The Collegiate Basilica of San Sebastiano is a Baroque church in Acireale, dedicated to Saint Sebastian, located in Via Vittorio Emanuele II, about 100 meters away from Piazza del Duomo and the Cathedral of Maria Santissima Annunziata.
During the Aragonese period, the ancient Church of San Sebastiano, built after the plague epidemic of 1466, was the main place of worship in the area.
Between 1609 and 1644, from public funds provided by the Municipality and donations from the faithful, a new church was built about 150 meters further north, on the same Via Vittorio Emanuele II, and dedicated to the same Saint Sebastian.
On July 13, 1652, the old Church of San Sebastiano, following an agreement between the Confraternity of San Sebastiano and the Confraternity of Sant’Antonio, changed its dedication to Saint Anthony of Padua.
In 1693, the terrible earthquake of Val di Noto damaged the church. The Basilica was extensively renovated between 1699 and 1705, receving its current appearance.
The church was elevated to a collegiate church by the papal bull of November 20, 1924. In December 1990, Pope John Paul II elevated it to the dignity of a minor basilica.
The structure is preceded by a balustrade built in 1754 by Giovan Battista Marini to a design by Pietro Paolo Vasta, enriched with statues depicting characters from the Old Testament.
The facade of the church, designed by Angelo Bellofiore, with inlays by Diego and Giovanni Flavetta, is characterised by a beautiful frieze with 14 putti (small angels) holding festoons, placed between the lower and the upper order.
In the two niches on the sides of the main portal, there are the statues of San Giovanni Battista (Saint John the Baptist) and San Cristoforo. On the upper order, on the sides of the large curled volutes and in the two niches that delimit the central window, we can admire the statues of San Gervasio, San Lorenzo, San Vito, and San Protasio. The statues of San Cosma and San Damiano flank the bell-gable located at the top of the facade.
The interior has the plan of a Latin cross, with three naves divided by pillars, and a dome rising at the crossing of the transept.
The interior is rich in frescoes by Pietro Paolo Vasta, made between 1732 and 1736. In the transept and in the choir, there are some scenes from the life of Saint Sebastian, and in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament we can find scenes from the life of Christ.
The left side Chapel of Jesus and Mary is frescoed by Alessandro D’Anna. On the right, the Chapel of Saint Sebastian has a canvas of San Sebastiano in Glory by Michele Vecchio.
Other interesting paintings in the church are Pietà by Pietro Paolo Vasta, Trinity with Saints Mark the Evangelist, Jerome, and Bishop Liborio by Vasta and Vito d’Anna, Saints Cosma and Damiano, San Giovanni Battista by Antonino Bonaccorsi, and Jesus and Mary and Saint Cajetan by Alessandro Vasta.
HOW TO GET THERE
The Collegiate Basilica of San Sebastiano is located about 2 kilometers away from the Acireale railway station. The closest bus stop is in Piazza del Duomo, about 100 meters away, on the bus Lines 1, 2, 3 and 4.
However, the buses have a very low frequency in Acireale, it’s difficult to find the timetables and often there are delays and sudden cancellations of journeys, so the best solution to get to the railway station is a taxi.