The Association is non-profit and its social purpose is the protection, preservation, and enhancement of the artistic, cultural, and monumental heritage owned by the Parish "Santi Pietro e Paolo" in Castiglione di Sicilia.

Association Museum of Saints Peter and Paul in Castiglione di Sicilia.

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+39 094 29 84 058

Opera & Library


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Vallidicanense Library

The Villadicanense Library, owned by the parish of SS. Pietro and Paolo in the municipality of Castiglione di Sicilia, is located inside a large structure.

It is a large room, where about 12,000 books are placed on impressive wooden shelves, among which stand out two precious incunabula dating back to 1498. There are also several hundred ancient books from the 1500s to the present. This makes the library valuable and of great significance.


The parish priest of the town Calì in 1832, after acquiring numerous texts, established the library, which he named "Villadicanense" in honor of the then bishop of Messina Villadicane. Most of the volumes deal with topics of History, particularly the history of Sicily. It was interesting to hold the smallest book in the library in my hands: "Compendium manualis Navarri. Confessarium tum penitentium" by Pietro Alagona, published in 1591, by the Dominici Base printing house in Rome. A manual used by priests during the confession of the faithful to identify the appropriate penance for each sin. 


There is also a rare theological encyclopedia: J. P. Migne, in French, which mentions all the fathers of the Church. Only two other Sicilian libraries own a copy. Another text of rare manufacture is a book of Psalms, dating back to 1680, owned by the parish priest of Castiglione di Sicilia, Giacomo Gioieni. The library has not been updated for years due to lack of funds. Additionally, numerous texts still need to be inventoried and cataloged! Each book represents a cultural and historical asset, capable of conveying not only theoretical contents but also emotions. Despite often resorting to digital means, the book cannot and must not be



San Nicola Church

It is one of the oldest and most suggestive in Castiglione. It rises right on the banks of the Alcantara River, next to the ancient royal road that connected Messina to Palermo through the interior of the island. Founded in Norman times, it was the chapel of the monastery of the Benedictine monks who had settled there. Inside, some Byzantine-style frescoes of a certain importance were also discovered in the apse: a Christ Pantocrator with the twelve apostles and, on the side walls, an image of the Madonna holding the baby Jesus in her arms. The fresco is very similar to that of the Madonna del Pileri in Randazzo (11th century) which is located in the church of Santa Maria, with the difference that one holds the child with the right arm and the other with the left. The church of San Nicola is located on the left bank of the Alcantara River, outside the built-up area and along the ancient rocky itinerary that runs longitudinally from Taormina to Termini crossing the Alcantara Valley, Le Caronie and Le Madonie, touching Castiglione, Randazzo, Maniace, Cesarò, Trona, Cerami, Nicosia, Sperlinga, and Cerda. The sources concerning this church are rare.


Many stories were passed down orally, acquiring a legendary character, such as the one that tells of Pope Urban II who, in 1098, passing through the Alcantara Valley to reach Troina, would have stayed at the monastery of the Holy Trinity, of which the church was a part. Instead, regarding official acts, the church of San Niccolò de Caca was for the first time mentioned in Pope Urban II's Bull of 1098, confirming the privileges granted by Pope Gregory VII in 1082, who recognized Count Ruggero as the savior of the Christian religion in Sicily, entrusting him with Greek and Latin churches, castles, cities, and mills in various territories, including Castellio, also known as Castiglione di Sicilia. For more detailed information, we have to wait until the 17th century when Rocco Pirri, one of the most authoritative sources on the Ecclesiastical History of Sicily, narrated the events of the monastery of the Holy Trinity of Castrileonis, attributing its Benedictine origin.


In the eighteenth notitia of his most famous composition, he specifically stated that in ancient times the seat of this monastery was located "near the river, named Alcantara, in a delightful place, a thousand paces away from the Town. Monks quickly erected a monastery and a church, which today preserves ancient traces under the title of Saint Nicholas, and subsequently was rebuilt "at the distance of a catapult shot from the Town, they founded the monastery under the title of the Holy Trinity". It is interesting to note that at the time when Pirri narrated about this church (1630-1649), the Baroque stuccoes that covered its walls until the end of the last century were not yet present. Probably, it was thanks to these stuccoes that the ancient paintings underneath were preserved until our times, becoming the main reason for the restoration of the church of San Nicola di Castiglione, carried out by the Superintendence of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of Catania since the 1990s.

