Crypt of Santa Restituta Cagliari: one of the most evocative monuments of the Sardinian capital
The crypt of Santa Restituta in Cagliari is a hypogeum located under the homonymous church built in the eighteenth century in Baroque style.
The crypt of Santa Restituta Cagliari is partly a natural cave and excavated in the rock below the small church in Stampace, one of the historic districts of Cagliari.
The church of Santa Restituta, which you can reach by going along the narrow Via Sant’Efisio that runs to the left side of the parish church of Sant’Anna, was built on the vast underground environment in the seventeenth century thanks to the contribution of Salvatore Mostallino, Protophysician of the Kingdom of Sardinia.
The façade has a double-inflected terminal, called “a Cappello di carabiniere”- policeman’s hat, typical of many baroque churches, while the entrance is architraved and surmounted by a broken curved tympanum and a fashioned oculus. The interior has a single nave barrel vault with three side chapels and a raised presbytery.
The cave on which the church is has an irregular elongated shape and consists of the main room connected to minor environments, some of which obtained from the breakthrough and annexation of ancient cisterns, by narrow passages and outside there are two staircases carved into the rock.
The cult of Restituta di Teniza was established here, also known as Restituta Africa, a virgin Berber saint and martyr, venerated throughout Italy since the Early Middle Ages. Originally from Carthage, or perhaps Tenizia (now Biserta in Tunisia), Santa Restituta was one of the martyrs of Abitinia, executed in 304 A.D in Africa for not having renounced her faith, and according to scholars, her relics were brought to the ancient city of Casteddu by the bishops exiled in the sixth century by Trasamondo, king of the Vandals and the Alans.
However, some historians claim that the remains found in the crypt belong to another saint with the same name, i.e the mother of Saint Eusebius of Vercelli: a biography of the saint, dating back to the eighth century, claims that the woman suffered martyrdom in Sardinia, and according to popular tradition she was imprisoned in the crypt.
Crypt of Santa Restituta Cagliari: from a place of worship to an air-raid shelter
The crypt of Santa Restituta Cagliari, a symbol of the picturesque district of Stampace, has gone through many phases as demonstrated by the numerous finds brought to light during the restoration works of the seventies of the twentieth century.
The cave was originally a quarry of materials in the late Punic age, then converted into a place of pagan worship and later used as a deposit of amphorae until the first century A.D. before being abandoned for about twelve centuries.
At the beginning of the 13th century, the hypogeum housed the Byzantine-Orthodox rite church, where is a fresco depicting Saint John the Baptist, probably part of a much larger pictorial complex covering all the walls, followed by another period of neglect that lasted until the seventeenth century.
In 1614, during the search of the relics of the holy martyrs, inside the crypt were found the remains of Santa Restituta, brought to Sardinia probably already from the fifth century A.D. from North Africa. Following the discovery of the relics, Bishop Francisco de Esquivel ordered the reconstruction of the crypt with the addition of a high brick altar, which houses the statue of Santa Restituta, and a small crypt below which was to accommodate the column of martyrdom. Moreover, in 1620, the finding under the crypt of other presumed bodies of saints led to a further embellishment of the room to which was added the large altar of the chapel at the bottom, bordered by a large arch adorned with flowers and diamond points.
During the seventeenth century, the archbishops of Cagliari and Sassari contended for the title of primate of Sardinia and organized excavations in both the ancient necropolis and places of worship of martyrs to find the relics and demonstrate the superiority of own diocese.
In this period, in addition to the crypt of Santa Restituta, work was carried out at the shrine of the Martyrs, the most artistically and historically important part of the crypt of the cathedral of Santa Maria in Cagliari, and the crypt of the medieval basilica of San Gavino in Porto Torres near Sassari.
During the Second World War, the hypogeum located under the church of Santa Restituta was used as a refuge during the Anglo-American air raids, as evidenced by a tombstone placed outside, and the relics of the saint were hidden in the church of Sant’Anna where they are still preserved.
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