Samson and Noah), and a depiction of a Norman warrior with a long, oval shield. A significant figure, possibly a sovereign with a crowned head, is depicted on the upper part of the left stupa, reminiscent of Byzantine imperial representations in mosaics. A small southern door has jambs decorated with animal panels from the early Christian tradition, dating to the 10th century.

Inside, the church features a horseshoe-shaped plan. A row of eight cipollino marble and granite columns with various capitals (some of ancient origin) support the roof, which was reconstructed during restoration in place of the original central dome. An ambulatory surrounds the interior, interrupted at the back by a wall against which the last two columns lean. The walls display remnants of 13th-14th century frescoes, including scenes like the Deposition of Christ, Madonna and Child, and Saint George with other saints.

The Church of San Giovanni al Sepolcro appears in our Complete Guide to Visiting Brindisi!

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Visiting Church of San Giovanni al Sepolcro

Address: San Giovanni Al Sepolcro, Via San Giovanni al Sepolcro, Brindisi, BR, Italy
Duration: 20 minutes

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