My destination wasn't in fact S. Teresa di Riva - that's merely the reference point where I had to turn sharply off the main Messina-Taormina road, go under a railway bridge, and follow the dry river bed up the Val d'Agrò. Eventually I had to leave the car, and walk on through citrus goves, sweating heroically in the August heat. There is no road - or there wasn't when I visited in 1993 - to the mysterious Chiesa di SS Pietro e Paulo. Finally on the other side of the grove, I saw it - alone in the landscape a kilometre or so across a spur of the valley. It looked at once superbly at home, and weirdly alien: the only man-made object in sight, yet so close to the busy main road, and the dull coastal towns and villages of this unprepossessing stretch of coast.
Its little domes and its site remind me of the hidden churches in the Mani in the Peloponnese (or they do now - I hadn't penetrated then to the secret deep south of Greece) - but it also has something of the Mosque about it and the walls with their pointed arch decoration and battlements are unmistakably Norman. There's a Greek inscription over the west door. It does turn out to be a Norman design - dating from the reign of Roger II (built in 1115), when a cultural fusion of Arab, Norman and Byzantine was briefly pointing the way to a truly Sicilian style: a Norman architect working with Arab craftsmen on a Greek church.
A custodian appeared, and admitted me to the cool, dark and simple interior. Afterwards I rested under the huge fig-tree enjoying the shade and tranquillity of this remote place.
I'm indebted to Paul Duncan's book (Sicily pub John Murray) for letting me know of its existence!
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