Founded in 1230 by Beato Nicola da Giovinazzo, a disciple of St. Dominic, the complex included the church of S. Domenico and the convent of the Padri Predicatori, just outside the walls of the “Foggiali” district (the name comes from “fovea”, large holes into which the cereals and foodstuffs that were plentiful in that area were stored and conserved). It enjoyed a mixed career until 1809 when the religious orders were suppressed, later becoming the prison, then the post office, and eventually, as from 1927, home to the Prefecture. Giovanni Pascoli lived here for two years while he taught at the grammar school in Matera.
The façade of the church is Romanesque-Apulian and now lacks its original double weathered roof thanks to a C17th reworking, when the original trussed roof was replaced by a barrel vault made from blocks of tufa.
The top is embellished with blind arches with pilaster strips, with the figure of a telamon on the architraved portal supporting an elaborate rose window that represents the wheel of life, which was an extremely fashionable subject during the Middle Ages. The Archangel Michael is perched at the top of the rose window, seen overcoming the dragon, and there are two deacons on either side, in C14th dress like the telamon below. The dog carrying the flaming torch in its mouth at the centre of the rose window represents the Dominican order: the dog is guarding Our Lord and the torch represents faith. There are pastoral scenes around the edge.
The interior, on the plan of a Latin cross with a nave, two aisles and a transept, underwent substantial reconstruction in 1744, the year in which the walls were decorated with stucco and also when the Cappellone del Rosario was added. It contains valuable examples of local C17th and C18th craftsmanship.
Immediately on the right is the tomb of Orazio Persio (1589-1649), a famous Materan jurisconsult and writer, who is pictured in the portrait above. Immediately after this is Persio chapel. The Persio family were extremely active both culturally and artistically. The chapel contains a recently discovered horizontal C17th fresco of the Visitation and a copy of Raphael’s Holy Family by Domizio Persio surmounts the painted limestone altar.
On the next altar there is a Pietà painted by Giovanni Donato Oppido in 1614, incorporated into a typically Baroque wooden altar frontal, carved and gilded with angel figures.
A little further on, there is a statue of the Madonna of the Rosary in an niche, shown sumptuously dressed, according to C18th custom.
This is also where the entrance to the so-called Cappellone del Rosario can be found. This is an octagonal chapel with a hemispherical coffered cupola, built between 1577 and 1588, and dedicated to the Madonna of the Rosary, who delivered the city from an epidemic of the plague in 1630. The skylight surrounded by a carved flight of angels, above, is quite captivating, and the round arch, decorated with six bas-reliefs attributed to Giulio Persio of St. Dominic, St. Hyacinth, St. Peter Martyr and an unknown Bishop, a holy scene and, notably, a procession of hooded people, testament to the profusion of religious fraternities that provided for the anonymity of their members. The C18th century painting on the altar of the Madonna of the Rosary is by Vito Antonio Conversi, who also painted the small oval canvasses of the Mysteries on the surrounding walls. The niches contain C17th tufa statues of St. Lucy and St. Agatha, each displaying the symbols of their martyrdom.
The small holy water stoup set into the wall just as one leaves the Cappellone is quite charming. Made in 1754, it is a typical example of Laterzan majolica.
An niche slightly further along contains a C19th wood and cloth statue of St. Dominic holding a model of the church in his hand, which shows how it must have appeared as a whole, before any restructuring took place. At his side is the Dominican symbol of a dog carrying a flaming torch in his mouth.
There is a painting of the Annunciation by Vito Antonio Convresi (1753) over the first altar in the left aisle, and a Madonna and Child flanked by St Vincent and St. James by Antonio Farnelli (1751) over the second. Not to be missed, in the next niche along, is the stone polychrome statue of the Madonna and Child by Stefano da Putignano (1518), much venerated by the Materani as Our Lady of Health, probably because of her serene, high colouring. Above is a C17th painting of St. Dominic by Vito Antonio Conversi.
On the third altar, there is a painting of the Infant Jesus, his hand raised in blessing, by an unknown C18th artist.
The last altar on this aisle holds the C16th statue of St. Peter Martyr, carved by Stefano da Putignano.
On the centre altar, there is a papier-mâchè sculpture group of the Madonna of the Rosary and, above, a painting of the “Miracle of Soriano” by Giovanni Donato Oppido (1630).