Bronte's history

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Bronte's History

The Maniace Abbey

Up to very recent times, an important part of Bronte's territory (among which a large, fertile valley, close to the Saraceno torrent, on the oriental bank surrounded by cente­nary trees, called Contrada Maniace, from 1961 autonomous Municipality) was property of the heirs of Horatio Nelson, the Trafalgar battle hero.

In ancient times in the place rose a village populated by Arabs and natives, with an impressive Castle, known as Ghiran-‘ad-Daquid (flour grottos) and a hermitage or gran­gia basiliana.

An Arab community had settled there already in the first years of the XI° century, when the primitive name Simeto, had been changed in the Arab Ghiran-‘ad-Daqiq.

We know (from Idrisi, Arab geographer, traveler for the Norman Court of Sicily), that during the XII° century Maniace was a thriving village, in flat ground, with a market and merchants, fertile land and abundance everywhere:
«This, also called Ghiran-‘Ad Daqiq is a village in flat ground, well populated, and has a market and some merchants; (land) fertile and abundance in every way...» (The book by Ruggero).

The Arab domination coincides in fact with a brilliant economic recovery of the zone thanks to original and decisive innovations in the agriculture' field.

All in all, the Arab domination can be considered one of the best in our history.

In Bronte, in our arid and hostile stony grounds, the Arabs, good farmers, transplanted the pistachio that, even today, represents the most important item in the local economy.

In 1040 The valley was theater of  a war event of great proportions that, with others together, brought about the expulsion of the Arabs from Sicily: the clash of the Saracens against the Norman-Byzantine soldiers, commanded by the general Giorgio Maniace, sent from Byzanthium.
Gesualdo De Luca, in his "History of the city of Bronte", of the 1883, tells that «… ru­shed with such force the Christian army against the enemy, that of Saracens 50.000 were killed while the others run away in solemn defeat and a very happy victory was achieved by the Christian army.»

In memory of the bloody, victorious battle, the place, in his honor, was called Maniace and, in the battle area, was erected a church, to which was given the name of Santa Maria di Maniace, and built a small monastery, subsequently destroyeid by an earthquake.

In the following century, year 1174, the Normans, having become masters of Sicily, started a political, administrative and religious reorganization of the entire conquered territory, so contributing to the construction of churches and monasteries.

It was so that Guglielmo II° il Buono (the good one), for an express wish of his mother, the Queen Margherita of Navarra, built, on the ruins of the old hermitage, an Abbey dedicated to Maria Santissima, entrusted, in the following centuries, to Bene­dictine and Basilians.

The first Abbot of the Benedi­ctine monastery was the French man Guglielmo di Blois, latin poet and a man famous in his time everywhere for his great and refined culture.

Subsequently an other abbot, the Blessed Guglielmo, was the chief of the anti-aragonite, conspiracy known as the "Randazzo Conspiracy", plotted in 1285, but ended in tragedy with the killing of the promoters and the exile of the abbot to the island of Malta (the tomb of the Abbot Guglielmo is in the church of Santa Maria).

The decadence of Maniace begins around 1392 with the Commended Abbots nominated by various kings of the time.

The administration of the Abbey was taken away from the monks and entrusted to the commended Abbot who could dispose of all the abbey's properties leaving to the monks a small annuity to live on.

The last commended abbot of the Abbey was the cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, future pope Alexander VI.

The last monks who lived in the Abbey were the  Basilian who, after the 1693 earthquake that hit oriental Sicily, were forced to move to the near Bronte, in the San Blandano church, where they erected a new small monastery and where they lived and and operated till their suppression (1866).

Abbazia di ManiaceOn 4 September 1981, the last heir of the admi­ral Nelson, the duke Alexan­der Nelson Hood viscount Brid­port, sold to the Council of Bronte all the architecto­nic com­plex comprising the ancient Abbey.

The Nelson Duchy with the Santa Maria church of Ma­niace, the noble apar­tments of the Nelson (to­day changed in Nelson Museum), the ancent Be­ne­dictine Abbey, and the Park (with the extraor­di­nary Open air sculture Museum) have become a center of great tourist attraction of particular interest.



 

Bronte and of his territory

The vicissitudes of Bronte and of his territory, gone from a master to another, are strictly bound to the history of the Maniace Benedictine Abbey.

In 1473, already decadent, Maniace, with its ter­ritory together with that of the neighbouring San Filippo di Fragalà, was entrusted by king Giovanni, to the Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, com­men­ded abbot of the Abbey.

Bronte with all the farmhouses of its territory was consi­dered the Abbey's estate by the Car­dinal, become later Pope Alezander VI ("of wicked and inauspicious memory", writes Benedetto Radice). The Cardinal, without any right, as the commended ab­bots were only simple usu­fructuary, gave the Abbey to Pope Innocenzo VIII, natu­rally after having reserved for himself an annual pension of 2.000 golden scudi.

In 1482, the brontese people manifested the first com­plaints against the Abbots of Maniace, who had become not less avid and usurpers of the fiscal officials of Ran­dazzo.

Maybe, also because of that, in 1494, Pope Innocenzo VIII gave the Abbey as free equipment to the "Great and new Hospital of the poor" being erected in Palermo, equipment necessary to get the attribution of moral in­stitute.

The inhabitants of the zone, that from the vast territories of Maniace received most of their maintenance, this way were cheated and impoverished even more.
The usurpation signed the beginning of a long period of crisis during which Bronte, untill then a local feud, passed under the Palermo domination, whose unique preoccu­pa­tion was the profit and the exploitation of the population and the territory.

In front of the obvious usurpation, the Council's authority, in its name and the name of the local farmers, began a legal court case against the hospital, in order to get back its properties and the right to pick up fire wood and to graze in its woodlands.

But the courageous (and ingenuous) attempt was useless; the brontese community, lacking support and protection, was loosing all the time. Incredibly, the great lawsuit la­sted, without interruption, for three centuries dragging itself till the last years of 1700.

In 1774, after three centuries, Bronte's entity frees itself from the Hospital Great and New of Palermo and puts fi­nally an end to its condition of vassalage to the same, at least, so believed.

Soon after, in fact, in December 1798, a second illegal transfer of the same possessions (this time as a royal gift) was carried out by the Bourbon sovereign of the moment, king Ferdinando I that gave in perpetual concession  to Horatio Nelson the land and the city of Bronte.

The ancient Abbey, turned now in the noble residence of Nelson and his heirs, took the name of Bronte Dukedom and, once again, became a thorn on the side of Bronte and another big evil for the little town.


Translated by Sam Di Bella

Bronte's historyTHE NELSON DUCEA            Horatio Nelson
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