During the time of Crusades, the Norman Count Roger de Hauteville freed Agrigento from Saracen rule in 1087. Two centuries of Arab domination had caused misery and social decline and Roger’s priorities were to reinforce the city and to bring peace and harmony to its citizens of different races. As a fervent Christian he also wished to re-establish Christianity in Agrigento; after two centuries of Islamic rule the Diocese had to be reinforced and the population converted back to Christianity. For this difficult mission Roger appointed Gerlando de Besancon, a man of exceptional human and spiritual capabilities, as the new Bishop of Agrigento. Gerlando immediately commissioned the construction of a new cathedral, located on the highest point of the city and allegedly built near the ruins of a Greek temple dedicated to Zeus. The cathedral was completed in just 6 years (1093-1099).
He was much beloved amongst both rich and poor inhabitants of Agrigento, and many influential citizens of other religions were soon converted. In the same period the Normans changed the Arabian name of “Kerkent” to “Girgenti”, a name which the city maintained until 1929 when it was changed once more to “Agrigento”. Shortly after his canonization, Gerlando was named Patron Saint of Girgenti. Even today his name is invoked by the population of Agrigento seeking his protection in case of natural calamities, praying “San Giullannu, senza dannu” (Saint Gerlando, protect us from damage). The only Saint which can compete with him for popularity and devotion is Saint Calogero.In the MUDIA diocesan museum there is a special hall dedicated to Saint Gerlando where you can admire a wooden statue and a portable altar which was used by the crusaders to celebrate Holy Mass on the battlefield prior to the battle.
Exactly what the connection between the altar and Saint Gerlando was is one of the unsolved mysteries of the cathedral. The transept with single lancet windows and the bell tower are the only surviving parts of the Norman basilica. In the course of the centuries the cathedral was enlarged, modified and redecorated several times and today it is a fusion of different styles. Nowadays it is a Latin-cross basilica with a main nave and two lateral aisles, pointed arches on octagonal pillars and a magnificently decorated coffered wooden ceiling. In a niche in the southern nave there is a glass coffin containing the embalmed body of San Felice Martire (although some say that it is the body of an unknown knight). The facade is in renaissance style, as is the tower with its 14th century blind windows and a balcony with the best view in town.
Inside the tower some mementoes of Sister Maria Crocifissa are treasured. Before being ordained she was called Isabella Tomasi di Lampedusa, ancestor of the writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, famous author of the novel “The Leopard” (“Il Gattopardo”). Amongst the various objects there is a mysterious handwritten letter called the “devil’s letter” addressed to the nun and written in characters which resemble Sanskrit; to date it has never been deciphered. The choir and the central nave of the cathedral are richly decorated in baroque style and are adorned with stuccoes and frescoes. The Cathedral’s Treasures are exhibited in the halls of the MUDIA – Diocesan Museum, located in the Bishop’s Palace, not far from the cathedral.
Visitors may enter the Cathedral through the main entrance or the lateral entrance in via Duomo.
The Bell Tower is also accessible through the lateral entrance in via Duomo: the guided visit of the Tower is included in the “Art & Faith” itinerary proposed by the volunteers of the cultural association “Ecclesia Viva”.
April-October: open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00 a.m.-1.30 p.m. and 3.30 p.m.-7.00 p.m.
November-March: open from Tuesday to Sunday, 10.00 a.m.-1.00 p.m.
Entrance to the Cathedral is free of charge but a voluntary contribution is appreciated.
Ticket Bell Tower: €3 per person
Combo ticket Bell Tower + MUDIA Diocesan Museum: €4 per person
Cathedral of San Gerlando: for further information or to book visits at different times
Cattedrale di San Gerlando, Via Duomo – 92100 Agrigento
The following coordinates indicate the point of interest
N 37° 18' 49.94''
E 13° 34' 33.89''