the mystery of the dead friars of Palermo

The old National Library of Palermo is an enchanted place, a precious labyrinth that tells the story of a magnificent and lost city

For those who love archives, that is, for those who adore the romantically musty smell of paper, without the childish vanity of making it ineffective in an audience of ghosts, the old National Library of Palermo it is an enchanted place, a precious labyrinth that tells the story of a lost and magnificent city.

And there, preserved among the manuscripts, there is a report bearing the date “of October 1, 1726. It is authenticated by the sign of the cross of the interrogated person – Hieronimus Giannilivigni, 48 years old, daily – and by the signature of the Capuchin analyst, Rosario Maria D’Amico, esteemed author of religious works and prayer books “.

They are words of Giuseppe Quatriglio, a writer who told of a “beautiful, poor and unhappy Palermo”, who in one of his exquisite short stories entitled “Ghosts with a habit” gave expressive dignity to a protocol document.

But what did Giannilivigni testify, to the point of arousing fear? Here are his exact words, from the original interrogation: “Die prima octobris Anno 1726 … at the beginning of June, which according to my account was Tuesday, returning to my house which is in Danisinni, around two in the night, when I entered the street behind the Capuchins that goes to Danisinni I saw a procession coming with the Cross in front, which I believe was rather long than many with lighted candles, which were coming towards the convent of the PP.

Capuchins, so that I was amazed that at this hour, and in that unusual street, the Capuchins would come in this way in procession, I judged that they would bring some dead personages to be buried; and with this idea I made judgment so as not to be a hindrance to the function in that narrow and rough road, I hunted my mule more, and I retired inside the vanella that leads straight to Danisinni … [poi] to say that the Capuchins that evening had not received a corpse or gone in procession.

Coming then to fall ill, I intended to tell from before my bed how a Father Teresino, a water guardian, a hussar and other people had seen certain processions near the Capuchin convent at night time and that those processions were miraculous because they saw each other and disappeared, I immediately remembered what I had seen together with my apprentice by name Melchiore Guzzardo, I immediately resumed the conversation saying that I too had seen a similar thing … “.

In short, in short, Giannilivigni claimed to have witnessed one procession of the Capuchin friars that in reality it never took place; a waking dream, or almost a nightmare.

And since he claimed that he was not alone, the following day the testimony of his boy was collected, who essentially confirmed the contents of the deposition by adding that the Capuchins “were singing in such a low voice that I could only hear the murmur (…)

After a while, my master fell ill and the people who came to visit him said they had seen some processions at night around the Capuchin church, and that having sent them to the same Capuchins they denied having made any procession, so they judged something of God ”.

A testimony, that of Giannilivigni, strengthened by the confirmation of Guzzardo, who even refers to still others who had seen the gloomy procession of the friars in the dark night of Palermo, in the dim light of flickering candles.

On the one hand the witnesses, certain and for no reason whatsoever to simulate what happened, and on the other the Capuchins, who, when questioned, deny “having made any procession”.

For Palermo these are difficult days, due to an earthquake that had caused deaths and considerable damage to the whole city, and, against the idea of ​​divine punishment, penitential processions were not infrequent, one of which – at night – by the friars Capuchins, as noted by Canon Antonino Mongitore.

The date is suspicious, since the event is certainly prior to 1 October, but it is likely that the deposition of Giannilivigni is part of a historical context for which the night procession assumes more ancient resonances, exactly with reference to the great drought of 1647 resolved, according to the chroniclers, precisely by a procession of the Capuchins in which forty friars ended up dead, buried in the crypt of the convent, who, for a miracle of faith for the salvation of the city of Palermo, offended by the earthquake, went out with the light out in procession causing the conversion of souls.

As evidence, humble deuteragonists of the sacred mystery, a daily and his boy, and again a guardian of the water and a modest hussar, documenting – as Quatriglio still writes – “the existence of a phenomenon that can be placed in an indefinite sphere of sensations hovering between dream, suggestion and reality; a phenomenon that, moreover, manifested itself in that extra-urban area of ​​Palermo, around the Capuchin convent, which had never ceased to inspire terror, devout respect and feelings of pity because of the galleries of catacombs crowded with mummies and skeletons “.

It was another city, which only a few years earlier had burned alive the bodies of Fra Romualdo and Sister Geltrude, two formal heretics, and which ended up changing over the centuries to other evils, devoured by the banality of evil, redeeming more with wax. lay processions the acrid smell of gunpowder.

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