The Maniace Abbey
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'
All in all, the Arab domination can be considered one of the best in
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
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
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
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
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).
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