Cattolica of Stilo
The small Byzantine church perched on the Mt.
What it is and where it is
Nestled on the slopes of Mount Consolino, the Cattolica watches over the nearby village of Stilo. Not far from the center, but isolated from it, this small church is a cubic building topped by five turrets, four at the corners and one in the center. It is these turrets that give the facade its first movement. There is no grandeur, but simplicity, order and cleanliness, recalling its origins, probably dating back to the communities of hermit monks who settled here centuries ago. Even in the poverty of materials - mainly stone, mortar and brick - the Catholic rises in harmonious structures and geometries, a metaphor for the power of meditation and the search for God.
Why it is special
Atrue jewel of the Byzantine architectural tradition, the Cattolica ranks rightfully among the most outstanding monuments in Calabria. Set in living rock, it bears silent witness to the deep connection between peoples who lived here and the surrounding territory. Let us try for a moment to close our eyes. Then open them again on the solid bulk of the facade. Strong, stable, compact. Let us now look up at the turrets, decorated with tiles arranged in lozenges and in different shades of color; let us welcome the simple and modest grace of these movements. Finally, let us turn and embrace with our eyes the Stilaro valley and the village of Stilo. At our feet, the rock of Mount Consolino; all around, the scent of vines, olive trees and wild vegetation. There. This is the magic of Cattolica. Here, now, we are one with the land, water, air and history that surround us.
Not to be missed
Let's enter. Earth and light - skillfully dosed by the mullioned windows of the three apses and those of the domes - define the space. Here man has gathered in prayer over the centuries in search of God. Everything around us tells us the story of this place. The Latin cross structure defined by columns, a typical example of ancient Byzantine worship, was apparently accompanied by frescoes on all the interior walls. Today we have only fragments and, according to scholars, they are not even the original ones. In fact, when the old cult made way for the Latin cult, the interior depictions also changed. So it is that today, in the intimacy of this small and cozy space, we can admire the Sleeping Virgin, protected by the Archangel Gabriel and watched over by the Apostles; we can enjoy the benevolent gaze of Christ Blessing, and admire the saints who welcomed the faithful here. We can hear the voice of a monk who, perhaps on Aspromonte, had an apparition of God, which he decided to share with us by carving his testimony on one of the columns. We are now ready to leave, but we take with us an ancient, whispered tale that has reached our hearts.
A bit of history
Of the history of the Cattolica there is no written documentation until the 16th century, when it is mentioned in the Memoria istorico-geografica by Michelangelo Macrì of Siderno. However, its construction is attributed to Eastern monks who settled on the slopes of Mount Consolino during Byzantine rule (10th and 11th centuries). They lived in clusters of natural caves, some frescoed, which took the name "laura," still visible today. The term "Cattolica" probably derives from the Greek "Katholikon" (main church of Greek Orthodox monasteries), but to this day there is still debate about what its original purpose was. Some theories understand the Cattolica as the first and ancient mother church, others as a Muslim oratory, and still others as a place of recollection for hermit communities. The most accepted thesis points to the Cattolica as belonging to a monastery, probably dedicated to the Assumption.
Inside, a mystery shrouds the first column on the right: two inscriptions can be read there, which translated mean "there is no God outside the one God" and "to God the praise." Why a mystery? Because the language of these inscriptions is Arabic. How they ended up in here is unclear. There are two main hypotheses: either the column arrived with the inscriptions already affixed, or for a time the Catholic was home to Muslim worship.