Church of San Silvestro

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The San Silvestro church

«'A Batìa"

The San Silvestro church (or  Batia) is of the same age as the others rising in Bronte after the meeting of the farmhouses for Carlo v (1535 -- 1548) order, but the precise date of building is not known.

Looks on Piazza Spedalieri, the area where all parties and public demonstrations are kept, and stands out for its original structure.

It is almost sure that the church existed in the second half of the XVI° century as mentioned in documents of 1573, in the pastoral visit that the Monreale bishop Monsignor Torres did in Bronte in 1574 ("...visitavit cappellam S. Silvestri") and in matrimonial registers of 1591.

Was subsequently incorporated to the monastery of Benedictine and took the title of church of Santa Scolastica.

The monastery of Santa Scolastica

The monastery of Santa Scolastica was built on the left of the church in 1610 as wanted by the Council and the citizens of Bronte and it was very thriving (in 1714 it was lodging forty five nuns).

The oldest image of the church and the adjoining monastery is shown on the right: presumably it is from the first half of the 19th century; in fact, on the left of the square you cannot still see the municipal theater which was completed under the mayorship of Antonino Cimbali in the second half of the same century (click on the image to see it in good resolution and colour).

A tradition, alive yet between our elders, remembers as near the monastery it was the so-called "Ruota dei projetti" ("wheel of the rejected"): the revolving mechanism with which the nuns were keeping contacts with the world outside, during the night some people used it to leave the children "rejetti", "projetti", abandoned by their mothers.
After being received by the nuns who gave them the first attentions and baptized, the children were then entrusted to the administrative organs of the Council (which  entrusted them again, together with some money, often to the same mothers).
The monastery of female seclusion was partially destroyed by the earthquake of 1818 which made collapse the southern wing, then suppressed in consequence of the laws of 1866 that sanctioned the alienation of the ecclesiastical possessions (together with it had been suppressed also the Basilian monastery annexed to the San Blandano church) and at last totally demolished in the first half of last century.

The demolition completely modified the principal prospect of the church: a secondary entry was opened next to the principal entry and the order of the windows was also changed in the higher part.

Such modifications upset the environmental relationship between the church and the urban context even if the building, on whose right side the monument "ai Caduti" (to the fallen) was recently laid, remained however the principal architectural element characte­rising the plaza.

Stands out and characterise the outside of the church a big buttress wall in masonry set on the right side and, on via Gari­baldi, a cylindrical lantern with blind apertures, placed above the covering of the chapel of S. Benedetto.

The form and the function recall analogous elements of Byzantine architecture. Simple the portal in lava stone with jambs and cornices of Renaissance taste.

The original internal aspect of the church underwent big renovations in 1828: gone were the joyous decorations in first-quality gold and the trussed roof which was replaced, almost in full, with the current vault covering covering some traces of the old cantors' area.

The church

The exterior and the cantors area of the church of what used to be the Santa Scolastica’s Monastery, and named like the pope S. Silve­stro.
Is the only consecrated church in Bronte whose ritual was offi­cia­ted by the Cardinal De Luca the 31st of October 1851 (as an homage to his aunt, superior of S. Scola­stica’s mo­na­stery) as it is  written on a mar­ble plaque set on the left side’s façade: Templum hoc solemnitur consecra­tum et dedi­catum fuit D.O.M. sub invocatione S. Silvestri P.P.ab et Antonino Xaverio De Luca Brontesi Episcopo Aversano. Die XXXI Octobris MDCCCLI.

The cantor’s area is the most ancient part of the church where you can still see traces of the old cof­fered ceiling. In front of that area stands out a painting of S. Gioacchino in the desert sacrificing a lamb and a show of carved and gilded wooden organs. The oil painting is 3, 60 meters wide and 1, 20 high and was pain­ted during the second half of 1800.

Il monastero allìepoca del FascioThe church is of rectangular shape with apse; in its inside can be observed the decorations of gilt diamonds of the ceiling of nave and apse and the alternate motif of arches and pilasters just in  bas-relief which pronounce the flat side walls.

It has seven altars, a cantors' zone (in which can be still admired what is left from the original wooden ceiling) and an ancient organ not functioning anymore.
The central altar, to the left, contains, between two tortile columns, a painting by G.Tommasio of 1664 that represents San Benedetto surrounded by other saints (San Placido and Santa Geltrude to his left and Santa Scolastica and San Mauro to his right); (below to the left, there is portrayed the first mother superior of the monastery).

The most beautiful picture is that of the communion of Santa Maria Egiziaca, whose original, by Novelli, is exposed in the national museum of Palermo.
In the vault there is a fresco of the 1826 with the Engagement Of The Virgin painted by the brontese Giuseppe Dinaro (2.5.1795 -- 7.31.1848).

Above, between the two gratings of the chorus, there is a picture representing the sacrifice of Noah coming out of the ark.
Of good school is the picture of Jesus' Supper placed in a side little room of the church.

