1074- 2018. The Cathedral of Terracina: on the occasion of the 944th year of its dedication.

It is the symbol of the Christian Terracina. Today marks the 944th anniversary of the dedication of our Cathedral. Consecrated to St. Caesar, patron saint of the city, by Bishop Ambrose on 24 November 1074 AD, the Cathedral of Terracina was the scene of some important historical events. Among them we remember in particular the election of Urban II (March 12, 1088), auctioneer of the First Crusade and first pope elected in a conclave outside Rome.


Brief architectural history

The Cathedral of San Cesareo was built on the remains of the so-called “Tempio Maggiore”, the largest of the temples built around the ancient Forum Emiliano (now Piazza Municipio).


Three main construction/architectural phases can be identified:


1. CAROLINGIA PHASE: this is the oldest phase and the existence of the Cathedral in this period, corresponding to the ninth century AD, is indirectly testified by the Liber Pontificalis, a precious written source that reports all the donations made by the Popes in favor of the churches. Leo IV (847-855 A.D.) donated some liturgical furnishings to our Cathedral. Little survives of this first artistic phase, except for some decorative fragments with the classic braid motif, of Roman origin and particularly fashionable in that historical period.


2. FROM ROMANIC TO THE XIII CENTURY: in the XI century, the Cathedral underwent a strong restructuring that ended only between the XII and XIII centuries A.D., a period to which we can date the bell tower and the external portico that are affected by the Cistercian influences of the nearby Abbey of Fossanova.


3. BETWEEN THE 18th AND 19th CENTURIES: this is the third and final phase of construction that involved the Cathedral and that gave it a large part of its current appearance. The work carried out, which led to the modification of the high altar, the choir, the side chapels, the sacristy, the construction of barrel vaults for the aisles in place of the old wooden trusses, are evidenced by two inscriptions placed near the portal access to the church. One of them recalls the restoration work carried out by Benedict XIII in 1729, the other, those commissioned by Pius VI in 1785.


The Cathedral was then affected by an important restoration in the first half of the twentieth century. On that occasion work was carried out on the portico, the bell tower and the façade. The last restoration dates back, as you will remember, to a few years ago and has restored to our church the splendid appearance of today. Since 1893 it has been a National Monument of the State.



The Cathedral of Terracina in a photo of the beginning of the twentieth century (Credits: inasaroma.org).



A beautiful staircase leads to the porch where, through a few steps, you then have access to the main entrance. In the portico, on the right, there is an eighteenth-century basin that recalls the martyrdom of the Christians before the freedom of worship given by Constantine in 313 AD. On the left side of the portico, the triumph of the Faith contrasts with it.

The facade is characterized by six columns from older buildings. Their different heights are compensated for by the base plinths.


The Cathedral of Terracina in a recent photo.


The columns support a mosaic frieze. The decoration is preserved only on the right side that would represent the eternal struggle between good and evil. On the left side, no longer visible, were represented saints and local martyrs. The message transmitted resounded loud and clear: the world is characterized by an eternal struggle between good and evil, but only through faith, witnessed by the blood shed by the martyrs, man can achieve salvation and eternal life.


Detail of the frieze that decorates the exterior of the Cathedral of Terracina.


The facade is completed by the bell tower on the left and Palazzo Pironti (formerly Venditti) on the right.


View of the bell tower of the Cathedral of Terracina.



The interior of the church is characterized by the typical basilica plan with three naves, separated by a row of six columns and concluded by a raised presbytery and three semicircular apses.


Interior of the Cathedral of Terracina (Credits: juzaphoto.com).


Along each of the aisles, there are three chapels (for a total of six) in late Baroque style: the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, that of St. Caesar and that of Our Lady of Sorrows; the Chapel of the Baptistery, that of St. Joseph and that of the Immaculate Conception.

The central nave, raised at the beginning of the eighteenth century and covered with a barrel vault, decorated in the centre with a fresco representing Saint Caesareus, is distinguished by its original Cosmatesque floor. The precious marbles have been skillfully composed and intertwine to create splendid decorative motifs up to the presbytery.


The glory of St. Caesar painted on the barrel vault of the central nave (Credits: Francesco Petrilli).

The presbytery houses three altars dedicated to the local martyrs and saints. The central altar is dedicated to St. Caesar and is surmounted by a beautiful wooden canopy supported by four columns from the disappeared church of Santa Maria in Posterula. The two side altars are dedicated to S. Eleuterio (right) and S. Silviano (left) and are surmounted by two stone ciboriums of the thirteenth century.

The choir that opens behind the presbytery is also noteworthy. It was extensively modified during the eighteenth century, a period to which the Neapolitan majolicas on the floor date. It houses, on the back wall, the chair (the bishop’s chair) episcopal of the thirteenth century (reassembled) which is surmounted by a wooden statue depicting St. Peter, Bishop of Rome.
The paintings that decorate this space are of interest. Those on the side walls date back to the eighteenth century and represent a series of popes, saints and bishops. Those of the vault of the choir, however, are attributable to the early twentieth century and represent Urban II: his election, his ascension to heaven, the call of the First Crusade.

Finally, we recall the beautiful pulpit, in the form of a box and in polychrome tesserae. It is flanked by the twisted column of the Easter candle. Finely decorated, it bears the name of the artist and the date of its creation (1245).

Detail of the column of the Easter candle and the pulpit of the Cathedral of Terracina (Credits: oltremareimmobiliare.org).


Posted by Sara Pandozzi

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