The Nelson Ducea

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An ancient Benedictine Abbey now transformed into a museum

Nelson's Castle

Veduta generale della DuceaThe complex named Nelson Dukedom, is at 13 Km from Bronte, placed on flat land alongside the left bank of the torrent Sara­ceno.

Comprises the noble wing, once residence of the Nel­son, (the Castle) now changed in a Museum, the remains of the ancient Benedictine Abbey, dedicated to the Very Holy Mary, built by Guglielmo II° the Buono, the little church of Holy Mary Of Maniace and a large, very lush park.

Was built around the 1173, probably over the ruins of a pre-existent Basilian construction, as wanted by the queen Margherita, in everlasting memory of the victory in battle of Giorgio Maniace against the Saracens.

As it was usual at the time, the monastery had a castle or defensive tower. Guglielmo di Blois was the first abbey of the monastery.
The abbey, for the obtained privileges had some considerable income and, as for all feuds, participated to the Royal Curia.

In the centuries following the founding went through hard times: was reduced in a miserable state by the "commen­datory", (the last "commendable" abbey was the cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, future pope Alessandro VI, "of wicked and inauspicious memory"), all properties were squandered and the unhealthy state of the areas accelerated  considerably  the depopulation of the nearby farms.

At the end of the XV century the abbey, with all his land, became property of The Big and New Hospital of Palermo, until 1799 when was given by Ferdinando III to Admiral Horatio Nelson for having repressed the Neapolitan republic.

The earthquake  that on 11 January 1693 hit eastern Sicily, destroyed also several parts of the monastery. The seism hit particularly the structures facing east and destroyed the large defense tower adjacent to the church apse, knocking down other dilapidated parts.

The Basilian fathers, that conducted the monastery at the time, were forced to leave it and move to Bronte (guest to the church of San Blandano, with permission to build around it a small monastery).

In the new locality, the Benedictine monks brought all their of worship objects, their relics and kept calling themselves "of Santa Maria di Maniace", (their last abbey was Brother Giacomo Cimbali between 1900 and 1904).

The descendants of Nelson, with disinterest, greed and incredible rapacity, for centuries conditioned the life of the Brontesi generating a quarrel that will drag, with alternating fortunes for the City, until the mid-twentieth century.

The current plan of the ancient Abbey is the final result of their permanent settlement, which lasted from 1799 to 1981.

The restructuring, transformation and enlargement were begun by Horatio Nelson, (he entrusted the task to his first administrator, the gardener Andrea Graefer) who, however, had neither the time nor the good fortune to set foot in the Sicilian possessions and to live in Bronte. In fact, he died in October 1805, a few years after obtaining the title of Duca di Bronte.

His heirs, however, and their various administrators, permanently lived until a few decades ago the apartments, gradually transformed into noble residences, now destined to Museum (the first was Charlotte Nelson-Bridport, daughter of the Reverend William Admiral, married to Samuel Hood, viscount of Bridport).

Today, of the ancient Benedictine settlement, remains only the Nelson Castle (with the Museum, the garden and the Park), the ruins of the old abbey and the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Maniace.

The building complex has become property of the Council of Bronte from the 4th of  September 1981; it has been recently restructured with one section used as Museum (the Duke' apartments) and as a center of studies  and congress (the old granaries).

The planimetric scheme

is the final result of the permanent settling of the Nelson, from 1799 to 1981. The recon­struction, transformation and the enlarging of the ancient abbey to a sumptuous, noble residence was started already by Horatio Nelson, that did not have the time or the luck to ever come to his Sicilian estate or to live in Bronte.

His heirs, instead, and their administrators, lived permanently, till few decades ago, in the apartments changed now in Museum, (the first one was Charlotte Nelson-Bridport, daughter of the rev. William, the admiral's brother, married to Samuel Hood, viscount of Bridport).

The Dukedom complex

is articulated as a ring-like plan with a square perimeter and edifices with one or two floors, lined along outside fronts, that look on the country  and on two internal, rectangular courtyard. The all thing, in its simplicity, looks majestic.

