Santa Maria de Idris

Church of Saint Mary of Idris

Useful Information

Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso, Santa Maria de Idris on the right, Sassi di Matera, Basilicata, Italy. Public Domain.
Location: Via Madonna dell'Idris, 75100 Matera MT.
(40.6641759808743, 16.61212807692558)
Open: All year daily 10-16.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Santa Maria de Idris, Via Madonna dell'Idris, 75100 Matera MT, Tel: +39-351-058-5564.
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1972 fresco removed for protection.
1993 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Chiesa di Santa Maria de Idris, Sassi di Matera, Basilicata, Italy. Public Domain.

The church Santa Maria de Idris (Church of Saint Mary of Idris) is located above the much bigger and more famous church San Pietro Caveoso. But its location is quite stunning, there is a rock or cliff named Montirone (or Monterrone). This cliff rises high above Matera nad the church is built into a cave in the cliff overlooking the whole town. The church dates back to the 14th century, but after a collapse in the 15th century it was rebuilt. The name Idris is a deformation of the Greek Odigitria, which means guide of the way or of the water. This is an aspect of Virgin Mary which was venerated in Constantinople and the cult was introduced in southern Italy by Byzantine monks.

The church is reached from the Via Bruno Buozzi on a long and winding series of stone staircases. The facade of the church faces north, which is quite exceptional. But also the plan of the church is unique, irregular with two distinct parts, the excavated cave and the built facade. The facade has a small but elegant bell tower on top. The interior is a single room with some fairly well-made frescoes, partly ruined by time and neglect. On the altar is a 17th century tempera depicting the Madonna and Child. On the right wall are paintings of Sant'Antonio, the Holy Family and the Conversion of Sant'Eustachio. Behind the altar on the left is an Annunciation, on the right a Crucifixion.

But the small rock is big enough for a second church, the entrance is on the western side of the cliff and the name is San Giovanni in Monterrone. This church is less spectacular but it has a unique crypt with frescoes ranging from the 12th to the 17th century. The two churches are connected. Originally the church was older and then it was abandoned and was closed for a very long time. At the beginning of the 19th century the church was annexed to the adjacent church of Santa Maria de Idris. The built a narrow corridor connecting the two churches, which led to the almost total destruction of several frescoes, tiny pieces are still visible on the left wall of the nave and on some stones located in the presbyteral area.

When you enter from Santa Maria de Idris on the left is the fresco of Christ Pantocrator (12th century) and on the right, within a niche, the images of the Archangel Michael and St. Nicholas the bishop (13th century). Opposite are some fractions of a face of a saint monk (13th century) and the 16th century frescoes of Sant'Anofrio and a young saint. In the main room of the church are frescoes of St. James the Greater and St. Peter the Apostle (13th century). Then an Annunciation (12th century) followed by the fresco of the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan River.

Today the churches are restored and closed over night. In the 1970s they were abandoned and subject to vandalism. In 1972 on the initiative of the Superintendence of the Basilicata Galleries the fresco of St. John the Baptist (13th-14th century) was removed. The repeated acts of vandalism and the crumbling wall made this necessary to protect the fresco.