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Campanarazzu is the third step of our itinerary. This is another church buried by the lava of Mt Etna. It is in Misterbianco, south-west of Catania. Seen from here, Etna seems far away, but it has left traces on this land as well. It happened in 1669, during the side eruption of Montirossi Craters, a lower crack on the southern flank of the mountain.

Not “just another eruption”, Montirossi was history! We have already heard about it as for the shrine of Mompileri, because the lava of that eruption erased towns, villages, fields and Catania itself. It cut the city in the middle. During its 4-month “run”, the lava also erased the Monasterium Album that gave birth to the Campanarazzu.

Campanarazzu under the lava

The town of Misterbianco is named after the latin words Monasterium Album, that is “the white monastery”. This large, white monastery was very important and many people came here to look for protection. This is how the small town was born, all around it.  The monastery’s church had become the small town’s main church too.

The lava of the 1669 eruption enveloped the small center in a fire embrace, closing over the houses and erasing everything. Only the bell tower of the church remained, emerging half-ruined from the rocks, once the lava had gone cold. Meanwhile, the town had been rebuilt further downstream, closer to Catania. The area of ??the ancient center was referred to as “Campanarazzu” (the ugly bell campanarazzu misterbianco  eng2tower) precisely because of the ruins of the tower.

The miraculous rediscovery

Thirty years after that devastating eruption, an even more powerful earthquake caused the bell tower that emerged from the lava rocks to collapse. As soon as that symbol disappeared, people forgot forever the existence of a place called “Campanarazzu”. We will have to wait until the 20th century to rediscover the buried church.

On the ancient site of the eruption a stone quarry had arisen. It worked to supply the neighboring towns with the basalt with which they build roads and the foundations of the houses. During one of the many excavations they found the roof of a house in excellent condition. Work on the quarry stopped and the Superintendency of Cultural Heritage intervened. The suspicion was that that roof was the cover of the ancient church.

The excavation works were therefore carried out with the utmost attention by expert archaeologists. Under a wall of 15 meters of lava, they found the church of the first inhabited center of Misterbianco, miraculously preserved. The huge river of fire, in 1669, had broken through a wall and had infiltrated the foundations. In fact, therefore, it raised and moved the church a few meters … but had not destroyed it.

The Campanarazzu today

As the lava cooled it solidified on the outside and created air bubbles on the inside. In this way, paradoxically, instead of canceling the church it had protected it against external atmospheric agents. It had kept it perfectly. Beyond the destroyed wall, they remain intact and visible: the floor, the side altars, the transept and the apse.

They also found the remains of sacred objects. Unfortunately few ones, because many others had been stolen by thieves who had discovered the site many years before! Today it is possible to visit the church of Campanarazzu by booking your guided tour. Call the association that takes care of its custody (link to the Facebook page here).

Inside the church it is forbidden to take pictures, but you can immortalize the outside. And it really is stunning to see the mountain of rock from which the building timidly emerges. It just lets you guess the power of the volcano against small human works.

To get to Campanarazzu

Misterbianco is directly connected to both Catania and its airport by the ring road. Once you arrive in the center of the town, just ask for information or set the navigator on the Campanarazzu area or on Via Campanarazzu. (photo by Grazia Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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