I am really lucky to live in an area rich in history and monuments to discover and appreciate and the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul is one of this. It is an Arab-Norman church that has survived trough the centuries and that has a great artistic value.
This church is in Casalvecchio Siculo, a small town in the province of Messina. It was built by the Friars of Saint Basilio in 56 A.D. and it was part of a big monastery. Destroyed by the Arabs, it was rebuilt by the Normans in 1117 thanks to the king Roger II. In 1169 it was seriously damaged by an earthquake that struck Eastern Sicily and in 1172 it was radically renovated by the master builder Gherardo The Norman with a wonderful mix of Byzantine, Arab, and Norman styles.
Over the centuries, many Abbots have succeeded in managing the church. This Monastery was a famous center of spiritual, social and economic life . All around it there were crops, livestocks and mills for the production of flour and derivates. The production of wine and olive oil was abundant too and the town benefited from the riches of the monastery. Later the friars had to move to another place because the area had become unhealthy due to the rotten water of the river Agrò coming from the flax crops grown there. The Abbey seat was transferred to Messina in 1794 and the church was completely abandoned serving just as a deposit for peasant equipment.
In 1885 the archaeologist Antonino Salinas and the architect Giuseppe Patricolo studied the church that was restored several time and in 1914 the engineer Francesco Valenti started a consolidation project after the damage due to the 1908 earthquake.
The monastery has been studied by different critics and art historians including Ernesto Basile.
From an architectural point of view, the abbey seems to be a fortified church with the orientation of the apse to the east and its crenellated towers, characteristics similar to those in great cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale in Palermo.
The architectural style is Sicilian-Norman, that was born in the Sicilian artistic school, grafting elements of Byzantine and Muslim origin into Norman art. Examples of Byzantine style is the plan with three naves and the Byzantine cross engraved in the lunette on the entrance door; Arabic elements are: domes, niches and the use of intertwined arches in the external walls. Norman style is in the floor plan with the entrance flanked by two scalar towers; in the portico between the two towers, with a trichrome design built with white and black ashlars alternated with bricks; in the brick facade structure woven fishbone, in the signature of the master architect on the entrance door “Gherardo, il Franco”; in columns, arches, polychromy and in the verticality of the structure.
The interior is characterized by an absolute austerity: there is no decoration or paintings on the walls.
The monastery of saints Peter and Paul rises as a symbol of harmony and peace among different cultures, races, languages and religions.
Come and see it!