Two railings lead to the entry arcade and then to the courtyard where there is the lava stone cross erected in memory of Orazio Nelson.
Laterally, to the right, leads to the interesting late-Norman  church of Santa Maria and to the square courtyard with a lava stone well, around which, originally were the small workers rooms, the stores,  the stables and the granary.
On the first floor, to the left, there were the noble apartments of the Nelson, now used as a museum.

Outside the complex can be seen the ruins of two small towers, part of the defensive system of the abbey.

The park

A large park, that covers, internally and externally, about four hectares, enriches the Castle.
From the first courtyard it is possible to visit the English garden, wanted by the Nelson: covers about five thousand square meters and enjoys the presence of centuries-old, local and exotic plants (cypress, palms, willow trees, ash trees, horse chestnuts, magnolias), an English green lawn  bordered by wisteria, roses, flowers  and various plants.

Opposite the entry there is a lush park, divided by a central  path that, between the majestic plane trees and eucalyptus, holds  an open air museum of lava stone sculptures.

The park-museum is open to the public and is regularly visited by scholars, students and cultural and tourist operators.
In the park can be seen the ruins of the farmers village, called "Borgo Caracciolo" and built from 1941 to 1944 by the Italian state (the Dukedom had been then seized) and demolished in 1964 by the Nelsonis bulldozers.

Nelson's Castle

The English cemetery

Ducea Nelson, vista generale

”Nelson’s castle”. In the close up photo above, the windows of the old ducal apartments look over the delicious internal garden. Below you can see the two large internal courtyards; in the centre of the one on the right there is the Celtic cross dedicated to Nelson. (Photo G. Basile)

La Ducea Nelson dall'alto
Ingresso Ducea nelson

The entrance to the Nelson Dukedom. The word “Ca­stle” can somewhat confuse the visitor as it refers to a seventeen century palace with a solemn, covered por­tico leading to a courtyard in the centre of a com­plex dominated by a Celtic style basalt cross. This is the only memento in honor of admiral Nelson with this writing to its base: Eroi Immortali Nili

The entry to the botanic garden of the Duke with the windows of the noble apartments.

The park in front of the Castle and one of the lava stone sculpture of the Open Air Sculpture Museum.

The small English cemetery, near the Castle, was built in 1898 and was reserved for the Nelson family and their admini­strators.
Before its construction, the burial took place in the church of Santa Maria di Maniace where the tombs of the administrator Philip Thovez and of Rosaria Fragalà, wife of the administrator William Thovez still stand. In the same church a large plaque also commemorates the administrator Samuel Grisley, who should however be buried in Bronte.

The 3rd (Charlotte Mary Nelson) and 4th Duke (Alexander Nelson Hood) are buried in their English residence at Chricket Saint-Thomas in Dorset.

Le otto tombeA stone walled up above the entrance arch of the small cemetery bears the phrase "Nobisque vobisque pax" (Peace to us and to you) and in fact retains an undeniable charm. An oasis of peace and serenity, it contains eight very simple and sober tombs, without any monumental character and represents the only property that the Nelson heirs continue to own in Bronte.

Currently the Nelson heirs have given it in concession to the Municipality of Maniace which has asked to be able to manage the cemetery for tourist and cultural purposes.

In addition to those of the dukes, some administrators of the Duchy and other English nobles, it also houses the tomb of the poet William Sharp (delicate exponent of English romanticism, Paisley, Scotland 1855 - Maniace 12.12.1905), who died during his stay in the Ducea, guest of the the 5th duke Alexander Nelson Hood.

1) Rowland Artur Herbert Nelson Hood (4th duke of Bronte, diseased the 25th of July 1969; In front of his tomb lies his beloved dog Hugo);

2) Alexander Nelson Hood (the intelligent and refined 5° duke of Bronte, born June 28, 1854, died June 1, 1937 in the villa "La Falconara" of Taormina) and Rosa Penelope (his sister, the last of the females of the family, died too in Taormina on March 17, 1922, it was born in 1852).Rosa Pelelope Hood (1879)
The two were first buried in the garden of the villa of Taormina but when, on April 27, 1948, the villa that the Nelson possessed was sold to Count Marzotto, the bodies of the Duke and his sister were transported and buried in a single tomb in Maniace; the tombstone and the monumental cross (with the word "Peace") were also transported from Taormina to Maniace.
The tomb of Rosa Penelope (on the right in a drawing of 1879, taken from the Nelson Archives) bears the following inscription: Here in the flowers she loved rest Pink Penelope the Honorable Mrs. Evans ... Devoted and beloved daughter and sister constant friend, 1852-1922 (Here, among the flowers he loved rests Rosa Penelope, honorable Mrs. Evans ... Daughter and devoted sister and constant friend, 1852-1922).
Many news on the small English cemetery are taken from "The Duchy of Bronte", the "memorandum for the family" written by the same 5° Duca.

