Surrounded by monuments

5 min readNov 2, 2023

In which the author reflects on the ubiquity of stupendous edifices in Sicily

Gilded mosaic of Jesus in the vaulted roof of a Baroque cathedral
Cattedrale di Monreale, Sicily (photo by author)

I rarely set foot in a church when I’m at home, and if I do, it’s likely either to attend a funeral or a classical music concert.

I am not a person of faith, and so the interior of a place of worship is not a typical location where you’ll find me.

Unless, of course, I’m on a European vacation.

On a recent trip to Sicily, I was part of a tour group that visited a major cathedral, cloistered nunnery, Jesuit church or other site of religious significance pretty much every day. The visits put me back in touch with the awe and wonder of belief in something bigger than oneself.

Sicily occupies a strategic location in the middle of the Mediterranean sea, and as such it’s had the distinction of being invaded and colonized by just about every significant western civilization over the centuries.

So there are mosques and temples, churches and cathedrals everywhere, some of them the same building repurposed for the purposes of a variety of different congregations over time depending on who was in power.

Stone church with a bell tower decorated with yellow and green flowered tiles, topped by a dome of bright blue tiles.
Bell tower in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily ( author’s photo)

We were told that one community of about 65,000 people was home to 75 churches — in some cases, their facades are on opposite sides of a common square.

I can’t say how things are in Sicily specifically, but according to one source, “Although over 90 percent of Italians formally belong to the Catholic Church, the results of a recent survey reveal a different relation between Italian citizens and the Church. According to a survey conducted in 2020, only 25 percent of respondents defined their relationship to the Church as traditional. On the contrary, over 60 percent of interviewees declared either not to be practicing or not to be Catholic.”

Still, you don’t have to be observant to appreciate these buildings. Many are outstanding examples of craftsmanship, devotion, design and artistry.




Recreational writer, collector of antique corkscrews, urban gardener and retired management consultant to social profit organizations. Proudly Canadian.