There is a circuit of churches in Palermo. These buildings are centuries old. Due to high maintenance and restoration costs they charge a small entrance fee. On the circuit is Santa Ninfa which we happened across walking down the center of via Maqueda, today being pedestrian only. I noticed the name on the exterior plaque and as my grandmother was born in a village named Santa Ninfa, we walked up the steps to take a look. Two women sat at the door selling tickets. Neither spoke English. One offered a written guide but none were available in English. I jokingly said, well since there are none in English, please come with us and explain everything. Much to my surprise, she got up and did just that. We were very glad she did. I only wish I could have taken notes.
Construction of the church built in Ninfa’s honor began in 1601, financed by donations from several noble families of the city, including the Englishman Sir John Francis Edward Acton, commander of the naval forces of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and prime minister of Naples under Ferdinand IV. Giovanni Macolino, Giacomo Amato, Giuseppe Clemente Mariani, Ferdinando Lombardo (the facade) and Giuseppe Venanzio Marvuglia were the architects. Doors opened in 1660, though much was lackeing. They completed the building in 1750 .
There are some relics of Saint Camillus in the church, below a gorgeous altar made of wood painted to look like marble. You have to get close to see that it’s wood you are looking at. In addition the church houses many artworks of important artists. Giacomo Serpotta has several statues fabricated in stucco. The slender curves are exquisite. Our guide explained that these stucco statues are built around a wooden skeletal structure and then formed by hand. Unfortunately I have no photos of his work in this church. Here is an example however:
Here are two pieces that are in the church:
There is a painting by Guglielmo Borremans, a rare if not the lone representation of the “Death of Saint Joseph,” about whom the Christian Bible says so little, as our impromptu guide noted at the end of her charming 45 minute tour of this obscure church.
Ninfa is one of four patron saints of Palermo, and is credited with ending a drought. A few meters away from the church is a four way intersection, Quattro Canti. Our guide told us she is one of the four commemorated in the four statues you see there.
There is a forced perspective wooden roof painted to look like a dome! There is a point at which you can stand, look up and it is as if the peak of the dome is in the very center. There is one in San Ignacio in Rome.