Oratory of San Mercurio, Palermo, Sicily, Italy

The original Oratory of San Mercurio was built in 1557 under the direction of the Viceroy Giovanni de Vega to incorporate a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. According to legend in 1553 de Vega was looking at the Palazzo Reale and observed an unusual glow emanating from a rock upon which the image of the Virgin Mary was found, this spot was chosen for an oratory. The oratory was also built on the site of an earlier church dedicated to San Mercurio, and predating that a temple-cave of the Roman period dedicated to the god Hermes, protector of health.

In 1572 the oratory was handed over to the ‘Company of the Virgin Mary of the Consolation in San Mercurio’, which had been founded that year to assist the sick at the nearby hospital at Palazzo Sclafani. In 1640 the company began building another oratory incorporating elements of the pre-existing structure. Around 1678 Giacomo Serpotta began working on the various stucco ornamentation, this would have been one of the first of Giacomo’s commissions. After Giacomo’s death his brother Giuseppe, alongside his son Procopio, and his son in law continued the fine stucco work.

The floor of the oratory was rendered in majolica by Sebastiano Girrello and Maurizio Vagolotta between 1714 and 1715. Majolica floors used to be quite common in Palermo however this is now one of the few surviving examples in a sacred place. The external marble staircase was built by Billiemi who was one of the finest staircase makers in Italian history. The oratory was flooded in 1851 by the river Kemonia and was used less frequently in the aftermath, it remains to this day a testament to Giacomo Serpotta’s remarkable skill as a self made artist and sculptor.

GPS: 38.1098, 13.35399

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