Located in the Sicilian capital of Palermo, the Church of Santa Maria di Gesù caught fire on July 25 after a wildfire spread down the slopes of Monte Grifone. Wildfires have scorched the Italian island in the midst of searing summer heat, killing at least three people.
Videos on social media showed flames billowing out of the second-story windows of the 15th-century church, which has been a place of pilgrimage for many Latin Americans with devotions to St. Benedict the Moor. Photos shared by the parish of the fire’s aftermath showed the church’s interior blackened and gutted, its wooden roof completely burned away. Religious artwork, such as the Madonna di Legno, was also destroyed.
“The tragedy that struck the Church of Santa Maria di Gesù in Palermo made, in a few hours, the cultural, historical, and devotional memory of one of the most important religious sites in Italy disappear,” Ludovico Gippetto, the president of a Sicilian art society that had previously asked to preserve the church’s contents, told BlogSicilia.
As an indication of the church and St. Benedict the Moor’s importance, Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, visited the site on July 28. St. Benedict the Moor is a co-patron of Sicily, which is home to 5 million people, mostly Catholic.
The fire also damaged the Friars Minor of Sicily convent, which is joined to the church. The friars have organized a fundraising campaign to pay for repairs to both buildings.