The Basilica of the Holy Cross in Lecce: two façades in one
The Minor Basilica of the Holy Cross in Lecce has a whole century of history to tell – a century during which Baroque art flourished and triumphed on the pediment of this beautiful church, essentially built in two separate phases, one in the late 1500s and one in the 1600s.
Indeed the church of the Celestine congregation (established in 1248 by hermit Pietro da Morrone, who would later become Pope Celestine V) dates back to 1549; the lower part of the façade was finished in 1582 and the interior was completed in 1590: this was the 16th-century phase, directed by Salentine architect Gabriele Riccardi.
In the 17th century, Lecce-born Francesco Antonio Zimbalo created three portals. Forty years later, in 1646, Cesare Penna, also from Lecce, designed the magnificent upper part of the façade with its shower of decorations.
Thus Santa Croce’s front features a sharp separation in time and imagery: styles, figurative efforts, meanings and messages are clearly different between the lower and the upper sections – the former is simple, outlined by an entablature decorated with human and feline telamons that symbolize pagan culture; the latter features 13 putti, statues of Saint Benedict and Celestine V, anthropomorphic representations of Faith and Charity, and a central rose window inspired by Romanesque style.
The top gable, with the triumph of the Cross in the center, summarizes the whole architecture’s story, as the Catholic church embracing the whole history of humankind.