Today we don’t have any official documents that certify the year of creation of the San Giacomo‘s church and the election of the Apostle as the Patron of Gratteri. The local historian Isidoro Scelsi affirms that it was built at the end of the 16th Century and precisey in 1589, by the devotees Andrea Vaccaro and Domenico Giallombardo (Scelsi 1981, Di Francesca 2000). Ganci Battaglia, instead, is dated back to 1686, as can be seen from an engraving on the altar step, where you can read: “Procurator Domenico Giallombardo and for devotion of Andrea Vaccaro 1686“. (Ganci Battaglia 1930). Nevertheless, by going through the Riveli – documents that are kept in the State Archives of Palermo – it is clear that the “strata“ or wrinkle of Sancto Jacopo, already existed in the year 1584, so certainly, the said church was built later in the homonym district that arose thanks to the new expansion of the town in a north-eastern direction, beyond the river.
Gio’ Battista Campagna capo di casa di anni 30, Bella sua mogliere, Silvestro suo figlio rivela una casa existenti in questa terra nella strata di Sancto Jacopo conf. con Andrea di Fatta et con la casa di M° Petro di Majo (State Archives of Palermo, Riveli Tribunal Real Patrimonio, V. 1166, f. 252, year 1584)).
Sibiuni di Angelo capo di casa di anni 40, Fata sua muglieri, Gioanne suo figlio di anni uno, rivela una casa dove habita a la strata di Sancto Jacobo conf. con la casa di Ambrosio lo Cascio et via pub. per lo prezzo di unzi quatro (State Archives of Palermo, Riveli Tribunal Real Patrimonio, V. 1166, f. 252, year 1584))
Leonora di Gesaro (vidua) capo di casa, Francisco suo figlio di anni 19 – rivela una casa existenti nella strata di Santo Giacobo confinanti con Ramundo di Gesaro et con ecclesia di Sancto Giacobo (ASP, Riveli Tribunale Real Patrimonio, V. 1166, anno 1584).
The little church has inside three naves, divided by masonry pillars on which round arches rest; the roof today is made of wooden trusses after the remaking of the original roof made of reeds and stuccoed with floral motifs and scenes in Coena Domini (Memories of Giuseppe Sapienza, intervista 2005). On the outside, instead, there is a solid stone staircase and a bell tower flanked by only two bells of different shapes with the characteristic Argentinean ringing.
The church at the end of the ’50s and until 1993, because of its ruin, was closed to worship and the simulacrum of the Saint for all those years, was kept in the Nuova Matrice.
The small church, located in the centre of the village, houses the simulacrum of the Apostle St. Giacomo the Greater, placed in the central chapel, patron saint of the community; St. Isidoro, protector of the herdsmen; St. Eligio, protector of the “bordonai”; and other saints dear to the inhabitans of Gratteri: St. Giovanni protector of the head; St. Biagio protector of the throat.
The wooden simulacrum of St. Giacomo, covered in pure gold, has a small iron dome on its top, which is supported by small columns and ending with an eight-pointed star in Spanish style. The weight of the “fercolo”, according to popular rumours, is about 18 càntari, or 3174,657 pounds.
The image of the Apostle is represented in an upright position. Under his left arm he has the Gospel, that testifies the word of God and in his right hand he holds the pilgrim’s stick in which the cockade and two bronze keys are tied to symbolize his role as guardian of the village, in fact on the scroll of the nave it still reads: “Protector noster est pr. 3220” (He is our Protector, Psalm 32, 20).
From the inventory of the movable property of the church of San Giacomo, drawn up in 1910 by the vicar Sacred Procurator A.Chichi, it can be read that the statue of St. Giacomo was made in 1600, restored and gilded in 1897 (Di Francesca 2000).
This sculpture is strongly expressive and Pitrè himself describes it as follows: “St. Giacomo is a statue in its natural state, with a red face and black, sharp eyes that strike fear into the beholder” (Pitrè 1881).
According to the tradition, the devotion of Gratteri originates from the help that the saint gave to Roger the Norman in the fight “against the Saracens to free Gratteri from their hated oppression”. After this episode, around 1150, Roger himself wanted to give to the Lords of Gratteri the relic, a fragment of bone from the ribs of St. Giacomo (Scelsi 1981; Villa Bianca – Brochures – Q.q. E 102, Bibli. Com.le di Palermo).
In 1597 this relic is already mentioned in an inventory of the Mother Church and it is kept in a small silver box together with other relics (Anselmo-Margiotta 2005).
Inside the church of St Giacomo today there is one of the oldest polychrome wooden crucifixes dating back to the early 1500s. The researcher Giuseppe Fazio, in his doctoral thesis on the exposure and use of the cross in Sicilian religious buildings between the Norman Regnum and the Council of Trento, attributes this work to the hand of Salvatore Pellenito, after having found a document dating back to 1508 and coming from the church of San Leonardo, which no longer exists.
This work was commissioned on April 24, 1508 for this church in Gratteri together with another cross made by the hand of the same author. The second crucifix, no longer existing today, was four palms high (about 1.10 m), accompanied by a complex carved cross with round table-shaped cross heads. Above his head there was represented «un pellicano di relevo cum tri pellicanotti et una serpi che staianu tutti sutta lu nidu» and again at the feet of Christ the body of Adam and a “ditch” with the image of San Leonardo.
There remains the regret for the loss of the interesting carved cross described in the document, but fortunately one of the two crucifixes commissioned from Pellinito was saved, identifiable by art critics with the one on display today in the church of San Giacomo in Gratteri. (See also S. Anselmo – R.F. Margiotta, The Treasures of the churches of Gratteri – 2005).
ANSELMO SALVATORE, MARGIOTTA ROSALIA FRANCESCA, I Tesori delle chiese di Gratteri – Palermo, 2005
DI FRANCESCA PINA, Gratteri, 2000
FAZIO GIUSEPPE, (2015) “lo travo di lo crucifixo”. L’esposizione e l’uso della croce negli edifici di culto siciliani fra il Regnum Normanno e il Concilio di Trento (1149-1555). Tesi di dottorato, Università di Palermo, 2015
GANCI BATTAGLIA GIUSEPPE, Cenni storici e tradizionali del Comune di Gratteri, in “La Trazzera”, Palermo, 1930
PITRE’ GIUSEPPE, Spettacoli e feste popolari siciliane, Torino-Palermo, 1881
PITRE’ GIUSEPPE, Feste patronali in Sicilia, Torino-Palermo, 1900.
SCELSI ISIDORO, Gratteri. Storia, cultura, tradizioni, 1981 – rist. Cefalù, Tip. Valenziano, 2008