It was a gigantic and unequal struggle
what the citizens of Bronte embarked upon to get back the
possessions and the rights of which had been deprived once, in 1491,
by the disastrous donation of the Maniace
Abbey and their territory, that Pope Innocenzo VIII had made in
favour of the Big and New Hospital, being built in Palermo, and,
after three centuries, in 1799, by the regal gift that
Ferdinando I had made to Horatio
It was an interminable and unbroken judicial fight that lasted well
four centuries and literally ruined the already poor Bronte’s
Since the first donation, (made by the Pope), Bronte had seen his
territory, then expanded for the emigration of the Maniace’s
people, getting smaller from day to day, till disappearing nearly
altogether, for the new usurpations, rights, quibbles and unjust
claims, first by the Palermo Hospital and afterward, by the new
owner, the Duke.
The ecclesiastic tithes, due originally to the Messina archbishop,
and then to Maniace’s Abbey, were transformed in fees, and were
confiscated also the taxes (the "gabelle")
that the poor Council used to draw.
Continuous were the denunciations against the citizens and violent
the criminal trials brought forward by the new owners.
The best and most influential citizens of Bronte, from 1512 to 1778, were
processed, jailed, tortured and forced to exile.
The historian Benedetto Radice,
in his “Memorie storiche di Bronte” dedicates many pages
to the court case that he defines: “The big dispute”.
Many wealthy families were reduced to misery by oppressive disputes,
others forced to emigrate “with pain” writes the Radice,
“some citizens, having lost any feeling or love for their
native land, became, for sordid interests, partisans and defender of
And goes on writing that “during the centuries XVII and XVIII,
while the fervent dispute against the Big and New Hospital of
Palermo was going on, for the disastrous donation of Pope Innocenzo
VIII, all of Bronte’s people, priests, lawyers, citizens
improvised themselves as historians, as the dispute was actually
around an historical question: that is, if Bronte had existed before
the Maniace’ monastery, or if had been the Abbey’s colony and
The historic-legal memories multiplied freely, Scholars and non
scholars racked their brains but, short of proof and arguments, kept
on boiling again the same things, and, believing as history even the
poetry, exchanging Virgil with Livius, relayed on the testimony of
the first, reporting the usual verse
”Ferrum exercebant vasto Cyclopes in antro
Brontesque Steropesque et nudus memba Piracmon”.
“Lacking unity in the laws and in the
administration, often happened that a magistrate undid what another
one had done; the right was never certain and sure, being diverse
and changeable the judgment of men.
“The stronger often has the upper hand over the weak. It is the
story of human events. The pious rectors, on the pretest of charity,
obtained from the Courts whatever they wanted. Bronte’s people,
deprived of their rights, were considered exploiters of poor ill
Some jurymen, accepting the Hospital reasons, betrayed
their country town and helped the Hospital to impoverish further
The Radice reminds us of the many
defenders of small communities ("writers of
historic-legal memories") mentioning the names of P.
Cottone, the Barone Filadelfio Capotto, Don Liborio
Papotto, Don Saverio Artale, Don Mario Sanfilippo, Don Francesco
Schiros, the bishop Giuseppe Saitta
and, above all Don Antonino Cairone, "that
suffered jail, poverty and exile..”
Writes that “…among the many miseries, in support of who
cultivates noble and patriotic sentiments, is worth of memory the name
of the jurist and notary Antonino Cairone , strenuous and heroic
defender of the Council rights” and “feeling posthumous
gratitude” talks extensively of this scholar and expert of rights,
that he defines “unbeatable fighter” with profound knowledge of
This is what Benedetto Radice reminds us of:
“In this gigantic fight against the Hospital, in the XVII century,
the humble jurist Antonino Cairone was the soul and the mind.
Fifty years of tireless work and large expenses at the service of
the Council, exhausted his rich patrimony but didn’t wear out his
fibre of invincible fighter, as was called by the Fiscal lawyer of
the Real Patrimony.
Elected irrevocable legal representative in1734, was provided with
the necessary means to live and fight by every class of citizens:
noblemen, peasants, middle class, and priests.
«The pious rectors understood that in
order to win they should get rid of the Cairone, and
describing him as a turbid and uneasy element, and, with the
complicity of some jurymen, succeeded in getting him dismissed from
his office of notary and banished from his town.
He suffered jail and exile from 1751 to1754. From Messina,
where he stayed during his exile, always unrepentant, he was often
asking for his return in order to defend his town from the
rectors’ aggressions, while was sending to the King continuous
memorials that, if were showing the uneasiness of his spirit, were
also showing his obstinate love for his town and revealed the flaws
of the rectors.
Once they, with the help of the military, took away, with violence,
the papers of the dispute that he had left in custody to his brother
in law, father Tommaso Schiros, very erudite man in his time, and
superior of PP.Minoriti in Acireale’s convent.
In 1745, at 79 years of age, was, for the 12th time in Naples,
imploring justice to the King in favour of his beloved country town».
Was the Cairone a hero, wrote in a memory of 1717 the lawyer Giuseppe
Sanfilippo, who wanted to imitate his example. Through Cairone’s
work Bronte obtained favourable sentences and advantageous
What Bronte owns is due mainly to this hero.
«With unequalled courage he
lashed out against the pious rectors’ pity, who, on the borrowed
sums were charging the Council 9 per cent interest, that the same
rectors did not pay to the Paganetto. It was a scrounging, to
the point that the King’s Court, discovering the flaw, declared
extinct the debt».
«The pious rectors, hoping in time, for twenty years, with
quibbles and acquiescence of magistrates, dragged on the endless
discussion of the dispute, renewed in1735.
Cairone openly accused the jurymen, sold to the Hospital, to
procrastinate the judgement and was asking for the removal of
magistrates and Fiscal lawyers of the King’s Patrimony, that, in
league with the pious rectors, were not acting in the interest of
Bronte or the Fisk».
The Radice continues writing that «… having lost faith in
the magistrates, he was addressing the sovereign and to the
sovereign, with citizen’s pride, was asking also to confer to
Bronte the title of State city.
were the humours of the people of Bronte in the enormous
struggle. The ancient discord spirit had woken up.
majority was for the court case, and the Cairone
participated to its cost. Others, fearful and slaves at heart,
did not want any more sacrifices and accused, to the
government, the pertinacity of the Cairone, describing
him as a turbid citizen.
The same accusations were made to him by the Tanucci.
Antonino Cairone lived only for the court case. In the
struggle he was carried away by his patriot’ ideal. For all
his efforts, he was paid with the slander by his
contemporaries and the ungrateful posterity’s oblivion.
It is the usual money with which benefactors are paid.
Few years before, another great son of Bronte, Ignazio
Capizzi, started the construction of his College, the Cairone
died in poverty, obstinate in the sin of love for his town,
the 26th of November 1758, falling off a horse. His
friends gave him a funeral and a free burial in the Annunciate’s
After he had gone, the baron Silvestro Politi was
elected new legal representative for Bronte’s state property
and the return to the King of two Abbeys”».
It seemed done, but very soon everybody realized that all the
struggle and sacrifices had been useless. Everything was going
back as before.