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St. Dominic Church

The Convent Complex of St. Dominic represents one of the most significant nodes of Monopoli culture. The Church is of considerable interest not only from an artistic, but also from a historical point of view; it is in fact a monument of great architectural value and a rich repository of cultural heritage, each of which testifies to a moment in Monopoli's history in a chronological sphere ranging from the late 15th century to the 18th century. The investigation of the monastery complex has resulted in an interesting cultural assessment that illuminates the Monopoli-Apulia relationship and places the church of St. Dominic as an effective mirror of the Monopoli situation, as an exemplification of the 3 different cultural trends affecting the city in the aforementioned centuries.

In April 1528, while the plague was claiming victims, 400 Venetian soldiers took possession of Monopoli, which, peacefully and because it was exhausted by the epidemic, opened its doors to them, preferring the colours of St Mark's to those of Spain. The commander of the garrison, Andrea Gritti, had the buildings outside the walls, but close to them, demolished so that they could not be used by the Spaniards, who, under the command of the Marquis of Vasto, would soon come to attempt to conquer the city. Thus, among those buildings, the convent and church of Santa Maria della Nova with the art treasures they certainly contained were also demolished. The friars, however, as early as 20 August 1530, << from the happy memory of Clement VII >> received permission to build a new convent.

The preaching fathers would have founded their church, outside the walls, in the area of the Fontanelle, and this would have been called S. Maria Nova, like the Dominican church in Florence, dear to Dante. Here Brother Reginaldo opened his studio as prior and miniature artist, which was to give him such fame. Here, probably, in the ancient church, before it was destroyed during the Spanish siege, 'landed' the precious panel painting by Giambellino, now in the Provincial Art Gallery of Bari. Finally, Stefano da Putignano worked for the Dominicans of Santa Maria Nova. When the convent and church were rebuilt within the walls at the end of the 16th century and in the early years of the 17th century, the Dominicans confirmed the Order's intellectual level and taste for art in the following two centuries.

The three-nave church rises with a dome and ends with a Gothic apse. The work of the stone, the embroidery of the ornamentation, from the door frames to the triumphal arch of the presbytery, from the capitals to the Baroque altars, the subtle structural devices such as the narrow aisles and the upper chase of the agile vaults, are its richness. Styles also chase each other: the nostalgia of the Gothic appears next to the Renaissance dome; the sophisticated, mannered door frames on either side of the apse are answered by the mystical tarantulas of the Salento altars. The first one on the right, in the chapel of the Rosary, appears to be by Manieri, who worked in Monopoli between 1741 and 1742 for the Benedictine St. Leonard.

The other two are on the left, the first with the Dominicans in glory, and the third with St. Dominic. The Spanish saint is also in the ceiling with the Madonna and St Catherine of Siena, by Gerolamo Cenatiempo (1703); he is also in the painting by Palma il Giovane, on the left wall of the transept, visited by three saints, in the Miracle of Soriano. Leaving the church, one can admire the façade, known for its rose window and its precious embroidery. But also for the Stephanesque inserts on the central axis or dawn line of centrality: 'Christ crowned with thorns', 'St Dominic', 'and the enthroned Madonna and Child' in the pinnacle: a figurative vertical as in the best classical depictions. Since the 16th century, S. Domenico was, with its artists and men of letters, a splendour of 'cherubic light', as Dante says light of culture and artistic civilisation.

The convent, now a Carabinieri barracks, retains its ancient nobility: the luminous cloister, the classical entrance frame, the Renaissance loggias on XX September Square.

Municipality of Monopoli - Department of Culture, Monopoli in its past, December 1985.
Michele Pirrelli, Between Convents and Monasteries, Gelsorosso.

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CREDITS: Comune di Monopoli.

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