Founded around the mid-1500s by the Palermo noblewoman Giulia De Panicolis, the Church of Santa Maria del Piliere was built in the same place where, while digging a well in the Castellammare district, a wooden statue of the Virgin was found on a pileri (a Sicilian term meaning ‘pillar’).
The discovery ignited the devotion and interest of the entire city of Palermo and especially of the noblewoman, who was willing to have a church built in her honour. After the noblewoman’s death, various craftsmen were housed in the church: that of the Shoemakers, the Silversmiths, the congregation of the Angelini (or Angels) and finally the company of the Knights of St James.
Between 1749-1750, the church underwent several renovations, a richly adorned portal was built, followed by the creation of a sculptural group and the typically 18th-century frescoes by Vito D’Anna depicting Biblical Scenes and the Birth of Samson.
Affected by war damage, it was closed in the immediate post-war years. During the 1960s it underwent clear restoration work of a conservative nature, but is currently closed to the public.