St. Martin’s Basilica

Basilica of St. Martino. Martina Franca. Puglia. Italy.

edicated to the saint of Tours, the basilica was built in 1747, using the space of the former late Romanesque style church, whose presence is already attested in a 1348 scroll preserved in the Chapter of the Basilica.

The oldest church remains today only in the bell tower and part of the sacristy. Despite the lack of sources related to the external and interior architectural structure of the fourteenth century, the acts of the Holy Visit of Lelio Brancaccio, Archbishop of Taranto (1594), allow to identify the unique characteristics, analyzed by the historian Giovanni Liuzzi and brought to light by archaeological excavations carried out during the 2007 restoration work.

Basilica of St. Martino. Martina Franca. Puglia. Italy.
2016-04-29 18-54-03_0016

Therefore the building underwent numerous changes in the course of two and a half centuries, from the early sixteenth century until the middle of the eighteenth century, when, after the archpriest Isidoro Chirulli’s will, the old building was demolished to build the current temple of the late Baroque architectural taste, designed by the Milanese architect Giuseppe Mariani.

The decision, dictated by the need to consolidate the parties damaged by the earthquake of February 20, 1743, met the aesthetic requirements of conforming the building to the typical eighteenth century’s trend.

The consecration of the Collegiate occurred on 22 October, 1775, about thirty years after the laying of the foundation stone.

The exterior of the Basilica is characterized by the majestic facade, 37 meters high, which is based on the semi-circular staircase, an architectural appeal to look up. It is set on two architectural orders, whose decorative elements, carved in local stone and arranged in a harmonious and dynamic game of ledges and recesses, are emphasized by the elegant sculptural core group representing St. Martin giving his cloak to the Poor, by Joseph Morgese, Martina’s civic art masterpiece.

The interior of the Basilica, vast and bright, has a Latin cross. In the presbytery, under the triumphal arch designed by Gennaro Sammartino, there is a precious marble altar (1773) designed by Giuseppe Sammartino, author of the Veiled Christ in Naples in the Sansevero Chapel, to guard the sculpture of the town’s patron saint, San Martin of Tours, made of stone in the sixteenth century’s early decades by Stefano da Putignano. The large marble complex was made by Giuseppe Variale, Neapolitan marble craftsman. The angels holding the Patron’s episcopal emblems, the nimbus of the Holy Spirit and the two white marble female allegorical figures of Charity and Abundance, “in cornu Evangelii” and “in cornu Epistulae” are also by Giuseppe Sammartino. The large marble complex was donated to the Collegiate by Pietro Simeone, nobleman fom Martina, whose aristocratic emblem is inlaid in the marble shields below the two female figures.


In the left transept it stands out the rich marble altar, erected by Francis Xavier Stabile, Bishop of Venafro, precious reliquary to house the olive wood carving of Christ at the Column, by Vespasiano Genuino, from Gallipoli; the two altars in the transept are dedicated to Our Lady of Constantinople and St. Raphael, the Archangel and date back to the early decades of the seventeenth century.

In the right transept you can admire the stone altar of St. Comasia, erected in 1764, with gilded wooden reliquary sculpture of the town patroness, manufactured in the seventeenth century’s workshops in Lecce and the altar of Santa Martina, also stone and stucco work of local craft, which houses the wooden sculpture of the Saint worshipped against earthquakes.

Dating from the late eighteenth century, it is the main body of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, decorated with frescoes of the Four Evangelists (1785) on the hackle of the dome and the large altarpiece, oil on canvas, depicting The Last Supper (1804) both by the Apulian painter Domenico Carella (1721-1813).

The latest restoration of the building were started between the mid and late twentieth century, affecting both the inside and the outside of the temple.

In 1993, with the arrival of the new archpriest Monsignor Franco Semeraro, a new phase of conservation work started, under the design guidance of the architect Gianfranco Aquaro and the engineer Giovanni Nasti, to return the monument to the new generations.

John Paul II, April 22, 1998, awarded the Collegiate Church of Martina Franca with the title of Minor Basilica. In 2000 UNESCO declared it Messenger of Peace Culture Monument.