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The original church here was constructed on the site where, in A.D. 304, St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) was said to have been martyred. Dating from the Byzantine period, the church was vastly altered in the 12th century and completely reconstructed in the 17th century. Beneath this sanctuary is a vast labyrinth of dank catacombs dating from the 3rd century, most of which, even today, have not been explored and are closed to the public. You can, however, visit the sanctuary. The famous Caravaggio painting depicting the burial of Santa Lucia once hung here, but is now in the Palazzo Bellomo museum.

Indeed, there isn't much left to see of this church since all its former treasures have been hauled off. The doorway and apses are from Norman days, and a lovely rose window is from the 14th century. A granite column to the right of the presbytery marks the spot where Syracusans believe Santa Lucia suffered decapitation. Under the reign of Frederick III in the 16th century, the present ceiling was constructed with painted beams, reproducing a thick constellation of stars alternating with rose petals and small crosses.

Adjacent to the basilica and linked to it by a spooky 12th-century catacomb is a little baroque chapel containing the tomb of the martyred saint. She is long gone, however. In 1039, the Byzantine general Giorgio Maniace ordered that her corpse be sent to Constantinople. During the Crusades, the Venetians claimed the remains and shipped them back to Venice, where they remain today.

A marble statue placed under the sepulcher's altar is of particular, though morbid, fascination. From May 6 to May 8 1735, eyewitnesses reported that this statue miraculously "sweated" profusely.

The sanctuary lies at the northern end of one of the loveliest squares in Syracuse, Piazza Santa Lucia, lined on three sides by rows of trees.