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  • Writer's pictureMark Tedesco

Our Italian Adventure: Spotlight on the Cathedral in Nardó

PART 70: It might be interesting to share how we pulled off living in Italy for part of the year. I will post some steps we took.

We live in Puglia in the Summer and then back again in the winter.

Step 1: As we explore towns in Puglia, we discover some gems worth sharing. Some of these are well-known tourist magnets; others are lesser known but always amazing.

This week, let's explore the cathedral in Nardó.

Step 2: The first thing that strikes me when I walk into the cathedral in Nardó is the harmony between new and old, tradition and modernism. Ancient frescos are complemented by art nouveau-esque images, contemporary windows illuminate baroque altars and modern statues (side chapel) stand out from gold leaf decor.

Many different ages and styles are reflected in the art and architecture of the cathedral in Nardó which, somehow, forms a unified whole.

What is the story behind this combination of art and history?

Step 3: Some history: Architecture.

  • 7th century: The church of St. Mary of Neritorio was founded on the site by a group of Greek monks.

  • 1088: A monastery was documented to have been at this site from this date, dedicated to Mary Assumed into Heaven.

  • 1354: After an earthquake, the church facade was rebuilt, the nave was elongated, and side chapels were added.

  • 1456 marked the year of another earthquake, and further modifications were made to strengthen the structure.

  • 1725: The church's facade was rebuilt again, and the baptismal font and other areas of the church's interior were modified according to the style of the time.

  • 1892-99: Another church restoration returned it to its classical style.

Step 4: Some history: Artwork.

  • 12th-14th century: Frescos dating back to the 12th century can be found throughout the church. The most noteworthy include St. Nicholas (14th century), St. Augustine (14th century), Christ the Creator (Cristo Pantocratore, 12th century), Madonna and Child (14th century), and Madonna of Health (Salute), dating from 1234.

  • The wooden crucifix, called the "black Christ," dates from the 12th century.

  • The art nouveau-esque style of paintings behind and beside the altar in the nave were painted between 1896 and 1899 by Cesare Maccari.

Step 5: Why visit?

Churches are everywhere in Italy; some are historical, some house beautiful artwork, others are centers of spirituality, and still others are important architectural monuments. Some have been well preserved, others have been badly renovated, and still others have been neglected.

So what is so special about the cathedral in Nardó?

The church has many elements and styles, from medieval to art nouveau-esque frescos, baroque altars to modern statuary. Somehow, the cathedral in Nardó brings all these elements together into a unified whole while preserving an atmosphere of peace and prayerfulness. The church is unique in that it keeps the old, honors the new, and invites the visitor to sit for a moment to not only look at the art but to experience the history and absorb a little bit of the spirit of this remarkable place.

Insights: By scratching under the surface of some of the sites we visit in Puglia and returning to them a second and even third time, we are coming to appreciate the history and culture surrounding us, going beyond the first impressions.

More next time.

More next time.

My book is "Stories from Puglia: Two Californians in Southern Italy." Amazon US:

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