CEMETERIES IN SICILY

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Enna’s cemetery is large enough to look like a town.  It has broad avenues and tall tombs. Many tombs are similar to small houses. They have a room inside with walled niches and an altar where once was celebrated Mass on November 2.

I dare say that the cemeteries in Sicily are unique. I have visited some burying places while traveling around the world, but they were completely different than the Sicilian cemeteries, for every population on earth has its own way of treating the dead, depending on its culture and traditions.

In Italy, before the Napoleonic edict, the dead were buried in the churches. Later, this custom fell into disuse.

My maternal grandmother, Paolina, used to keep in her family tomb a few chairs for herself and her family, relatives and friends that came to visit the tomb or had the chance to pass by it.

This is an excerpt from November 2: The Day of the Dead in Sicily

Ettore Grillo author of these books:

November 2 The Day of the Dead in Sicily
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE DAY OF THE DEAD CELEBRATION IN SICILY

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PRESS RELEASE
Now Available for Kindle, iPad, and other e-Readers

Novel Captures The Day of the Dead Celebration in Sicily

November 2: The Day of the Dead in Sicily is a thought-provoking story that captivates from beginning to end. The Day of the Dead is an important festival in many cultures, originating 3,000 years ago in Mexico with the Aztecs. Visiting Spaniards in the 1500s adopted the celebration, taking it home to Europe.

It is a day when children receive gifts from those who have died, and they eat special bone-shaped cakes. Cemeteries are packed with visitors placing flowers at gravesites and lighting candles in their tombs, which can look like small houses.

On such a day on the isle of Sicily, Mario Chiaramonte goes to the cemetery to visit the graves of his friends and relatives. As he strolls through the graveyard, he sees some special tombs, including those of a poet, a nobleman, and a Mafia boss. Mario also discovers some truths about living, its goodness and evil, and ultimately comes to see his own life in a different perspective.

Expect romance, adventure, life, death, and a rollicking good read, including this cultural note:

“In some tribes that I visited in Tanzania, the dead were buried in front of the house where they had lived, but before being placed into an underground niche on the side of the pit that had been dug, the dead person was put on a chair in front of his house for a few hours. This way, the relatives and friends could offer condolences to the family.” Such is life … and death.

About the Author: Ettore Grillo was born in 1946 in Enna, Sicily, where he was an attorney for 37 years. This is his fourth work. His previous books are Travels of the Mind, The Vibrations of Words, and A Hidden Sicilian History.

“The cultural heritage behind the fascinating celebration The Day of the Dead is explored in this finely honed novel. We are pleased to be the publisher.”Lynn Eddy, VP of acquisitions, Strategic Book Publishing and Rights Agency

Ettore Grillo author of these books:

November 2 The Day of the Dead in Sicily
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE CITY OF ENNA (SICILY)

Night view of Enna town in Sicily, Italy

Enna is a small city on a plateau in the center of Sicily. Its founding dates back to time immemorial. It is called the navel of Sicily. It is part of the Erei mountain chain and is located at an altitude of about one thousand meters above sea level. Like all Greek cities, Enna was a city-state with its own government and its own mint. It coined a coin called ennaion.

With Greece Enna shared the same language and the same religion. The main worshiped goddesses were Demeter and her daughter Kore. Nobody knows exactly where the temples of Demeter and Kore stood, but it is certain that the main temple of Demeter in Sicily was that in Enna. Being Demeter the goddess of the crops, she was invoked to have a good harvest. It is said that during time of famine, even the Senate of Rome used to send a delegation to Enna to propitiate Demeter.

The people of Enna buried the dead by digging small rooms in the rock, usually facing south. In the room, painted terracotta vases were placed next to the corpse. Tombs have been excavated with well-preserved skeletons and red- and black-figure vases. Sometimes in the mouth of the skeleton was found a coin. The Greeks believed that to get to the Hades (the kingdom of the dead) souls had to pay a fee of one coin to Charon who ferried the dead across the Acheron, river that divided the world of the living from that of the dead.

