Sanctuary Papardura
What to see in Enna

The Sanctuary Papardura, built in 17th century at the outskirts of Enna encompasses the cave where the sacred painting of Crucifix was found in early 1600’s.

      The “Sanctuary of Abandoned Crucifix” is located at the outskirts of Enna on the cliffy outcrop plunging down into the valley. 

Since long this dramatic ridge was called by locals “Papardura”, so unsurprisingly the sanctuary took this popular name and is being known as Sanctuario di Papardura.

       There are several theories trying to explain this somehow strangely sounding name. The most sound goes back to the times when Arabs controlled Sicily and is related to the characteristic landscape of this site. According to linguists the combination of old Persian words “Parpan” and “Dura” can be translated as “Sweating Rock” or in a wider sense a “Place of Abundant Waters”. Indeed, even today the rocky ridge partially overgrown by lush vegetation, cut by deep ravine and washed by countless brooks is literally “soaked in water”. 

Sanctuary Papardura

Calvary Rock with caves near the church makes part of the Sanctuary complex

View from the Church' platform

As the matter of fact, since the remote past the place was used by public as a source of drinking water and area for washing. The 18th century basins built from stone for washing clothes still exist at the bottom of the cliffs as a reminder of hardship of generations of our grand-Grand Mothers…. 

While the etymology of the word ‘papardura” can be still subject of scientific research, the story behind the Sanctuary (despite the fact that it was built “only” in 17th century) is much more “misty”. As in the cases of many sites of religious cult the origins are lost in the mist of secular facts and deeply rooted legends mixed with religious beliefs. 

       According to popular tradition, local farmers, laborers and shepherds observed on numerous occasions that one of the caves in the cliff of Papardura was lit by a faint glow. Finally, in 1659, driven by faith and encouraged by “mouth-to-mouth” rumors fed by “visions” and “dreams”, some decided to climb the cliff and explore the cave. The rest is history – after some excavation works in the cave they found an image of crucifix imprinted on a stone slab. Perhaps painted by some pious “local soul”, perhaps an image secretly worshiped by Christians during the Muslim domination, or one of hidden treasures from the time of iconoclastic persecution…  Regardless its origins – in no time, the cave became the place of worship.

Swelling gatherings of faithful asking for help or expressing thankfulness to God for miracles lead to the idea of founding the Sanctuary dedicated to the miraculous image.  The Sanctuary was built around 1660 as a single nave structure ending with polygonal apse carved out in the rock. It stands on a massive embankment stone bridge connecting two facing each-other escarpments – one with the sacred cave and another one dominated by characteristic rock called “Calvary”.

Main Apse with the fresco of Crucifixion of Jesus

Sacred painting of Crucifix

3D Wooden ceiling - fragment

      Seen from the outside the modest rectangular shape of the church does not reveal its true magnificence. The most important part of the church – main apse is completely hidden in the rock. It was built this way to entirely encompass the cave where the sacred painting with Crucifix was found back in 1600s. 

Next to the church at the edge of the bridge stands small “bell-tower”. Its humble silhouette perfectly blends with the picturesque views on the valley and surrounding hills....

The interior is lavishly decorated with stucco – work of Giuseppe and Giacomo Serpotta from 1690s completed by Giovanni Bern in 1699. Twelve life-size statues of Apostles are placed along the nave.  Due to the simple geometrical form the church does not have chapels in the strict sense. However along the side walls of the nave are placed remarkable paintings (probably work of Flemish master – Guglielmo Borremans). They depict four scenes from the New Testament - correspondingly “The fall of Christ”, “Christ at the Column”, “Christ in the Garden” and “The Coronation of Christ”.

Church’s central point – high altar, in an ornate frame with gilded carvings houses the original painting on the stone depicting Crucifixion of Jesus….

Crucifixion of Jesus  - Canvas

Biblical scene (fresco)

Biblical scene (fragment of canvas)


Door to the sacristy

Entrance to the church

Stucco (fragment of the main Apse)


     In the last century the unpretentious ceiling that was part of an original barrel-vault roof was covered by the spectacular three-dimensional wooden-coffered decoration. The modular pattern includes squares with octagonal truncated pyramids in the centers. It seems to be “smaller scale” but almost equally sophisticated version of the famous ceiling in Enna’s Cathedral.

      The turning point in the history of the church came in 1740s, but this time it is a documented story. The year 1741 marked the beginning of natural disasters in the province of Enna. First it was the disastrous invasion of locusts. Then as if it was not enough, in September of that year a devastating hail “finished” the job started by voracious insects.  As the result of the following year the famine afflicted Sicily. With time, due to the progressing drought conditions of life were getting worse and worse.  Hot summers with no rain followed by frosty winters decimated harvests bringing deaths and destruction to Enna.  Harsh times, especially at those times have been turning people to High Spirit for help. The unusually massive procession to the Sanctuary of Parpadura took place in 1746 with rich and poor joining the ranks of those asking for mercy. The chaplain of the Sanctuary distributed small portions of bread to the hungry crowds proclaiming to continue these offerings every year as homage to Crucified Jesus with the hope of an end to sufferings.

And It Happened – the next year harvest was so plentiful that there was no room for storage of the grain. 

Chapel inside of the cave near the church

Rock near the church

Church is partially hidden in the rock encompassing the cave with Crucifix painting, the "exterior" part of the church sits on an embankment bridge, especially built for that purpose.

Embankment Bridge seen from the side

Church's Bells

Amphora reminds that Enna has its "pre-christian" Greco-Roman past

Washbasins located just below the church confirm that here water was  always abundant

Calvary Rock at late evening

One more night view along the cliffs near the church Papardura

      In memory of those events the celebrations of the Holy Cross of Papardura begin each year on September 1 culminating two weeks later on September 14.  The festivities are organized by the “Congregation of Massari” (body in charge of the Sanctuary) are an “all-Enna” event. The narrow winding street leading to the church is marked with the Stations of the Cross and culminates on the overlooking the church “Rock of Calvary” which is the final stage of the “Via Crucifix”. The large cave on the western side of the Calvary serves as the chapel….. 

But the Sanctuary of Papardura is not only a spiritual place in a strictly religious sense. Its extraordinary setting overlooking the valley offers breathtaking views that can easily take us into Another World…. “Chess-table” of green fields scarcely sprinkled with farm-houses, meandering roads and closing horizon dark hills witch constantly changing palette of colors following the sun have also captivating power…. 

After this short visit to the outskirts of Enna go back to the old town --> Top Sites to See in Enna

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