When you’re in Agrigento you absolutely can’t miss visiting its Cathedral.
Going north by the side of the Chiesa di San Domenico, you take the Via delle Orfane (to the left of the façade) to arrive at the vast piazza on which the magnificent cathedral stands. Founded towards the end of the 11th century by bishop Gerlando, the cathedral, of Norman-Gothic style, was enlarged and altered several times until the 17th century. The only remains of the original structure are the magnificent single-light windows still visible on the right. Its façade is reached by means of a wide, gentle stairway, flanked by the magnificent, unfinished 15th century bell tower. The bell tower is embellished with two tiers of blind Catalan Gothic single-light windows and a window with a balcony surmounted by a beautiful, richly adorned, Gothic arch.
The interior, in the form of a Latin cross, features three naves divided by Gothic arches resting on octagonal pillars, a magnificent richly painted wooden ceiling, with the double-headed eagle of Charles V in the centre, and plasterwork and frescoes which create a sumptuous overall appearance.
In the right aisle of the transept there’s the small Chapel of San Gerlando, over which there’s a finely shaped Gothic doorway in which the Arca is preserved, a reliquary from 1639; in the left nave there’s the De Marinis Chapel; and in the right apse there’s a marble Madonna with Child from 1495 and numerous other sepulchral monuments enriching the magnificent interior of this great building. The Cathedral Treasury is of particular importance. It’s full of works of art of historic and artistic value, the outstanding one being the very famous Phaedra sarcophagus, an extremely elegant roman work in marble from the beginning of the 3rd century AD, inspired by the 5th century Greek style. Described and eulogised by all the important foreign visitors to Sicily in the 18th century, from Riedesel to Bartels, this masterpiece (currently housed in the Chiesa di San Nicola), rediscovered in the roman necropolis of Agrigentum, shows several episodes from the myth of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Opposite the Agrigento cathedral, on the same piazza, there’s the façade of the Bishop’s Seminary, founded by Bishop Narullo in 1574 and completed in 1611; its interior has a wide, elegant, porticoed atrium with a two-storey loggia.
A curiosity for you: the cathedral’s archive contains a document as singular as it is mysterious: the letter of the devil, a 17th century manuscript, written in undecipherable characters and addressed to a nun, the Beata Corbera mentioned by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa in his novel Il Gattopardo.
The Cathedral is for this reason also one of the literary stops on the Strada degli Scrittori, which will take you on an exploration of undiscovered Sicily!