Chiesa Matrice di Serradifalco

The 'Mother' (Main) Church of Serradifalco

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As shown on the Serradifalco Website


     At the time of the founding of Serradifalco in the middle of the seventeenth century, the Catholic Church was not only a part of the residents' religious lives, but a strong social, political and economic influence as well.
     When Baron Leonardo lo Faso of Palermo laid out the town, he started with plans for the Chiesa Madrice, also called Chiesa Madre
(the "Mother Church", that is, the Main Church).  Therefore it might be said that before there could be a town, there must be a church.
     Serradifalco's first church
(blue outline) faced to the West, on the town hill.  It was initially completed in 1653, and rebuilt in 1700 after the original church deteriorated.  The 1700 church still stands today, but in 1740 work began just to the north, on a new church, facing to the East.  

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     By 1755, the second church (orange outline) was completed and became the Chiesa Madrice, while the original church was re-dedicated as the Chiesa San Francesco (St. Francis' Church).  The new, larger church, popularly called the Chiesa Madre, featured five altars including the main one, dedicated to San Leonardo Abate (Abbot St. Leonard), the patron saint of the town.  One of the proudest events in the history of the town was in 1771, when Bishop Antonino Lanza of Mussomeli elevated the pastor of the Chiesa Madre to Archpriesthood.


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Dawn Sowa 2004

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about 1960

     The original Chiesa Madrice, now the Chiesa San Francesco.

     Concetta Fazio, daughter of Concetta Alessi, and her wedding party walk down the Via Duca di Serradifalco.  The Chiesa Madre San Leonardo Abate is in the background.


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Greg & Melissa Coniglio June 2004

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Dawn Sowa November 2004

     The campanili (belltowers) of the Chiesa Madre are the highest points of Serradifalco.  In this way, too, the church influenced daily life, with "campanilism", one meaning of which is the custom of towns playing "one-upmanship" with their church towers.  That is, "You build a tower, we'll build a TALLER tower!". 
But there is a sociological definition of the word as well.  When Gaetano and Rosa lived in Serradifalco, most people born there never travelled as far as another town in their entire lives.   When children from any small town went outdoors to play, their mothers would say "Nun giri più luntanu della vista delle campanili."
("Don't go so far that you can't see the towers.")  This helped to establish important aspects of the Sicilian character: loyalty to family and to local custom, but avoidance and mistrust of "stranii" (outsiders).


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Dawn Sowa November 2004











     Calcedonio Vaccari was the Chiesa Madre's Archpriest from 1864 until his death in 1877.  His nephew, Pasquale Vaccari, was the Town Secretary who recorded the birth of Gaetano Coniglio in April, 1889.  


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Dawn Sowa November 2004

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Dawn Sowa November 2004

     The  Chiesa Madre as it is today, and Leonardo Fazio, Connie Miller, Mary Sowa, and Carmela Fazio Castellano at its altar to Maria SS. della Concezione (Holy Mary of the Conception). Gaetano Vincenzo Coniglio and Rosa Alessi were married in this church on November 30, 1912.


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     Even today, the Chiesa Madre is a focal point of Serradifalco's annual Holy Week celebrations.  This photo is from the Holy Week site, managed by Calcedonio Vaccari, a modern-day relative of the former Archpriest of the same name.

     Oggi anche, la Chiesa Madre è un punto focale delle celebrazioni annuali di la Settimana Santa di Serradifalco. Questa foto proviene dal sito di Settimana Santa, controllato da Calcedonio Vaccari, un parente di moderno-giorno del Arciprete precedente dello stesso nome.


       In 1995, on the 150th anniversary of the consecration of the Chiesa Madre, Professor Salvatore Galletti wrote a history of the church. You can view his original report in Italian, or read my translation below.  Part (b) is especially interesting, in that it is a first-hand account of the customs of 1845.

(by Prof. Salvatore Galletti)

a) Historical Summary: the Madre of Serradifalco, ducal Church

The first Chiesa Madre (Mother Church) erected in Serradifalco was on the Cozzo (hill) in 1653 by Baron Leonardo Lo Faso, at the founding of the town.

Because of the deterioration of the building, the Matrice San Francesco dell' Cozzo was rebuilt in 1700 by Duke don Francesco Antonio Lo Faso, with some modifications to its alignment, while conserving the sixteenth century style of the plan.

The ancient Madre was inadequate for the increasing population of the village, (Serradifalco by then had two thousand inhabitants). A third party, Duke Don Leonardo Lo Faso Lo Grua, son of then deceased Don Francesco Antonio, wanted to provide for erection of a new, second Madre Church, wide and majestic, the ducal prerogative of the nobleman. The work began in 1740 in a clearing, part garden and part bare ground. Then it extended on the left of the Cozzo. The perspective was oriented to the North, opposite to that of the primitive church.

