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Church and Monastery of Saint James

Piazza dell'Odegitria - 0 - 70122
Beginning of construction 892 A.C.
Current use Church
In Piazza dell’Odegitria, only a few steps away from the majestic cathedral of San Sabino, the small church of San Giacomo (Saint James) stands in an unusual position, near the old port and facing north towards St James’ Trail to Santiago di Compostela. The structure dates back to the 11th or 12th century and shows typical features of “minor” Romanesque style (similar to that used in the churches of San Gregorio, Santa Pelagia, San Basilio and San Marco). Built in pure white Trani stone, the main façade is both stern and austere, with a single vast, smooth surface accommodating a main window in place of the classic rose window, four single-lancet windows and a 16th century portal. On the lunette window of the portal there is a quadrangular inscription in Latin, which is almost entirely illegible, despite restoration work; it is thought to attest to the consecration of the church as a place of worship. The second portal, decorated with a 15th century statue of San Giacomo dressed as a pilgrim, is nowadays almost invisible due to its location in a narrow alleyway. At one time, it is thought to have faced the entrance to the castle. The bell tower clearly shows the two styles which typify the building: the lower section is Romanesque, with elegant mullioned windows opening up on four sides, while the upper section is Baroque, with its characteristic onion-shaped crown (an addition commissioned by Abbess Carducci in the 18th century). The internal part of the church was refurbished by D.A. Vaccaro, who had already overseen the Baroque restoration of the nearby catherdral. The decorative style used can be defined as “atectonic”, as it is impossible not to notice the spirals of white Rococo stucco which overwhelmingly cover every available space. Up until 1947, there was an adjacent convent for nuns coming from aristocratic families. Here, they lived a life of luxury consisting of lunches, meetings and celebrations with their families. The richly decorated main altar is the work of the Neapolitan artist C. Tucci. A further point of interest is the majolica floor from the Mazza workshop, which provides a contrast to the whiteness of the wall stuccoes.
Beginning of construction 892 A.C.
Consecration Second consecration in 1627
Previous buildings Bird park (ornitrophìon)
An ancient legend attributes the foundation of the church to Symbatikios, a military strategist for Macedonia, Tracia, Cefalonia and Longobardia (Apulia), sent to Bari by the Byzantine emperor Basil I during the period 891-892 AD. It is widely held that Symbatikios was also the founder of the adjacent monastery of San Giacomo, built on land donated by Archbishop Giovanni in 892. This land had previously been occupied by a “bird park” (ornitrophìon), possibly a misinterpretation of ptochotrophion (lodging for the poor). The first historical reference to the church was a 1075 papal bull issued by Pope Gregory VII to the Archbishop Giovanni di Santa Maria di Banzi. In 1344, the monastery was entrusted to the Olivetan Benedictine order of monks and was eventually consecrated in 1627 by Archbishop Ascanio Gesualdo. The first restoration of the church was at the behest of the Abbess Domitilla Ventura. However, its most important refurbishment work (which even today remains an important historical account), was that undertaken by D.A. Vaccaro in 1729. This gave the church a sumptuous Baroque appearance as well as an entire gallery, consisting of works painted by Vaccaro himself, as well as his son Ludovico and Paolo de Matteis.

The sober front features a façade of squared ashlar in calcareous stone, ending in two layers which protrude above a horizontal cornice running across the whole exterior. There are only a few elements which interrupt this seamless appearance: four steps precede the portal which is marked by a double cornice with architraves and an upper rounded fanlight. This has two wooden shutters composed of twenty four identical, geometrical tiles. Above, aligned with the portal, is a large, Baroque window of mixtilinear form, set next to four blocked-up, single-lancet windows. Additional refurbishment and restoration work is visible on the façade, in particular on the section above the large Baroque window and the central part of the gable. On the lateral exterior on Via San Giacomo, there is a door with lunette window depicting the saint in relief, as well as the upper windows which allow light into the church.

The bell tower is incorporated from floor to ceiling within the brickwork of the presbytery and stands rotated slightly away from the direction of the building.

The simplicity of the façade is in stark contrast to the late Baroque appearance of the interior, designed by the Campanian architect Antonio Vaccaro between 1745 and 1747. The church, based on a single space measuring 24 x 11.65 metres, is covered by a barrel-vaulted ceiling with fanlights. Richly decorative stucco extends throughout the walls of the church. In particular, the decoration framing the arch of the apsidal conch and the large window above are characterised by two expansive, symmetrical spirals. The pilaster strips, attached to columns which divide the ten chapels along the side walls, support a trabeation surmounted by wooden jalousie windows which concealed the nuns attending services in the women’s gallery. The chapels have a reduced width, sufficient to hold six marble altars within the three central aisles. The inner surfaces of the chapels’ rounded arches are decorated with stuccoes which underline the window shutters and keystones with rosettes and shells.

The apse contains the principal, 18th century altar in multi-coloured marble, with a bas-relief of San Giacomo framed by palm leaves in white marble. This work of art, together with the six lateral altars, was carried out by C. Tucci. A lattice-wrought golden skylight with Baroque frieze is set in the absidal conch. The 18th century silver tabernacle door shows bas-reliefs portraying the holy trinity and the Medici saints. Above the altars there are paintings which show Madonna with child between San Rocco and San Giacomo, Santa Francesca Romana, the Blessed Bernardo dè Tolomei, San Benedetto in Glory, Sant’Anna and Maria as Child and the Adoration of the Shepherds. A picture of the Immacolata del Reggio hangs above the main altar.

The 17th century floor is composed of glazed terracotta tiles in yellow, white and green which depict large spiral motifs. The two multi-coloured marble fonts are also noteworthy. Created by Tucci from Vaccaro’s drawings, they show the Holy Ghost in the form of a dove.

How do I reach downtown?
airport Airport  

From the international airport Karol Wojtyla in Bari,
Take Viale Enzo Ferrari in the direction of Strada Provinciale 204 / Viale Gabriele d'Annunzio / SP204.
Take Viale Europa and Via Napoli in the direction of Via S. Francesco D'Assisi in Bari.
Take the SS 16.
Exit the SS 16 via Exit 4 towards “Bari Centro-Porto”.
Continue down Via Napoli and then Via San Francesco d'Assisi.
Drive in the direction of Piazza Federico II di Svevia.

motorway Toll road  

Take E843, Viale Giuseppe Tatarella and the underpass Sottopassaggio Giuseppe Filippo in the direction of Via Napoli in Bari.
Continue along Via Napoli and drive in the direction of Piazza Federico II di Svevia.

other Public Transport  

AMTAB bus lines #3, #12, #12/, #21, and #35 stop near the castle.

park Parking lots  

Piazza Massari-Piazza Federico II di Svevia-Piazza Prefettura

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