26 October 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (151) 26 October 2023

The Duomo or Cathedral of Taormina in Sicily is dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari and dates from the 13th and 14th centuries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and the week began with the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XX, 22 October 2023). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (26 October 2023) remembers Alfred the Great (899), King of the West Saxons, Scholar, and Saint Cedd (644), Abbot of Lastingham, Bishop of the East Saxons.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

My reflections on the Week of Prayer for World Peace concluded on Sunday, and my reflections each morning for the rest of this week are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on a church or cathedral in Sicily;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Inside the Duomo or Cathedral of Taormina (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Saint Nicholas Cathedral, Taormina, Sicily:

Taormina is a small hill-top city on the east coast of Sicily. It predates the time when ancient Greeks established their first colony in Magna Graecia in Sicily in 734 BCE. The ancient theatre of Taormina may have been rebuilt by the Romans on the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Taormina continued to be one of the more important towns of the island and, like the rest of Sicily, it was ruled by successive foreign monarchs. After Italian unification, Taormina began to attract well-off tourists from northern Europe, and the coastal resort of Giardini Naxos is nearby. The beaches on the Ionian sea, including Isola Bella, are accessible by an aerial tramway built in 1992. Taormina hosted the G7 summit in 2017.

The Duomo or Cathedral of Taormina is dedicated to Saint Nicholas of Bari and dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. It stands on the site of an earlier church also dedicated to Saint Nicholas and was rebuilt in the 15th, 16th and 18th centuries.

The cathedral is one of the mediaeval buildings of Taormina and is built in the Sicilian Romanesque-Gothic style with large stone blocks. It looks more like a fortress than a church, with its austere stone façade, its crowning battlements and its massive bell tower.

The façade has a large rose window made of Syracuse stone with excellent workmanship. There are two other rose windows on the sides of the church.

The main door, between two 15th-century windows, was rebuilt in 1636. At each side of the main door are two fluted columns in Corinthian style rising from high bases. There is a broken pediment over the lintel, and above the capitals of the columns are the faces of two angels.

Each doorjamb bears 11 carved figures of saints with their symbols. These 22 characters include Saint Peter (keys), Saint Paul (sword) King David (harp), Saint Mark (winged lion), Saint John (eagle), Saint Luke (winged ox) and Saint Matthew (angel). Identifying the other saints and apostles is not always simple or obvious.

At the top of each side of the marble frame are two bishops with mitre and pastoral staff: Saint Nicholas, the titular saint of the cathedral, and Saint Pancras, the patron of Taormina.

The side doors belong to different periods: the left door dates from the 15th century and presents an image of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with Christ in blessing in the architrave; the right door has images from 1500.

Inside, the duomo is in the shape of a Latin cross, with three naves and three apses. The nave is supported by six columns of pink Taormina marble, with capitals with leaf motifs and fish scales. Four of these marble columns are made from single blocks of marble or monoliths and it is thought the columns came from the Greek-Roman theatre of Taormina.

The ceiling has large wooden beams with carved shelves and Arab motifs in a Gothic style.

There are side chapels at each side of the main altar: the Baroque chapel of the Holy Sacrament on the left dates from the late 17th century; the Chapel of Our Lady of Graces on the right was rebuilt in 1747 reusing materials of a demolished Gothic chapel of Saint Peter fuori le mura in Taormina.

In the right nave, a depiction of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary with Saint Joseph and Saint Zechariah was painted by Antonino Giuffré in 1463.

A polyptych in the same nave is by Antonello de Saliba (1504). The first panel depicts the Madonna and Child with Saint Jerome and Saint Sebastian; the second panel depicts the Pietà with Saint Lucy of Syracuse and Saint Agatha; and the panel below depicts the Last Supper. The Polyptych is from the former Church of San Sebastiano, used by the Augustinian friars, in Piazza IX Aprile.

One of the most precious and oldest treasures in the cathedral is a Byzantine icon of Madonna, covered with a layer of silver encrusted with semi-precious stones.
In the left nave is an image of the Enthroned Virgin and Child between Saint John the Baptist and the Prophet Elia. The lunette depicts the Eternal Father and the Crucifixion, painted on wood by Alfonso Franco (16th century).

In the right nave, close to the entrance, is a statue of Saint Agatha, by Martino Montanini (16th century). The statue was originally in Church of Sant’Agata in the Dominican convent, destroyed by bombing on 9 July 1943.

The cathedral was fully restored in 1945-1948 by the Neapolitan architect Armando Dillon, who strengthened the whole building and brought to light the early structures of the arches of the apses, hidden under Baroque stucco work. He also entirely rebuilt the original roof terraces on the aisles.

Pope John Paul II gave the cathedral the status of a minor basilica in 1980.

The central, paired position of the Duomo and the Palazzo dei Giurati in the square symbolises the relationship between the religious and civil power in mediaeval Sicily.

The 17th-century Baroque fountain in the square in front of the Duomo is built on circular steps surrounded by four pretty side fountains. In the centre of the fountain, the crowned centaur, the symbol of the city of Taormina, holds the world in his left hand and the sceptre of command in the right hand.

The six columns in the nave of the duomo are thought to come from the Greek-Roman theatre of Taormina (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 12: 49-53 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 49 ‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’

The baptismal font in the duomo in Taormina (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers: USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Praying for Peace.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday with a prayer written by the Revd Tuomas Mäkipää, Chaplain of Saint Nicholas.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (26 October 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for churches that are in and surround conflict areas. May they be beacons of God’s love and peace, providing hope for all.

The Collect:

God, our maker and redeemer,
we pray you of your great mercy
and by the power of your holy cross
to guide us by your will and to shield us from our foes:
that, after the example of your servant Alfred,
we may inwardly love you above all things;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God our redeemer,
who inspired Alfred to witness to your love
and to work for the coming of your kingdom:
may we, who in this sacrament share the bread of heaven,
be fired by your Spirit to proclaim the gospel in our daily living
and never to rest content until your kingdom come,
on earth as it is in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The 17th-century Baroque fountain in the square in front of the Duomo, with a crowned centaur, the symbol of the city of Taormina (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The cathedral can look more like a fortress than a church, with its austere stone façade, its crowning battlements and its massive bell tower (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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