Various slowdowns imposed themselves during the development of work on the building of the “Great Madre Church“, which was the popular way to distinguish the new Madre. But not later than 1755, the Church was blessed and was opened to the worship of the Curate Vicario don Antonino Vaccari, by power of the Bishop of Girgenti.

Originally there were five altars. (The statue of) St. Leonardo, patron of the village, was placed on the greater altar. The secondary title of the church (St. Leonardo Abate) honors him. The lateral altars, two for each longitudinal nave, were dedicated, as found in documents of the age: to the holy crucifix; to St. Paschal Baylon; to Holy Mary of the Conception; and to St. Francesco di Paola.

Two years later, September 7, 1757, after having visited the Church of Saint Cataldo, Bishop monsignor Andrea Lucchesi Pallia came to Serradifalco in a carriage, via the Cusatino road, in order to celebrate his Sacred Pastoral Visit. It was a brief early morning visit, with just enough time to learn of the construction of the new Madre and to experience in person the wonders told of Serradifalco’s other church, the Immaculate Church, and of the stuccos and paintings by master artist don Viro D' Anna of Palermo. For a more careful study of the churches, the Bishop delegated Monsignor Brunone, who lived several days away. The local people seemed disappointed by the hurried departure of the Bishop, but the true reasons could not be known.

In truth, there were contrary opinions between the Bishop and the Duke over certain directives of the Church. In short: Duke Don Leonardo had asked the Bishop to elevate the Church of Serradifalco by naming a clergyman friend and protégé to Archpriesthood. The Bishop had answered that, in his view, the Archpriesthood is an institution of the Church and is created when and as the bishop thinks it opportune; and he noted that the nomination of the Archpriest is the exclusive concern of the bishop, who cannot simply grant it based on recommendations. This was the state of the relationship between Duke Leonardo lo Faso and Bishop monsignor Andrea Lucchesi Pallia in 1757. And the situation did not change until their deaths, when the more reasonable succeeding Duke, Don Francesco Leonardo, grandson of the deceased Leonardo, and the succeeding bishop, monsignor Antonino Lanza of Mussomeli, agreed on the institution of an Archpriesthood for the Church of Serradifalco.

On July 8th of 1771, Bishop Don Antonino Lanza came to Serradifalco in order to celebrate his first Sacred Pastoral Visit, and was accommodated in the palace of the Duke. He sojourned a week with us and had the means and time, together with Duke Francesco Leonardo, to resume the ancient discourse about the Archpriesthood. But they not only expressed opinions, they came to a reasonable agreement. In fact, the Bishop, returning to his Apostolic Center of Girgenti, published a Bulletin, declaring the creation of the new Archpriesthood and naming the clergyman Don Giuseppe Guadagnino as first Archpriest of the Church of Serradifalco. It was August 24, 1771. This is one of the memorable facts about our Church.

In 1791 the building’s basic structure was clear. By now the religious holidays were celebrated in the new Matrice, but the plain interior was of one overwhelming simplicity. Also the perspective articulated by the curvature of the 1700’s style still needed architectural refinement. In 1825, the Ignazio Madonia firm was awarded the design work. Under the archpriesthood of Rev. Don Francesco Lio, in 1811 Duke Don Domenico lo Faso provided the Matrice with interior ornamentation, with stuccos harmonious with the roccocò style and with: four bas-reliefs, the Evangelists placed at the four panels that support the cupola; three scenes on the vault of the roof that show Biblical episodes; another four scenes, two in the choirloft, represent two episodes in the life of S. Leonardo, the Good Shepherd, and the Lord with bread in hand, depicting the Eucharest. In the choir to the right rests the tomb of Duke Don Francesco Leonardo, who had the merit to restore good relations with the Bishop of Girgenti and to obtain assignment of the Archpriesthood.

The second solemn event that involved all the churches of Serradifalco was the consecration of the Chiesa Matrice, in 1845. It must be stated first that the town of Serradifalco, like the others of the province of Caltanissetta, was in the territory of the Diocese of Girgenti and because of this, our Church depended on that Bishop. But in 1844 Pope Gregorio XVI, with the Bulletin of 25 May, created the Diocese of Caltanissetta, to include sixteen towns, removing thirteen towns from the Dioceses of Girgenti, Vallelunga, Cefalù, Marianopoli, Resuttano, and Nicosia. Bishop of the new Diocese was Mons. Antonio Stromillo Maria, a native of Gorga, province of Salerno. On May 5th, 1845 Mons. Stromillo triumphantly entered Caltanissetta. On November 9th of that same year the first Bishop of Caltanissetta came to Serradifalco in order to celebrate the solemn consecration of the Chiesa Matrice. The Archpriest was rev. Don Grazio Sferrazza, and the mayor was Don Felice Cacciatore.

 b) From the Diary of the Episcopal Master of Ceremonies: November 1845

7th - solemn procession to Serradifalco of Bishop Stromillo, originating in San Cataldo..

