The church of San Nicolò Inferiore is one of the most significant example of rocky art in the south-east of Sicily and it was discovered by chance in 1987 by Duccio Belgiorno. In that moment, indeed, the church was still used as a private garage and its presence was hardly noticed as it was placed in a typical old street of the city-centre. This situation changed when signs of paintings began to appear beneath the plaster. The church of San Nicolò Inferiore is then considered the oldest church of Modica and it probably dates back to the early medieval age.
The building was probably the parish church of the Greek-speaking early medieval district of the city. However, the Greek phase did not last for long, as it was soon replaced by highly Latin influence. A mark of this transition to the Latin rite it is also the adoption of a new series of paintings, represented in the apse and in the nave walls accompanied by Latin captions.
The church is carved into a rock and it was subjected to several modification across the centuries. It has one room of about 45 square meter, where a semi-circular apse is carved, at the center of which there is the altar. On its right it is visible a rectangular niche made later on. Along the walls you can see a subsellium, that is, a seat obtained from the same limestone used to build up the walls. The hall is separated from the apse by the stairs and a different floor height.
The excavations have also brought to light, at the floor level, a series of tombs still largely unexplored.
The set of paintings represented on the walls are clearly of Byzantine origin. The Christ Pantocrator, with a red coloured tunic, tight sleeves to the wrists and a richly draped mantle, is put in an almond which is finely decorated with a continuous red thread. The almond is sustained by angels and Christ is seated on a throne located in the apse, holding the opened Gospel with the words “Ego Sum Lux Mundi” in one hand and using the other to bless. On the sides of the Pantocrator it can be seen San Pietro (depicted with his right hand blessing, while his left hand holds the keys), a Mater Domini (depicted with a dark red cloak with rich drapery, with the right hand holding the baby while the left is carried upon the chest), San Michele Arcangelo, San Giacomo and other saints. The date 1594, painted on San Giacomo, hints that there was an overlapping of several cycles of paintings above the original one, as suggested by the diversity of styles adopted. The Mater Domini of Modica, characterized by a late Norman – Swabian style, is the best preserved among those currently known. This representation also demonstrates the persistence of the Byzantine iconographic tradition up to XV century and over.
Progetto finanziato con risorse di cui al Progetto d'Eccellenza "Culto e cultura - Itinerari di turismo religioso" di cui alla L- 296/2006 art. 1 c. 1228.
TOURIST PACKAGE CONTRACT (Aut. Regione Sicilia N.3743/S. 7 Tur del 22.02.2017)