Churches of Gaeta
The churches of Gaeta are numerous. Indeed it is said that at one time the town of Gaeta had one hundred churches. However sadly not all have them have survived to the present day. Here are some of the churches of Gaeta that can still be visited today.
The Church of San Giovanni A Mare
The small 10th century church of San Giovanni a Mare is one of the oldest churches of Gaeta situated on the seafront in Via Bausan close to the Gaeta Cathedral. It is believed to have been founded in the 10th century by the Duke of Gaeta. Giovanni IV. on the site of a Roman building. Indeed some Roman elements were incorporated into the structure. A newer church was erected in its place during the end of the 11th and early 12th century. In 1213 it was rebuilt following an earthquake. In 1628 the Brotherhood of St Joseph was founded for local carpenters and shipbuilders.
The exterior of the church has a rounded Arabic dome and is decorated with blocks in a Byzantine style. It was probably also decorated in tiles of maiolica. The church also has a bell tower with three arches and two bells. Above the doorway are the remains of a fresco which is thought to have depicted St John the Evangalist. Inside the church there were some interesting 14th century frescoes, some of which have now been transferred to a local museum for safe keeping. The floor is intentionally inclined towards the entrance, to encourage sea water to flow away in the event of high tides or flooding.
Some of the church’s frescoes.
A local musical association uses the church as a venue in which to hold classical concerts.
The Church of Santa Maria di Porto Salvo
The Church of Santa Maria di Porto Salvo is one of the most important churches of Gaeta. It started as a simple chapel dedicated to the Madonna that was built on the slopes of Colle Atratino. A small dwelling place was annexed to the building which accommodated the caretaker of the chapel. The chapel was incorporated into a monastery of the Fathers of the Agostiniano Scalze brotherhood in 1624. To the left of the church the monks had a pharmacy which was open to public use.
Following the invasion of Napoleon’s troops, the monastery was suppressed in 1808 and the complex was abandoned. It was sold into private hands. A section of the monastery then collapsed, while another was used as a dwelling house. The church was damaged during the siege of Gaeta and also in 1944 during the Second World War.
It became the district’s main parish church, following the destruction of the church of San Cosma e San Damiano during the bombardments of Gaeta in World War II. After the war the church of Santa Maria was restored and it has undergone further reconstruction work over recent years.
In the district of Porto Salvo a steep staircase, called the Salita degli Scalzi, climbs up to the church from Via Independenza. The plain curved facade has a rectangular window. On the left side of the façade there is the square-shaped bell tower and a small dome. Below the bell tower there is a clock that dates from 1822, the dial is decorated in majolica. Adjoining the church is the chapel of the Congrega di Santa Maria di Porto Salvo. Inside there is a single nave with a presbytery and rectangular apse. The interior is decorated in a late Neapolitan Baroque style and the main altar is of multi-coloured inlaid marble. Behind the altar there is a marble niche which houses the statue of the Santissima Maria di Porto Salvo that dates back to the early 19th century. The Madonna is known locally as La Madonna Nostre. She is the patron and protector of fishermen, mariners and sea farers.
The feast of the Madonna di Porto Salvo is held each year on the 2nd Sunday in August.
The Church of San Giacomo Apostolo of Gaeta
The church of San Giacomo Apostolo was founded in the heart of the fishing village, in the borgo of Porto Salvo, once known as Elena. The church is also known as San Giacomo di Terra Rossa. Construction took place between 1517 and 1605. Nearby was the church of Sant’Andrea. Side altars were added to the nave in the 17th century. The church was damaged during the siege of 1734 and was subsequently repaired. In 1810, in his will, Giuseppe Ianniti requested that some items should be transfered to the church of San Giacomo, from the former church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria. These included an ornate Baroque marble altar and a font for holy water.