The portions of these decorations that are more easily interpretable are those of the apse and the surrounding walls, but it can be hypothesized that it was entirely painted according to the ancient conventions of the Byzantine decorative program, whose canons were established after the end of iconoclasm and spread throughout the empire through the hermeneiae, which provided precise instructions on how to paint scenes of Christian history and the Saints. In the apse of the church of San Nicola, the scene of the Ascension is depicted. Usually, this scene was reproduced based on the New Testament (Lc24,50-54; Acts 1, 9-12) dividing it into two superimposed scenes, where in the upper one, Christ in a mandorla supported by two or four angels was represented, and in the lower one, the apostles were depicted (with some trees in the background), a pair of praying angels, and generally the Virgin. In the Ascension scene, the quotation of the verse from the Acts of the Apostles 1,1 was often included. According to Falla Castelfranchi, there are three documented cases of Ascension in Italy that respect the aforementioned canons and are accompanied by the verse from the Acts of the Apostles. These are the paintings in the churches of Santa Marina in Muro Leccese from the 10th century, Santa Maria in Cerrate near Squinzano from the 13th century (in the province of Reggio Calabria). Like these examples, the scene in Castiglione di Sicilia also includes the quotation from the Acts of the Apostles, but what sets it apart is the language, as in the church of San Nicola, the quotation is not in Greek but in Latin. Below the figure of Christ, in fact, a sort of scroll, held by two angels dressed in white tunics and red clavicle, presents fragments of an inscription in Latin that seem to correspond to the passage: Vir Galilei quid aspicitis in coelum, which means "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven." Below, the Apostles are depicted looking up to heaven, among whom are painted branches, palms, and olive trees that also seem to confirm the setting of the story narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, the Mount of Olives. The Apostles, divided into two groups of six figures, all wear the same clothes with colors alternating from one figure to another, except for one of them who appears in different garments.

Usually St. Bartholomew was represented differently from the other apostles due to his violent martyrdom during which he was flayed alive. However, in this case, it is likely that it was Matthias, the replacement for Judas Iscariot, who had not yet been chosen at the time of the appearance in order not to change the canonical number of the Apostles. 


The presence of the Virgin in the scene also raises some perplexities, but it is very likely that the artist scrupulously adhered to the text of the Acts of the Apostles, which does not include her among those present. Around the triumphal arch of the church of San Nicola di Castiglione, the decorations are unfortunately full of gaps, but from the remaining fragments, the following composition can be hypothesized. At the top, in the center, there were five medallions (of which only three are readable today) within which the Lamb of God was depicted in the central one and representations of the four Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John respectively portrayed as an angel, lion, ox or calf, and eagle on its sides. The presence of a fragment of an angel's body to the left of the arch, combined with comparisons with the most famous Byzantine iconographic programs in Sicily (such as the Cathedral of Monreale or the Palatine Chapel in Palermo), suggests that the Annunciation with the archangel on the left and the Virgin on the right of the arch was depicted there. In the middle register, four prophets of the Old Testament are depicted (who were traditionally represented around the figure of Jesus Christ) following the custom that spread in the 11th century, not anymore half-length within medallions but standing with a scroll unfolded in hand. In the lower register, the figures are clearer, allowing the identification of three bishops and a deacon. In detail, the first figure on the left wears the pallium and a pointed headdress that appears to be a miter.


The fact that it could be a miter seems confirmed by the fact that the vittae or infule, that is, the strips of fabric that hang from the back of the miter, fall on the shoulders of the figure.


The following figure appears as a young beardless man holding a book and dressed in the typical white dalmatic of deacons. It is most likely Saint Stephen the Protomartyr as he has a stone on his head, an attribute of his martyrdom, which usually characterizes him along with the thurible (which is no longer visible here due to severe gaps). Beyond the apse, there are other figures holding a book, but their faces are no longer legible. There are no inscriptions remaining on these figures that would allow for a certain identification, but it is not to be excluded that in addition to St. Stephen, one could recognize St. Nicholas, St. Basil, and St. John Chrysostom, who were part of the groupings of saints well codified in the Byzantine world. The southern wall probably had a very elaborate decoration as there are various traces of panels, but unfortunately, due to severe gaps affecting the entire wall, it is only possible to clearly distinguish two figures. One is an archangel in a standing position with folded wings, represented in the typically Byzantine manner where they were "depicted strictly frontally displaying the rich garment of the emperors, with their loros (a wide scarf wrapped around the body) studded with gems and precious stones, and that of the Virgin seated on a throne indicating the Child on her lap. It is probably the Hodegetria Virgin who usually holds the Child with her left arm and points to him with her right hand, while in this case, she is depicted holding him with her right arm and pointing to him with her left hand. This iconography is unusual but there are other examples, such as the icon of the Madonna of Ripalta at the Collegiate Church of San Pietro in Cerignola, near Foggia.


There are also abstract decorative motifs in blue and red resembling draperies. Among these, it is important to mention a sort of frame decorated with red and blue lozenges (imitating marble) as the same decorative motif can be found in the rock church of Santa Margherita in Mollola near Taranto and in the chapel of the Hospital in Scalea near Cosenza. Other similarities unite the paintings of the church of San Nicola with other paintings in the panorama of Southern Italy, for example, the depiction of Saint Peter in the rock church of San Nicola in Mottola in the province of Taranto reminiscent of one of the Apostles on the apsidal wall of the church of San Nicola in Castiglione di Sicilia.


The comparison with the rock churches of Campania, Puglia, and Calabria is important because it "contributes to enriching the framework of Byzantine painting in Southern Italy during the Byzantine domination period, late 9th to late 11th century." Therefore, both from an iconographic and stylistic point of view, the paintings of the church of San Nicola in Castiglione di Sicilia seem to present the peculiarities that distinguished Byzantine art of the 10th and 11th centuries (further attesting to the existence of important connections between Italo-Southern art and Byzantine art), but with a typical arrangement of scenes from Central-Southern Italy, confirming that not only the dazzling mosaics of Palermo, but also the "modest" wall paintings of rock churches and small monastery churches tell of the great cultural blend that characterized medieval Sicily.

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