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Church of the Jesus

Largo dei Gesuiti - 6010 - 70122
Sunday h 11.30
Free -
Owner Jesuit order
Beginning of construction XVI century from May 23, 1589
Current use Church
Upon entering the small Piazza del Gesù (literally, “The Square of Jesus”) in the heart of the old city, the spectacular façade of the Church of the Jesuits grasps the viewer’s attention. It outstands even the stunning Zeuli and Calò Carducci buildings located in the adjacent street. The church was built over the ruins of St. Catherine's Church, and reconstruction began on May 23rd, 1589, the day the Bishop Fortiguerra of Bitonto blessed the foundation stone. It was erected in the southern part of the city that had of late been encompassed into the city walls, and soon became the centre of great political dispute. The nearby Piazza Maggiore (today, Piazza Mercantile) had been recently chosen to house the Palazzo del Sedile (Town Hall). The Jesuits had arrived in Bari in 1583 and had carefully selected the construction site for their church, designed to overshadow the grandeur of the main façade of the nearby St. Theresa Monastery. Chronicles of the time report that the arrival of the Jesuits in Bari brought great changes to the way the people practiced the religion; they were not even accustomed to the ritual of the communion. In the church, the Jesuits promoted a rigid and dogmatic religion, while, in the annexed college, they founded a school that taught Latin, Ancient Greek, Rhetoric and Philosophy. At first, neither the Universitas (Town Council) nor the secular clergy were in favour of the arrival of the Jesuits in Bari because they would have been a heavy economic burden to the already impoverished finances of the city. As a result, the construction project was postponed to 1589 when the Jesuits received the aforementioned church of St. Catherine (later demolished) as a donation from the Archbishop A. Puteo, as well as 1000 ducats from the Universitas for the building’s basic needs.
The structure of the building, albeit impressive, appears rather simple compared to the splendour of the Jesuit churches in Rome or Naples; this is intended to highlight the aspect of it being a place of prayer.
The Baroque façade has a dramatic and solemn appearance. It is divided into two sections by a projecting cornice. Despite its grandeur, the façade is softened by the gentle dynamism created by the six large pilasters and the richly decorated scallop-shell applique with curls and scrolls situated above the only entrance, as well as by the simpler mixtilinear window in the central upper section. The elegant contrast between the dark local tuff and the light-coloured limestone of the portal and wainscot defines the harmony of the visual impact. On the inside of the church, a wooden choir surmounts the entrance portal. The interior space consists of a single rectangular nave that ends with an apse covered by a barrel vault with lunettes along its length. High pilasters decorated with Corinthian capitals punctuate the lateral walls and delimit the spaces, in the central part, which house the paintings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, on the left, and St. Francis Xavier, on the right, founders of the Jesuit Order in 1534. Polychromatic marble altars embellish the décor of the side chapels. Half way down the nave, on the right, there is an elegant pulpit with wooden railings used by the Jesuits. The Carrara marble altar stands on a raised four-step presbytery, and is enclosed by a marble balustrade.
Beginning of construction XVI century from May 23, 1589
End of construction XVI century before August 28, 1595
Consecration 28th of August 1595
Owner Jesuit order
Previous buildings Church of Santa Caterina
In 1561, King Philip II of Spain encouraged the Archbishop G. Puteo to welcome the Jesuit Order in Bari; it was already present in major cities such as Rome and Naples. This process, however, was relented because the dire situation of the municipal coffers could not economically support an order such as that of the Jesuits. Therefore, while the aristocracy in Bari supported the proposal to accept the Jesuits, the townspeople, the Town Council, and the secular clergy strongly opposed it, and ultimately deferred the building project to 1589. That same year, the Archbishop A. Puteo donated the Church of St. Catherine, which was located on the famous Via Francigena (an ancient pilgrim route), to the Jesuits. On August 28th, 1595, the new church was finally consecrated to the Circumcision of Christ. In 1613, Father Antonio Beatillo had the relics of the Holy Martyrs Rufinus, Macarius, Justus and Theophilus transferred to Bari in a crystal casket, and after facing a severe storm, finally reached the city. In 1651, the Alberotanza and Debussè buildings situated in the road of Palazzo di Città (Town Hall Road) were encompassed into the Jesuit College, thus enlarging it. The church was later abandoned between 1767 and 1773 when the Jesuits were expelled from the Kingdom of Naples and Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Order. The Jesuits returned in 1885 and began restoration work that continued up to 1978. The church has currently been entrusted to the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre that has also instituted a small Manuscript Museum.
The latest refurbishment on the church was carried out from 2007 to 2010.
Among the paintings displayed in the Church of the Jesuits, it is worth pausing upon the one dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola, by a 17th-century Neapolitan painter, and especially upon those by the highly acclaimed local painter Michele Montrone (for example the one dedicated to St. Nicholas). This artist has produced many religious and devotional artworks in and around Bari as well as some of the paintings strongly linked to popular devotion found in the aediculae (small shrines) scattered throughout the old city.
The church currently houses the processional statues of the Paschal Mystery that were formerly held in the Church of the Vallisa. The locals call them “the weeping" because when they are brought out for the Good Friday procession, it almost always rains and the statues appear to be weeping.
In the nearby road of Palazzo di Città, on the façade of the Palazzo D'Amely, there is a small shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Light that contains a canvas, painted by the priest Nicola De Filippis, which was transferred there from the Church of the Jesuits.
The placing of the canvas outside occurred almost contemporaneously to the suppression, albeit temporary, of the Jesuit Order in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV. The painting attests the Jesuit Order’s religious devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as is also richly documented in holy pictures and devotional objects (Mariella Basile).

How do I reach downtown?
airport Airport  

From Viale Enzo Ferrari, continue in the direction of Strada Provinciale 204 / Viale Gabriele d'Annunzio / SP204.
Take Viale Europa, SS16, Via Napoli and Corso Vittorio Veneto in the direction of Piazza Mercantile in Bari.
Continue along Lungomare Augusto Imperatore. Piazza Ferrarese is on the right.
Walk towards Piazza Mercantile

motorway Toll road  

From the toll booth at Bari Sud of the Autostrada A14,
Take E843, Viale Giuseppe Tatarella, the underpass Sottopassaggio Giuseppe Filippo, Via Brigata Regina
Continue along Lungomare Augusto Imperatore in the direction of Piazza Mercantile in Bari.
Piazza Ferrarese is on the right.
Walk towards Piazza Mercantile

other Public Transport  

AMTAB bus lines #2, #4, #10, #12, #12/, #21, and #35 stop near Piazza Ferrarese (continue on foot to Piazza Mercantile)

park Parking lots  

Lungomare Imperatore Augusto-Corso Vittorio Emanuele

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