Basilica Santuario di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro


This 17th-century basilica occupies the site where Syracuse's patron saint, Lucia, an aristocratic girl who devoted herself to saintliness after being blessed by St Agatha, was martyred in 304. The marble column to the right of the altar is believed to be the very spot where the saint's life was taken. Beneath lie early-Christian catacombs, accessible on guided tours (available in English). Tour times vary, so email or call ahead to confirm the current schedule.

According to Roman law, Christians were not allowed to bury their dead within the city limits (which, during the Roman occupation, did not extend beyond Ortygia), so the early Christians used the outlying district of Tyche for burials, accessing underground aqueducts unused since Greek times. New tunnels were carved out, and the result was a labyrinthine network of burial chambers.

The basilica itself is an impressive sight with its columned portico, Norman portal (a remnant of the previous Norman church) and 18th-century octagonal chapel known as the Sepolcro. The chapel is home to a reputedly miraculous sculpture of St Lucia. Created by Tuscan sculptor Gregorio Tedeschi in the 17th century, the saint's marble face, hands and feet famously perspired for three consecutive days in May 1735.