The church was partially damaged in 1944, during World War II and was later restored. In 1965 the church underwent major reconstruction work. This included creating a new facade, facing onto Via Indipendenza, a wide entrance hall and a square apse in a modern style. The vaulted nave has four shallow side altars. The church houses several interesting works of art such as the “Sacred Conversation” by Santillo Sannini (1695), also the “Adoration of the Magi” and “Adoration of the Shepherds” of Nicola Malinconico. The church is also adorned with some modern mosaics and colourful stained glass windows.
The Church of Santi Cosma e Damiano
The church, situated in the heart of the fishermens’ district of Porto Salvo, is one of the oldest churches of Gaeta. It was first documented in 997 when Bishop Bernardo, son of Marino Duke of Gaeta, ordered the reconstruction of a sacred building following its destruction by the Saracens in the year 844. The church was restructured during the 16th century and again in the 17th century in a Baroque style. Sadly some ancient frescoes were lost.
During World War II, the church was severely damaged and subsequently rebuilt in the 1950’s in a small size. The 17th century marble altars were transferred to the church of Santa Maria di Porto Salvo.
The plain facade is adorned by a monumental portal with a dedicatory inscription from 1749. On the right side of the church is a 19th-century bell tower. The interior is rather bare and austere, however there is a valuable stone baptismal font dating from 1591. The facade faces onto Via Indipenzenza.
In Porta Salvo there were also the churches of Sant’Andrea and San Sergio and Santa Maria di Torre d’Oria.
Church of the Santissima Vergine Addolerata
The church is situated in Via Annunziata close to the Church of the Santissima Annunziata. The earliest church, first documented in 1024, was dedicated to Pope San Gregorio and stood outside the town walls. In the 14th century the church was reconstructed in a Gothic style. From 1762 until 1841 the structure became a seminary, before becoming a convent and college for educating girls of the nobility run by sister of the Mantellate order. The attached chuch was dedicated to the Vergine Addolorata.
In the mid 1800’s King Ferdinand II ordered the restoration of the church, in a Neo-Classical style. The church became the chapel of the adjacent Royal Palace. However, following the Unification of Italy the convent was suppressed, but the church was still allowed to function. In 1900 the convent became the property of the town of Gaeta. In 1907 it was put up for sale and was purchased by the Sisters of the Adoratrici dell’ Eucaristia. During the First World War the building was used as a military hospital, but it was given back to the nuns in 1918.
The Neo-Classical church facade is thought to have been the work of Federico Travaglini, and dates from 1855. The entrance is accessed via two symmetrical flights of stairs. To the left of the church is the convent.
Behind the main altar is preserved the statue of the “Addolorata“. There is a side chapel dedicated to San Filippo Benizzi. On the left wall is a balcony covered with a metal grate, from behind which the Royal Bourbon Family could watch over the church’s religious ceremonies.
La Chiesa della Natività della Vergine o Chiesa dell’Ulivo
The first church was dedicated to San Giacomo dei Pisani and was founded in the 11th century by noblemen from Pisa, who were engaged in fighting off the invading Saracens with their navy. The church was also known as San Giacomo degli Italiani.
There was further construction in the 14th century and by the 15th century an annex was built to house monks of the Bianchi brotherhood. The church was used to bury those that had been condemned to death. In 1792 the Bourbons purchased the church and adjoining Palazzo San Giacomo. It was returned to the Bianchi confraternity in 1826. In the mid 1800’s the church was radically restructured by King Ferdinand II.
The church, situated in Via Angioina, has a simple facade. The stone doorway dates from the 16th century. There is also a side entrance dating from the 13th century.
The church’s present name of La Chiesa della Natività is taken from the altarpiece by Giovanni Bernardino Azzolino. This is now held in the Diocesan Museum of Gaeta. The church is sometimes known as the Chiesa dell’UIivo. This is perhaps because it was once surrounded by olive trees, or perhaps it is a reference to the olive branches which appear on the Coat of Arms belonging to the Bianchi confraternity (see below).