Santa Lucia alle Malve is a rupestrian church in Matera, an ancient monastery that welcomed Benedictine-order nuns between the 8th and 16th centuries.
It was in the 8th century that churches inside ravines’ tuff stone caves became popular in Matera, as well as in Calabria, Apulia and Sicily.
People – mostly shepherds and nomads – had lived in some of the natural grottos of this territory since the Paleolithic Age, but when the iconoclast persecutions began with the 726 AD edict by Byzantine emperor Leo III, religious communities started building places of worship underground, escaping the ban on the veneration of images.
Southern Italy became a refuge for persecuted groups of eastern monks, who moved to these grottos and gradually turned some of them into Christian temples decorated with frescoes.
Inside Santa Lucia alle Malve – located near Sasso Caveoso – you can still see many mural paintings, mostly from the 13th century, with a wide range of holy representations including the Nursing Madonna, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Gregory, Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica.