IN THE DISCOVER LEUCA
A land that symbolizes the encounter between peoples, a bridge over the Mediterranean, a point of contact between East and West. If Leuca represents all this, today as in the past, it is not surprising that here is a very important sign of Christianity, the Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae.
Located on the Iapigio promontory, the church we admire today has ancient origins, wrapped in a veil of mystery, in which history and legend alternate and merge: what is certain is that in ancient times a pagan temple dedicated to the Goddess Minerva stood in this place. , in which the inhabitants of the place practiced the rites of the time, complete with sacrifices, offerings and gifts to their divinity.
The current ‘Christian’ function was introduced by the legendary landing in Leuca of the Apostle Peter who, on his way to Rome, made a stop here, starting his work of evangelization, and thus having one of the houses of Christianity built on the ruins of the temple.
Probably these are just stories, but various footprints support the thesis: some churches and localities in Salento have been dedicated to St. Peter, as if to celebrate the passage: the pietrina cross erected in the avenue leading to the Basilica, the church of St. Peter in Galatina, the church of S. Pietro in Giuliano, the village of San Pietro in Lama or that of San Pietro Vernotico, various writings and manuscripts that support the thesis.
Many centuries later, going through invasions, looting, wars and various reconstruction interventions, we can admire the current Sanctuary, dating back to the mid-1700s, when the bishop Giovanni Giannelli took charge of having it rebuilt according to the appearance of a civil house, but with precautions suitable for defense against any new invasions.
All that remains today of the pagan place of worship is a part of the original altar, which is now located in the right area of the interior of the church, on which the ancient rites were consumed.
As evidence of the importance attributed to the Basilica throughout its history, today we find evidence of how it was a refuge for popes, hermits, crusaders, pilgrims, who evidently recognized the place as a symbol of Christianity.
During one of the numerous reconstructions it underwent, the Basilica was enriched with a symbolic work, which can still be admired today: the image of the Madonna and Child, or Madonna de Finibus Terrae. It is none other than a painting by Giacomo Palma junior, a disciple of the great Titian, who in 1507 was commissioned by the Bishop Mons. Giacomo del Balzo.
Here too the legend comes into play: it is said that in 1624 the painting ended up in flames during the umpteenth destruction, flames that however mysteriously went out before burning the faces of the Madonna and Child Jesus. Still today, and following restoration works, it is possible to admire the painting of the Madonna de Finibus Terrae.
It is necessary to specify that the Basilica does not take its name from the famous painting it houses, but from the Roman culture that defined Leuca proprio de finibus terrae, that is, a place on the edge of the earth, precisely to emphasize the fact that it was the last strip of the peninsula. so much so that over time it also earned the nickname ‘Madonna delle frontiere’, indicating a geographical and religious symbol of welcome and encounter between the peoples of the Mediterranean.
In addition to its historical and symbolic value, the Sanctuary, named Basilica by John Paul II in 1990 during his historic visit to the city, deserves to be visited even for its architectural and artistic beauty alone.
Beauty that primarily concerns the exterior, characterized by a large square from which you can access other wonders of Leuca, such as the monumental waterfall, from the Pietrina Cross erected in the avenue leading to the Basilica, from the stained glass windows that enrich the facade, whose construction was made possible by donations from the faithful.
It should also be emphasized that over the centuries the church has seen its characteristics and peculiarities change several times: just think that compared to the structure prior to the last reconstruction, only the internal portal, dating back to 1500, has survived, various altars located along the aisles, and several paintings. Another gem of the interior of the Basilica is the ancient organ, dated 1885.
For the rest, uncivilized disfigurements and necessary restoration works have always made continuous human retouching inevitable, in order to preserve the importance and beauty of the Sanctuary. The last intervention in chronological order was carried out in the Year 2000, during which the three entrance doors were replaced with new bronze structures, and two rooms located laterally were restored.
All this leads us to admire, today, the Basilica of Santa Maria de Finibus Terrae.