Chiesa di Santa Lucia alle Malve

Useful Information

Location: Rione Malve, 75100 Matera MT.
(40.663248, 16.612442)
Open: All year daily 10-19.
Fee: free.
Classification: SubterraneaMonolithic Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Chiesa di Santa Lucia alle Malve, Rione Malve, 75100 Matera MT, Cell: +39-327-9803776.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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8th century monastery founded.
12th century frescoes created.
1283 community moved to the Civita and the Laura, the monastic cells, were transformed into cave houses.
1977 restoration of the church, frescoes rediscovered.
1993 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


The Chiesa di Santa Lucia alle Malve is the church of the first female monastic settlement of the Benedictine Order in Matera, dating back to the eighth century. It is also considered the most important church in the history of the city of Matera. The monastery existed for a millennium, but it changed its name twice. It was founded as Santa Lucia alle Malve, was renamed to Santa Lucia alla Civita and later Santa Lucia al Piano. The church and adjoining chambers were cut into the rock, the interior and the facade are both cut into massive rock, as are many structural elements of the church like naves, vaults, columns, niches for various purposes and even part of the altar. As a result we classified it as monolithic church.

The wall has various entrances, which lead to different chambers. The rooms which belong to the monastery are identified by the symbol of the martyrdom of Saint Lucia, the chalice with the two eyes of the Saint. The entrance to the church is on the right side of the complex. The entrance has a pointed arch with a lunette, which contains the liturgical symbol of the Saint. The entrance leads to the right nave of three naves, which has always remained open for worship. On the day of Saint Lucia, the 13th December, a solemn mass is held here every year until today. The other three naves were reused for other purposes after the monastery was closed. They were transformed into homes, service rooms, and warehouses.

The presbytery of all three naves, the part reserved only for priests, was enclosed by a series of columns. They once made the nave appear higher, but are destroyed now. The central nave was divided by an iconostasis, which forms a divider between the nave of the church and the presbyterial part. This architectural element belongs to the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox church. Many monks and nuns of the Benedictines originated from Anatolia and brought with them the Greek Orthodox habits and architecture. The iconostasis was embellished with thin columns descending from the vault and a base enriched by a series of frescoes. Unfortunately much was destroyed during the transformation of this part of the church into a cave house.

Many frescoes were created by using cardboard stencils to draw the outlines. This explains why many frescoes show similar forms, sometimes mirrored on the central axis by flipping the stencil. The stencil was used for marking the outline with coal dust. Then the fresco was outlined and colored, using colors obtained by mixing lime, tuff powder, and organic and mineral pigments.

The frescoes were painted from the 12th century. Archangel Gabriel and the dragon, a sign of evil and infidelity, is dated 1250. The Madonna del Latte is dated to 1270. Other frescoes show San Nicola, San Benedetto, Giovanni Battista, Santa Scolastica and many others.