First historical documents
During its long history Bronte was subjected, like all Sicily, to
invasions and occupations from the Greeks in the 8th century before
Christ, and the Romans in the 3rd century BC first, then during the
Christian Era, invasions from the Byzantines of the East, from the
Sarazins of the South, from the Normans of the North and from the
Aragoneses of the West. The Arab occupation of Sicily lasted over 200
years from the 827 to the year 1091.
Since the beginning of the second millennium, the territory of Bronte
was claimed as own property by the neighboring Benedictine Monks of
Maniace's Abbey Santa Maria, and the citizens were bound to pay heavy
taxes to their masters.
In 1491 the Cardinal Rodorigo Borgia, Abbot of
Maniace's Abbey and future Pope Alexander VI, donated the territory of
Bronte to the Pope Innocent VIII. The Pope, on his turn, elected as
beneficiary of the offer the New Hospital of Palermo.
In so doing the
Pontiff put the territory of Bronte in the hand of the King of Sicily.
The people of Bronte did protest but were unable to reverse the
Bronte Duchy of Horatio Nelson
In 1799 Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily, saw a good opportunity to
get rid of the problematic Dominion. The British
Nelson, in June of that year had helped the King to fight and win the
French aggression against Naples.
The Kingdom was saved and the Throne
also. As a reward, on the 13 August 1799, the birthday of Queen
Caroline, the King conferred to the Admiral the title of Duke, (Royal
Secretariat of Palermo Doc. N. 4178, File N. 27), and made him the
owner of the Dominion of Bronte with all the properties and
dependencies. Bronte itself was elevated to the title of Duchy on the
10 October 1799, (State Archives of Palermo, Year 1799-1800, Vol. 7,
The people of Bronte, who had never accepted any previous feudal
masters, reacted strongly against the new Duke. Horatio Nelson, on his
part, had never and would never set foot in Bronte, his Feudal
The Duchy Nelson of Bronte lasted 7 generations. At the
death of the Admiral (1805), the Duchy passed to his brother Reverend
William Nelson (1805-1835), then to Dame Charlotte Marie (1835-1874),
the daughter of William, married to Samuel 2nd Baron of Bridport. From
them the Duchy passed to their eldest son General Alexander 1st
Viscount and 3rd Baron Bridport (1874-1904), and from him to his son
Honorable Sir Alexander Nelson Hood (1904-1937).
From Sir Alexander
the Duchy passed to his nephew Lieutenant Commander 3rd Viscount and
5th Baron Bridport (1937-1969). Alexander Nelson Hood Junior, the son
of the Lieutenant was the 7th and the last Duke of Bronte (1969-1980).
The Duke Alexander Nelson Hood Junior in 1977 at the age of 28 decided
to sell the properties of Bronte. The vast rural land was partitioned
and sold to the peasants of Maniace.
The Castle, the surrounding
garden and the ancient Abbey Santa Maria were acquired by the Council
of Bronte. All the contracts were signed by the beginning of 1980 and
since then Maniace has become an independent municipality.
Bronte in the world
Ironically it was that ambiguous promotion of the Admiral Horatio
Nelson that made Bronte renown to the world. In the middle of the
1800, in honor of the Admiral,
the name of Bronte was given to a vast
property acquired by the barrister and politician Robert Lowe 1st
Viscount of Sherbrooke, in New South Wales,
Australia, in the eastern shores of Sydney.
The same name of Bronte was given to an extensive property, situated
in the centre of Tasmania, purchased by Lieutenant Arthur Corbett
between 1834 and 1863.
Lieutenant Corbett was married to a relative of
Lady Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Duke Horatio Nelson, and in honour
of the great Admiral he gave to the property the name of Bronte Park.
Again in Canada, in the Shire of Oakville, the name of Bronte was
given, in honour of the Admiral, to a little centre planted on the
shores of Lake Ontario in 1833. And also in his honour were named the
City of Trafalgar, Bronte Creek and Bronte Harbour.
It was under the
pressure of the settler William Chisholm, who in 1827 had bought acres
of land at the mouth of the Sixteen Mile Creek, that on 30 December
1833 William Hawkins submitted to the Surveyor General plans for a new
town. On 19 August 1834 the name of the new town did appear, for the
first time, as "Bronti" in the Upper Canada Gazette.
In Irland, in 1800, Patrick Prundy, the grandfather of the famous
English Writers: Anne, Emily and Charlotte, in honour of the Admiral
Nelson decided to change his family name in that of Brontë.
Scrupulously he added a dieresis on the last vowel to preserve the
correct Italian pronunciation.
In Texas, 50 kilometres north of San Angelo, a little town was built
in 1888. It was called Bronte in honour of the English Writer
Charlotte Bronte. The name was preferred to that of Bronco.
the timber houses of the old Bronte were moved half mile northeast to
be placed near the east-west railway, which was under construction.
In New Zealand, on the extreme north of the southern island, near the
city of Nelson a little town is called Bronte.
The Virgin Annunciate patron of Bronte
It is documented in a census conducted by the Emir of Catania,
during the Arab occupation of Sicily, that in 830 of our era Bronte
counted 994 Muslims and 664 Christians, a total of 1658 people (Airoldi
Vol 1, page 291: The population in Sicily).
By 1535 the population had dropped as low as 250 souls, due to some
natural events: earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but mostly caused
by plagues and famine.