VICTOR ALBERT NELSON HOOD3) Victor Alberto Nelson Hood  (November 14, 1862 - Taormina May 1, 1922, photo on the right), younger brother of the V Duke, assisted his brother in managing the Ducea for years. "A minor son of General Visconte Bridport, duke of Bronte and godson of the great Queen Victoria. He was at the service of his king and his country in Australia for many years, and also of his family in Sicily. Alongside his brother Alex for managing the Ducea for many years. He was very loved and highly esteemed."
«Younger son of General Viscount Bridport, Duke of Bronte and godson of the great Queen Victoria. He served his king and his country in Australia for many years, and also his family in Sicily. He supported his brother Alex in managing the Ducea for many years. He was much loved and highly esteemed." In Australia he held the positions of chamberlain and private secretary to various governors and was appointed Justice of the Peace (J.P.) for Victoria and Queensland.

4) Richard Forsyth Gray, major and the duchy’s administrator, born the 27th of July 1881, died the 29th of July 1928.

5) Charles Beek, born the 16th January 1859, died the 6th May 1917, for 26 years was a faithful duchy’s administrator. He was made a Knight of the Crown of Italy. The tombstone bears the engraved phrase "... For twenty-six years faithful friend of the Dukes of Bronte [...] His good work survives him". Alexander Nelson Hood, the 5th Duke, thus remembers him in his Memoirs: "our devoted friend Cav. Charles Beek, who gave us the benefit of his advice and assistance".

6) William Tredgold, loyal servant of the 4th duke Alexander Nelson Hood.

7) William Sharp, Scottish poet (photo on the right), born September 12, 1855, died suddenly in the Castle of Maniace on December 12, 1905. The marble plaque walled in his memory in the tomb contains two verses: the first signed by William Sharp, the other by Fiona Macleod. With this second name, his alter ego, Sharp signed more than fifty books of poetry, one for each year of his life.

8) Hedwin Hughes, general administrator of the duchy, diseased the 2nd of December 1922. A plaque bears the inscription "The night in its silence, the stars in their calm".

In the cemetery are buried also three people who had nothing to do with the duchy: Montagna Capuccinello Sebastiano who died for the exsplosion of a mine, and in a single grave the two brothers Antonio and Carmelo Bontempo who died the 10th of August 1943, because of a bomb dropped by an English plane over a hamlet at S. Andrea. (In that occasion some other Brontesi also died).


Tomba di William SharpThe small cemetery among the almond trees

«The small cemetery among the almond trees on the slope of Fondaco was established, with legal authorization from the Government, about twenty years ago.

He was the first to take in the remains of William Treadgold, my father's personal servant, Ingresso del cimitero inglesewho died here suddenly. In 1905 we deposed there, for eternal rest, my dear and valid friend William Sharp, a great critic and writer, although more celebrated as the Celtic poet who wrote, unknown until his death, under the name of Fiona Macleod.

He died in Maniace, in December, following an illness of a few days. The anonymity of "Fiona Macleod" was maintained until her death, to prevent her work from suffering from public flattery - the detachment and greater spirituality derived from that anonymity were necessary, according to him, for the full expression of beauty of his poetry.

Next to him, our devoted friend Cav. Charles Beek, who gave us the benefit of his advice and his assistance, for many years in Maniace. Mr. Edwin Hughes, the last administrator, found his final resting place there two years ago.»

(Alexander Nelson-Hood, V Duke of Bronte, "The Duchy of Bronte", 2005).

Some history of: Horatio Nelson, Related topics - The Maniace Abbey | The Duchy of Nelson as seen from the satellite

ITALIAN VERSIONTranslated by Sam Di Bella

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