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Church Santa Maria of Jesus and the canvas of the Borremans

The Church Santa Maria of Jesus “ex moenia”, commonly called “Church of the nunnery”, is one of the oldest church in town, dating back to the 20th century. According to Carandino, it was founded by Gilberto of Monforte around 1150, and Pirri adds that it stood in the middle of an olive grove, outside the walls of the ancient castle.

The Nunnery was attached to the Church, it hosted Conventual Friars minor of St. Francis of Assisi from 1500 until 1886. On the other hand, there is no definite information about the first officiants, they were probably Benedictines.

It is certain, however, that in the first decades of the XVI century P. Sebastiano Majo from Gratteri (n.1504) was formed in this nunnery, later passed to the Capuchin Order and famous founder of the Convent of Maria S.S. of Gibilmanna.

Father Sebastian was a priest and mystic to whom appeared many times the face of Jesus crowned with Thorns in the Eucharist, for this reason he represented it in a canvas, today kept at the Convent of Gibilmanna.

Both the Church prospect and the bell tower, which hosts three bells, are in Arab-Norman style; the medieval bell tower ends with an octagonal spire surrounded by four battlements at the respective corners. One of the bells still bears the date 1210.

Until 1921 the monastery was still untouched, with its cells, corridors, storerooms and stables, before being partly destroyed in order to host the seat of the Town Hall. On the outside wall of the church you can still see a sundial which marked the rhythm of the friars’ days inside the old Monastery cloister.

The church has a single nave divided into two areas: the first one is reserved for the faithfull and had a single barrel vault, whereas the second one is reserved for the presbytery. The walls are decorated with geometrical and floral motifs and the Franciscan coat of arms.

The apsidal basin hosts the 18th century simulacrum of the Immaculate Virgin and on the left side of the main altar, there is a mausoleum monument form 1634, which belongs to the historical family Ventimiglia, to whose country Gratteri belonged.

In the Church are valuable works of art such as paintings, sculptures, antependiums and an organ. In particular, an eighteenth-century painting of the Madonna of the Angels with St. Elizabeth, signed by Luigi Borremas, son of the most famous Flemish Guglielmo, stands out.

It is also worthy of consideration a small statuette of the Madonna and Child attributed to Domenico Gagini’s (XV century) and two other works from the same period: the PantoKratore (located in the external façade) and the stoup exhibited in the church’s display case.

The miraculous image of the Immaculate Conception is still venerated today with particular fervour by the women of Gratteri who recite praises and the ancient song of the Salve Regina in dialect. 

Salve Regina all’Immacolata

Dio Vi salvi, o Regina,
E Matri Immaculata,
Di grazia riculmata
Assai abbunnanti.
A lu so primu istanti
Vui fustivu Cuncetta,
Fustivu sempri netta
D’ogni piccatu.
‘Ntra tuttu lu criatu
Vui sula preservata
Di colpa liberata
‘Ntra tanti erruri e mali,
Chiancennu e lacrimannu,
Vegnu anni Vui gridannu
Pietà, o Maria.

Vui dati un sguardu a mia,
O Vergini pietusa,
O Matri, e Figlia, e Spusa
D’un Diu putenti.
Vi pregu veramenti
Di farmi perdonari,
Nun vogliu cchiù piccari,
Datimi aiutu.
Faciti lu pintutu
Finissi l’urtim’ura,
O Matri, o gran Signura
O mia Avvocata.
Così sarà purtata
In cielu ‘st’arma mia,
ludannu a Vui, Maria
Immaculata (2volte).


Carandino B., Descriptio totius ecclesiae Cephaleditanae, Op. Cit. 1592.
Pirri R., Sicilia Sacra, Op. Cit., 1641.
Scelsi I., Fratteri, storia, cultura, tradizioni, 1981.
Scileppi S., Vita Ecclesiale a Gratteri, Ed.Tip.Le Madonie, 2009.
Terregino G, Frammenti storici ed evocativi dell’elm castellare di Gratteri, Ed.Tip.Le Madonie, 2006.

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