Many people had died and many others had left
the unsafe centre and taken refuge into poor hamlets in the midst of
the etnean woods.
In October 1535 the Emperor Charles V, in his way back from a campaign
against the Turks in Tunisia, visited Bronte. He was surprised and
shocked at the miserable situation of those poor people. He decided
then that all the people living dispersed in the neighbouring hamlets
should go back to their original centre of Bronte.
To promote the
unification the Emperor left in the little centre his friend and councillor Noble Nicola Spedalieri, son of Joaquin of the Hospitallers
of Saint John in Jerusalem, Earl of Cessole in North of Italy.
sent a letter of recommendation to the Governor of Randazzo, under
which jurisdiction was placed the Territory of Bronte: “Commendo
tibi tuguria Brontis”.
The Noble Nicola Spedalieri, contravening the suggestions of the
Government of Randazzo, refused to use constriction to achieve the
goal set by the Emperor, he trusted instead the deep religious
feelings of the brontese people.
In 1540 Nicola Spedalieri went to Palermo and commissioned from the
renown Sicilian sculptor Antonino Gagini
a group of statues in marble
representing the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.
The contract was
signed the 21st January 1540 in the office of Notary Giacomo Dimitri
(Mons. Gioacchino Di Marzo: I Gagini e la
Scultura in Sicilia). The price was agreed
at 48 ounces, which were the equivalent of 100,000 Euros at today
The statues arrived in Bronte in 1543 and since their
arrival many prodigies were reported. Attracted by the miraculous
images, the people of the surrounding hamlets started moving toward
the centre. By 1548 the population of Bronte had reached the number of
2815 souls (Census by the Viceroy De Vega).
Bronte and the Spedalieri
After the unification of the centre, Noble Nicola Spedalieri
settled in Bronte, and his descendants kept giving their active
contribution to the development of the city, to its economical growth
and to its cultural promotion.
Following the creation of the
Municipal Councils in 1820, the first
elected Mayor of Bronte, was: Gioacchino Spedalieri, son of Nicola
Antonino, descendent of Noble Nicola.
In 1885 another Nicola
Spedalieri, son of Gaetano, was Mayor of Bronte, and again in 1893. In
1894 his cousin Doctor Arcangelo Spedalieri was elected Mayor of
The philosopher Nicola Spedalieri
By far the most famous of all Spedalieris was the priest
Nicola Giacomo Spedalieri born in Bronte the 6 December 1740. He died in Rome
on 26 November 1795. He was a strenuous Apologist and a Philosopher of
During the French Revolution he wrote the book:
"De’ Diritti dell’Uomo”, “The Human Rights”, which made him
famous all over the world (cfr. Robert Bergin: "This Apocalypic Age".
Of him it was said that he was the first to talk
about the rights of the citizens in Italy.
The Philosopher was also an
expert painter, a poet and an appreciated musician and composer. A
self portrait painted by the philosopher is kept in the Collegio
Capizzi's Gallery of Bronte, and his musical compositions are kept in
the Cappella Giulia of Rome.
Bronte has dedicated to the Great
Philosopher the main square of the City.
The University of Catania
bears the name of Nicola Spedalieri, in honor of the Philosopher, and
the Capital of Italy has built a monument to Nicola Spedalieri in
Piazza Sforza Cesarini, not far from the Vatican City.
(In 1994 the book “De’ Diritti dell’Uomo” of Nicola Spedalieri was
translated in English by Bruno Spedalieri. Copies are now deposited at
Sydney University, Faculty of Philosophy, in the Catholic University
of Sydney and in the National and State Libraries. Other copies were
sent to the Vatican Library, to Moscow School of Philosophy and to Las
Nicola’s nephew: Arcangelo, born in Bronte the 17 April 1779, was an
acclaimed anatomist. At the age of 29 became first surgeon assistant
at the Medical University of Bologna. The following year 1811, at the
age of 30 was nominated Professor of Natural Sciences in the same
The 2nd of October 1819, the Emperor of Austria Francis II
nominated Arcangelo Spedalieri Rector Magnificus of the University of
Pavia. His publications on anatomy and physiology are numerous. He
died at Alcamo in Sicily the 6 May 1823.
People of Bronte
The City of Bronte was endowed with a number of great people other
than the Philosopher and the Anatomist.
Between its sons Bronte counts
a Cardinal: Antonino Saverio De Luca (1805‑1883). Before been elevated
to the cardinalate, De Luca was Counsellor of Propaganda Fide and
Professor at the University of Rome. He was then nominated Apostolic
Nonce of Bavaria and subsequently of Vienna. He was elected Cardinal
the 16 March 1863.
The Bishop of Patti: Giuseppe Saitta (1768‑1838) was also a citizen of
Bronte. He was an excellent orator and was nominated Professor of
Literature and Theology at Monreale Seminar before been elected Bishop
of Patti on 25 February 1834.
Placido De Luca, brother of the Cardinal Antonino, was professor of
Political Economics at the University of Catania and then at the
University of Naples. He has written applauded books on Economical
Sciences, Financial Sciences and Statistics. He died in Paris the 1st
Giuseppe Cimbali (1858‑1924) was Professor of Law at the University
"La Sapienza" of Rome. In 1882 started writing books on Social
Philosophy, on Law and Ethics. He was a devout of the Philosopher
Nicola Spedalieri, whom he did consider a strenuous defender of the
people's rights and sovereignty.