Church of S. Giuseppe ai Teatini

The Church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini is one of the most impressive examples of the baroque style in the churches of Palermo.

The church of S. Giuseppe ai Teatini (photo by Bjs, CC-BY-SA 2.5)
The church of S. Giuseppe ai Teatini (photo by Bjs, CC-BY-SA 2.5)

After the creation of the Strada Nuova, the new broad street opened by order of the Viceroy duke of Maqueda in 1600, the crossroad between this street and the Cassaro was the most sought after spot of the city. In 1602, shortly after the opening of the new axis, the newly established but already powerful order of the Theatines obtained the little church of S. Elia alla Porta Giudaica.

In order to show the power of the order, the Theatines planned to demolish the little church and the adjacent buildings and to build a new, bigger and more splendid temple. Soon enough arrived the opposition to the project of the powerful Jesuits, who saw this project as a challenge to their primacy in the city and the whole thing would never have seen the light were not for the intercession of the Viceroy don Pedro Giron, duke of Ossuna, who authorised the revamp. The Spanish government may have regretted this support when in 1647 this church, spacious and central as it is, was chosen by the leader of the anti-Spanish insurrection, Captain General Giuseppe d’Alessi, as assembly place where to discuss the conditions to impose on the Viceroy for the ceasement of the rebellion.

The new church was built between 1612 and 1645 on projects drawn by Giacomo Besio, a member of the order coming from Genoa, and whose provenance is apparent in some features of the building that recall the magnificence of Genoese architecture. The internal decoration was a lengthy process, lasting for all the second half of the 17th century.

The exterior maintains a sober renaissance style, severe and compact in its volumes, with an imposing dome covered in faience tiles completed in 1724. On the façade, the big main portal is flanked by columns that bear the weight of the projecting cornice. On it, in a central niche, a statue of Saint Cajetan, the founder of the order. This front part of the building is flanked by one of the Quattro Canti on the left, and a symmetrical side portal realised in 1844 to mimic the concave shape of the former. Another portal was opened on the side facing Piazza Pretoria, on the wall crowned by a marble balustrade and featuring the lanterns of the domes of the side chapels. Of particular interest is also the unfinished bell tower, with carved tufa stone columns, designed by the famous baroque architect Paolo Amato.

San Giuseppe ai Teatini, the interior (photo Tango7174, CC-A-SA 2.5)
San Giuseppe ai Teatini, interior (photo Tango7174, CC-A-SA 2.5)

The interior is shaped in the classic pattern of the latin cross plan, with three naves. Where the central nave crosses the transept, huge monolithic columns made of grey “Bulliemi” marble sustain the dome. One of the giant columns broke during the transportation towards the building site of the church, and was left on the spot. From that moment that place, just outside the city walls was named via Colonna Rotta (“broken-column street”). On the inner side of the dome there is a beautiful fresco of the Fall of the rebel angels made by the flemish painter Guglielmo Borremans in 1724, while the four evangelists are a work of Antonio Manno.

The nave has Scenes of the life of Saint Cajetan and his Apotheosis, by Filippo Tancredi, surrounded by stuccoes made by Paolo Corso on drawings by Paolo Amato. During the Allied air raids of May 1943 the church was badly damaged and the barrel vault collapsed under the bombs. The frescoes and the stucco decoration was restored between 1950 and 1954.

Notables works of art that furnish the church are, among others, the Ecstasis of Saint Cajetan by Pietro Novelli on the main altar, and the two marble holy-water basins held by angels, made by Ignazio Marabitti and Federico Siracusa.


When: form Monday to Saturday, 9,30-12am and 4-6pm; Sunday 8,30am-1pm and 4-6pm.

How much: free