The Holy Inquisition in Bronte

The historian Benedetto Radice writes that in the XVI° century, under the Spanish rule, the Holy Inquisition was present in force even in Bronte, where a general commis­sary and "eight familiares", eight, suitably named cops or ministers, had the task to control and denounce the heretics.

Of the people of Bronte prosecuted by the Sant' Office, besides the rural Antonino Gorgone, nicknamed Galluzzo and Tommaso Schiros, eloquent orator, theologian and writer, that, accused of heresy, was sentenced to four years of jail, deserves to be remembered also sister Frances Spitaleri Bertino of the Tertiary of S. Francesco, now completely forgotten.

Of high culture, she wrote religious works and had holiness reputation; some people were saying that she had received Christ's stigmata and that she talked to God and to the angels in her frequent visions.

Accused of heresy, had a first sentence (1621); " escape the stake, abjured and was sent for seven years to serve in a hospital".

Subsequently, considered a heretical impenitent, was submitted to a new process and sent to jail in Palermo".

The poor woman, foreseeing the most varied punishments and the sentence to the stake, tried to escape from the jail and a night of the September 1640 she lowered herself down with a bad rope, made with the wool of her mattress.

The rope broke and the poor nun found a cruel death falling heavily to the ground.

"Despite this, the process went on just the same"; they confiscated her possessions, condemned her memory and burned her body and her writings.

"One ignores why and to whom the innocuous little nun of Bronte could have been dangerous, to the point to undergo such an obstinate persecution and such atrocious end".

The Sister Frances vicissitude is resumed also by the poet and essayist bronte­se Pasquale Spanò  in his book "Once upon a time there was the Rizzonito - Bronte in the history of Europe" (Turin, 1993).
To sister Frances ("innocent victim offered to God as holocaust to supreme expiation"), Pasquale Spanò in the book "Etnei" (Turin, 1963) dedicates also a poetry of his ("Francesca").

Many and also precious vestments and holy vessels belonging to the church, are signs of ancient devotion and splendor.

Some go back to early years of the 17th century, others belong to the second half of the 18th: pouch for Eucharist, chasubles, copes, maniples and velvet stoles, taffetas or damask of various colours embroiled in polychrome silk or in gold or silver and also precious and ancient “dalmatiche”, veils and silken “canopies” of ciboria in gross de Tours rolled with floral weft and polychrome “lambrecchini”.

More recent instead (19th century) is the couple of wall stoups in sculptured red marble, placed on the right and left walls, and the sacristy’s washstand.

The christening font of white marble covered with painted, gilded and carved wood, placed on the left side of the aisle goes back to early 20th century.

You can still find some fragment (165 x 120 cm) of the imposing catafalque demolished some decades ago. It had been realized in 1930 by the known sculptor Simone Ronsisvalle.

Some inscriptions in the fragment read: on the left “Scultore Ronsisvalle Simone” – in the centre below “Congregatio matris misericordiae e “Nicola Lupo fu Gaetano diresse e costrui' a(nno) d(omini) MCMXXX”.

Inside of the church

The church’s interior shows a nave with apse and the architectural frame of the 18th century that includes the high altar and the wooden Crucifix (3,16 meters high by 1,6)

The communion of Santa Maria EgiziacaSan Benedetto

Two of the nicest pictures: The Communion of Santa Maria Egiziaca (the saint, assisted by an angel, is genuflected while the abbot Zosimo in cope admi­nisters the Holy communion to her). The painting (oil on canvas 2, 80 meters high by 1, 60 wide), is a copy made in the 18th century from the ori­ginal by Novelli. It hangs on the left wall of the presby­tery.

On the right, the picture of San Benedetto surroun­ded by saints and Our Lady with baby Jesus. Work by the painter Giuseppe Tomasio of 1663. In the picture, low in the left, there is the portrait of the first superior of the Monastery, sister Anne Vattiato (or Vaccaro) from Adrano.

Placed on the right wall of the presbytery is 3.74 meters high by 1.80 wide; some documentary inscriptions: in the halo “Sanctus Maurus”, to the right in the halo “Sanctus Placidus” and below to the right “Joseph Tomasius pingebat 1663”.

The Engagement Of The VirginS. Giuseppe

The fresco painted in 1828 in the presbytery’s vault by Giu­seppe Dinaro represents Our Lady’s Assum­ption. At right Saint Joseph’s picture with baby Jesus, painted by Agostino Attinà in 1876, (oil on canvas 95 x 72 cm., signed below on the right Agostino Attinà pinse 1876”).

Descent of Holy Ghost over apo­stles and Our Lady absorbed in prayer (Whitsun), painted in 1830 by G. Matricolo (as signed in the bottom at left “G[iuseppe] Patri­colo inv [enit] et pinsit”. The pain­ting (oil on canvas of 343 x 233 cm), is hanging in the chapel’s back wall.

Pianeta in seta ricamataLavabo da sacrestiaFrammento del catafalco ligneo

Translated by Sam Di Bella  ITALIAN VERSION


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