Gaze in appreciation at the Baroque façade and Renaissance interior of this church, which is a labor of love that took over 300 years to complete.
The Holy Cross Cathedral (Basilica di Santa Croce) is a symbol of artistic beauty. Its detailed stonemasonry and orthodox internal decorations bear testament to the talents of Lecce’s most revered artists. Gualtieri VI of Brienne laid the first stone of the Holy Cross Cathedral in the 1350s but the project was interrupted upon his passing. Work on the church resumed in 1549 and another 150 years passed before completion.
The church’s façade is an exquisite exhibition of bas-reliefs, columns, capitals and grotesques. It is the work of celebrated Baroque artists, including Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, Cesare Penna and Giuseppe Zimbalo. The main entrance is flanked by Corinthian columns with capitals adorned with gods and goddesses. Note the respective coats of arms of King Philip III of Spain, Mary of Enghien, Countess of Lecce and Walter VI of Brienne.
Look above the portal to see a balustrade festooned with animal and human caryatids. Above here, 13 cherubs decorate a railing. Pay attention to the large rose window, encircled by carvings of fruit and floral friezes. Spot statues of St. Benedict and St. Celestine stood in niches at either side of the window.
Venture inside to discover a Latin cross church layout with aisles divided by rows of columns. Four sets of double columns, beautified by the faces of the four evangelists, support the arches beneath the central dome.
Walk between the altars and chapels to admire displays of religious paintings. Most notable is the altar dedicated to St. Francis of Paola by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo. Decorating the altar are portrayals of scenes from the saint’s life.
Situated in Lecce’s historic old town, the church is easy to reach on foot from other city attractions. Piazza Sant’Oronzo, home to the Roman Amphitheater, is less than a 5-minute walk away. Directly behind the church is the city’s attractive municipal garden, Giardini Pubblici.
The Holy Cross Cathedral opens in the morning until midday and then reopens in the late afternoon. Admission is free.