8th - In the morning, Holy Mass and instruction to the faithful. In the afternoon, display of the Relics for the consecration of the altar in the chapel of the College of Maria. Song of the early riser, and afterwards, conclusion of the fast in preparation for the Dedication of the Chiesa Madre tomorrow.

9th - The day begins very early and at 7:30 the Bishop and clergymen in sacred vestments go to the Chiesa Madrice, around which is already present a discreet crowd of faithful, which grows as far as the eye can see. The door of the Church is closed, after a Deacon has gone inside alone. In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, we begin the grand labor of the Dedication of the Church, that will only be concluded by about noon.

- I am well satisfied that every ceremony has been carried out with attention and that the Bishop was successful and withstood the long labor. And he was well involved in the task, showing mercy and extraordinary devotion. And moreover, it was the first church he ever consecrated.

- First the song of the Litany of Saints is sung, and three turns are taken around the outside of the Church, sprinkling the walls; on each turn telling the lone Deacon with authority: "You need only open the door and the King of Glory will enter." He opens the door and receives the Bishop and the Clergy, the others remaining outside.

- At the center of the new Church, the song of the Litany of Saints is sung, and then on the floor, the Latin and the Greek alphabets are written. Here there is a little concern, while some boys, with ashes, trace a cross, an “X“, on the floor, across the room. Indeed, the ash was not abundant and it was somewhat difficult to do. Then the Bishop with the Pastoral Cross wrote swiftly, one by one, the letters of the Latin alphabet and then, more swiftly, those of the Greek alphabet. This amazed me, but not too much, the Bishop being from Puglia and having a good Greek and Eastern education. And this completed the ritual that symbolizes the undivided Church, the two lungs with which it breathes.

- Without difficulty the other rituals of sprinkling with the Gregorian water are carried out, on the altar and the inner walls.

- We go to gather the Relics. We exit from the Church and we go back to that of the College of Maria. The solemn procession is in order: the Bishop leads, then a Fercolo [ a special carriage, often silver-plated and massive] with the Relics, and all the people follow. The Madrice is not entered quickly, but a procession-like turn is made of the outside walls while the bells sound and while two large drums, played with force, give color to the solemn moment and also disturbance to the ears.

- The procession solemnly enters the Church, followed by all the people, and with prayers, songs, and ceremonies, the celebration is continued. After replacement of the Relics in the altars, they are consecrated one last time, with the sacred oils, among the five carved altar crosses; and then the Bishop consecrates 12 crosses in the walls of the Church, performing acrobatics in order to reach within a thumb’s breadth of each cross, climbs to a discreet height, raising himself on a somewhat unsteady ladder. The blessings are accompanied by incensing, and the smoke of the incense penetrates everywhere. In conclusion, the altar is covered by cloths, and the priests and Bishop consult as to whether it is opportune to conclude the celebration at this point as the rubric expects, or, as the same rubric prefers, to celebrate the Holy Mass in the consecrated Church for the first time. As expected, the devout monsignor Stromillo prefers to celebrate the Holy Mass, just because, he says, so much of the Liturgy for consecration of a Church is organized precisely in view of the Holy Mass and the Eucharist, so that in Church all may be before the presence of the living and true Christ.

- And then in the sacristy the Bishop, removing his sacred vestments, declares that the Church is the house of God and therefore deserves being consecrated; but then adds that the Christian is the true temple of God, and it is the Christian who, consecrated in the sacraments, must shine with charity.  AMEN.

c) Directory of Archpriests from the founding until today [1995]:

don Giuseppe Guadagnino 1771 - 1778
don Antonio Vaccai [Vaccari] 1778 - 1789
don Francesco Lio 1789 - 1818
don Grazio Sferrazza 1818 - 1857
don Pasquale Vaccai [Vaccari] 1859 - 1863
don Calcedonio Vaccai [Vaccari] 1864 - 1877
don Gioacchino Cipolla 1885 - 1891
7 years of political-religious conflicts with no Archpriests

don Domenico Sferrazza 1898 - 1925
don Vincenzo Difrancesco 1926 - 1951
don Salvatore Zoda 1951 - 1979
don Antonino Migliore 1979 - 1986
don Giovanni Galante. 1986 - ....


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More about Serradifalco

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The Crest

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A Visit

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La Societa'

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The Book

La Bedda Sicilia