The Dominicans arrived in Trapani in the early 13th century (circa1221-1229) and initially settled in the Jewish quarter, in the ‘Chiesa del Gesù’ (near the tombstone of the 40 hours).
In 1289 King James of Aragon granted them the highest hill of the city where there was the chapel of St Mary the Virgin, which the Dominicans widened and restructured entitling it Santa Maria La Nova; around the same time they began the construction of the adjacent convent.
Of the original chapel a Byzantine fresco remains (to the right of the entry) depicting the Madonna del Latte (Madonna Lactans).
At the beginning of the 15th century the octagonal bell tower was built and reinforced at the corners; inside there is a beautiful spiral staircase of sandstone.
In the 16th century the church was dedicated to St. Dominic and was declared a Royal Chapel: in fact in 1318 Manfred, son of Frederick III of Aragon, was buried there after he died falling from a horse. It is believed that he was dedicated a chapel also known as dei Crociati (of the Crusaders), located behind the apse, decorated with frescos. Some are still visible depicting a Crucifixion (14th century), St. Dominic, St. Lucia and St. Catherine (14th-15th centuries).
During the 17th century the entire complex underwent a series of restorations that have kept the structural setting but transformed the inside, with the inclusion of plaster and stucco. The two cloisters and the rooms of the convent were also restored. More restoration works in the 18th century added the Chapel of the Crucifix, designed by Giovanni Biagio Amico, for storing the 14th-century wooden statue known as the Sorrowful Gothic Crucifix.