Cathedral Building… or was it Economy Building?

All the cathedrals across Europe were built in the space of about 200 years, at the height of the crusades. They look expensive, but they were actually money machines. Whilst there may have been an element of religious fervour to them, they were also a way of demonstrating power to potential enemies and the illiterate…

A Festival in Noto

Every parish in Sicily has a festival once a year to celebrate the saint in whose honour the church is dedicated. We happened to be in Noto a good few years back during the festival at the Cathedral, which is dedicated to Saint Nicolas (Basilica Cattedrale di San Nicola). We began the day with the classic…

A Nativity Play with a Difference

It’s that time of year again when I start thinking about nativity plays, and halos made of tinsel. When moving back here to England, I had hoped that English primary schools still followed that great tradition of making little children memorise passages from the bible, plus lots of Christmas carols, then make their parents laugh…

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil (or Walter of the Mill), the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and the Norman King William II’s minister. One of his close relatives had Monreale cathedral built during an overlapping time period, and they were therefore regarded as competing with each other for glory. The Normans had…

Happy Easter Sicilian Style! Buona Pasqua!

Look at this lovely gift which arrived in the post today. It came from Hubby’s ex colleagues.   It is the classic Sicilian Easter gift: a flock of Easter Lambs, all made from marzipan. Sicilians traditionally make marzipan (which is called martorana in Sicily) twice a year. Marzipan Easter Lambs They make it into lambs…

The Jewish Ghosts of Palermo

There was a Jewish presence in Sicily for centuries, possibly from before the birth of Jesus. The Jews were the only outsiders who made their homes in Sicily and became part of her population without invading. They simply turned up, fitted in and made themselves indispensable.   The Jews were the literate and educated members…

A Time to Die – the Spanish Inquisition in Sicily

The history books about Sicily have little to say about the time of the Spanish rule. I find this strange, because the Spanish changed Sicily more than any other conqueror. The way they wanted this island is the way it still is: the Sicilians just cannot seem to shake them off.   Some history books…

A Nativity Play that Fills a Town

I think Sicily produces the only nativity play in the world which features live belly dancers. It happens in the town of Termini Imerese, on Sicily’s north coast, which produces a nativity play each year which fills the entire town. The historic town centre is closed off and becomes the stage for a dramatic production…

Saint Benedict: Black Celebrity Healer, Chef and possibly Lion Tamer

Saint Benedict, known as Benedetto il Moro or Benedict the Moor, was born to two black African slaves in Messina, Sicily in 1524. He was also variously called niger, which means black, and ethiops, which means Sub-Saharan African. If I know the Sicilians, they probably called him “Chinese” half the time, too – they’re pretty vague…

The Do-Good Brothers

I had to have a little operation recently. It was preceded by some blood tests in the nearest hospital, called Ospedale Buccheri La Ferla Fatebene Fratelli. The Sicilians are good at coming up with catchy names that way. Buccheri and La Ferla are the names of the founders. The Fatebene Fratelli translates as “The Do Good…

Are the Sicilians Africans or Europeans?

The Arabs and Normans ruled Sicily in medieval times, and left a legacy I see all around me in Sicily today. I see Arabs in the girls with big dark eyes and thick black hair, or in the little boys on the beach with nut brown skin. I see Normans too, in the fishermen with…

Dolce and Gabbana pay tribute to Pope Francis?

The Sicilians adore Pope Francis. This is not just because he once worked as a nightclub bouncer and is way more down-to-earth than any other pontiff in living memory. He is the first pope ever to condemn the Mafia, repeatedly and unequivocally. He rejects the pomp and wealth of the traditional church and genuinely helps…

Multicultural Sicily: The Good, the Bad and the Downright Ridiculous

This afternoon we went for a walk around central Palermo. In Piazza Politeama we saw these fellows. The man at the bottom was sitting cross-legged on a glass tumbler. All along Via Ruggiero Settimo there were buskers playing drums and guitars, there were fire-breathers and jugglers, there were men on stilts making balloon animals for the…

How to Protect yourself against the Evil Eye

I was collecting my son from school a few weeks ago and noticed two bags of salt lying on the ground, split open with salt scattered all over the place. “Oh dear, someone dropped a bit of their shopping,” I commented to a couple of mothers. “No, they didn’t,” said one of them.  They laughed,…

The Life and Adventures of Santa Rosalia, Patron Saint of Palermo

I described, in my previous post, the sanctuary of Saint Rosalia, which is a baroque church facade with a drippy cave behind it. Now I’ll tell you about her amazing life. Santa Rosalia was born in about 1130, when Sicily was ruled by the Normans. The king was Roger the Second. I’ve been inside his…

The Sanctuary of Saint Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino, Palermo

Walking through the doorway of a magnificent Baroque church, and finding youself in a gloomy cave with water dripping on your head, has to be one of life’s most interesting experiences. The church is the Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia. It stands at the very top of Monte Pellegrino (Pilgrim’s Mountain), which overlooks the whole bay…

The ‘Cult of the Beheaded People’ in Palermo

There’s a small road in Palermo called “Via dei Decollati,” which means “Street of the Beheaded People.” In medieval times, this area was just outside the city and criminals were beheaded here. Unfortunately the Sicilian government was corrupt in those days – not any more, of course! – and many innocent people were beaheaded, too….