Regarded as the symbol of Lecce’s Baroque architecture, the Basilica of Santa Croce is one of the most important and admired churches in Lecce. Construction on it began in 1549 on the instructions of the Celestines and was completed in 1699, after passing through the hands of some important local architects of that era: Gabriele Riccardi, responsible for the structure and lower part of the façade, Francesco Antonio Zimbalo, who took over from him in 1606 and who was responsible for the three entrance doors and Cesare Penna, assisted by local stone cutters and engravers.
On entering, visitors and worshippers are welcomed by a Latin cross plan, split into 3 naves, with 12 columns decorated with capitals where, amidst fruit and leaf motifs, one can make out the faces of the apostles.
The cupola is decorated with garlands of acanthus leaves, angels and fruit motifs, and held up by twin columns with the symbols of the apostles. The polyfoil apse with radial ceiling, houses the main altar which is an eighteenth century masterpiece of marble inlay work from the Neapolitan school.
The main characteristic of the basilica is its white stone from Lecce that reigns supreme on every wall in the building and dramatically "stands out" against the brown of the ceiling coffers with gold decorations and a canvas of the "Holy Trinity".
The side naves house non-adjoining chapels, with elaborately decorated, Baroque style altars and columns. Also worth mentioning are the altars like the one dedicated to Saint Orontius with a votive canvas of the Saint who was attributed with saving the city during the earthquake in 1743 as revealed in the verses of an ancient dialect used in Lecce found on the painting, and the elaborate altar dedicated to St. Francis of Paola, by Francesco Antonio Zimbalo. This high altar with 12 panels in Lecce stone, looks like a teaching book with comic strips showing the lives and miracles of the Calabrian saint on the backdrop of a landscape of olive trees and stone houses.
The Basilica welcomes a large number of visitors and, precisely with a view to satisfying tourists who complained about not being able to fully appreciate the elevated areas of the church, where the decorative and architectural details were shrouded in semi-darkness, work on integrating the lighting began between 2019 and 2020. It soon became clear, however, that the system was not only obsolete but also wasted a great deal of power and provided poor lighting to the spaces and works of art.
So, there was a general overhaul of the project and the lighting system, entrusted to the engineer, Mario Torchio, who rationalised and implemented the system to enhance the architectural and artistic features that make the Basilica's beauty unique.
The new system led to a significant reduction in electricity consumption: two hundred and sixty LED spotlights ranging in power from three to forty-six Watts consume just over five kW when all on, compared to twenty kW used by the previous system.
The engineer was inspired by elements of natural light that go well with the Lecce stone, resulting in a uniform, diffused lighting with a colour temperature of 3000 K. He also developed different scenes with a clear distinction between liturgical and museum use, leading to different lighting conditions for the weekday mass, Sunday mass, weddings, tourist visits and artistic purposes.
The lighting uses three kinds of spotlights, differing in size and power so they can be installed at different heights. In general terms, the more powerful, larger products, Front Light and View, are placed at a considerable height, usually on cornices and springers to guarantee even lighting. The Palco LVs were entrusted with the job of lighting the side chapels. The levels of lighting are differentiated according to scenes. There are also some interesting points that are highlighted, like the tabernacle lit by the super spot optics of a Front Light spotlight and the painting of the Trinity in the centre of the ceiling coffers, as well as other exceptionally decorative details throughout the church.
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