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
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
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
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,
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.