Enna has always been a city devoted to religion. When Cicero, the great Roman orator, came to Enna to collect evidence against the governor of Sicily, Verres, who had snatched away gold and statues from the Sicilian temples, he was so surprised by the religiosity of the city of Enna that he had the feeling that its inhabitants were omnes sacerdotes (all priests).

When the Arabs conquered Sicily, they changed the Latin name Henna into Catrum (castle) Hennae (the genitive of Henna) which in the Arabic parlance became Castro Ianni, and then Castrogiovanni in the Italian language. This last appellation lasted until December 6, 1926 when Castrogiovanni was elevated to capital of province and was given back the ancient name of Enna. It essentially just dropped the H, which however is always silent in the Italian language.

This is an excerpt from November 2: The Day of the Dead in Sicily

Ettore Grillo author of these books:

November 2 The Day of the Dead in Sicily
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE TOWN OF CALASCIBETTA (SICILY)

Sunset view of Calascibetta village in central Sicily, Italy.
Sunset view of Calascibetta village in central Sicily, Italy.

A short distance from Enna stands the town of Calascibetta. As the crow flies, the distance between the two places is about two kilometers, but the winding road that connects them is about seven kilometers long. They both are located on the summits of two small mountains. While Enna has an average height of 1000 meters, Calascibetta is a bit lower, about 900 meters above sea level.

They have almost the same climate, cool in the summertime and cold in the winter. The fog, which is caused by low clouds, envelops them very often. A valley dotted with olive groves and almond trees lies between the two mountains. It is green for most of the year and golden yellow during the summer months due to the lack of rainfall and the scorching sun.

The geography of the two places is quite different. While Enna stands on a plateau with sheer cliffs, Calascibetta rests on the slope of Mount Xibet.

Both of them have been inhabited since very ancient times as it was evidenced by archaeological findings. But it is believed that the real foundation of Calascibetta took place during the Arab period. As Enna was an impregnable stronghold, the Arabs settled a military camp on Mount Xibet, waiting for the right moment to launch an attack on Enna, which was occupied by the Byzantines. The siege lasted for a long time. While the Arabs remained camped on Mount Xibet, they boosted the tiny town situated there, developing the commerce and agriculture. Furthermore, they built mosques and palaces.

Seen from Calascibetta, Enna appears inaccessible. The steep rocks conceal some paths through which you can walk up to the top of the mountain. It is said that the Arabs were able to break the siege thanks to the help of a traitor banished from Enna, who showed them one of those concealed, dangerous, narrow paths through the rocky slopes, in the nighttime.

A further growth of Calascibetta took place during the Norman period. As the Arabs had done two centuries ago, the Normans also camped in Mount Xibet during their thirty-year siege on Enna, which was an Arab fortress this time.

The Normans built churches, monuments, a castle and the city walls in Calascibetta.

The Aragonese came to Calascibetta after the Normans. King Peter II of Aragon, who became  the king of Sicily, built the Royal Palatine Chapel in 1340. He loved Calascibetta and died in this town in 1342.

This is an excerpt from November 2: The Day of the Dead in Sicily

Ettore Grillo author of these books:

November 2 The Day of the Dead in Sicily
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

November 2 The Day of the Dead in Sicily

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November 2 is a special day in Sicily. The Day of the Dead is considered an important festival, when children receive gifts from the dead and eat special bone-shaped cakes. Cemeteries are overcrowded with people walking in the avenues, placing flowers at gravesites, and lighting candles in their tombs. Many Sicilian tombs look like small houses: They contain a room, an altar, and marble-walled niches.

Mario Chiaramonte goes to the cemetery on this day. Besides visiting the tombs of his relatives and friends, he strolls throughout the graveyard. On his walk, he stumbles on some special tombs. A few have an epitaph carved on the tombstone or above the altar.

The tombs he visits house the bodies of a Mafia boss, a literary man, a poet, a nobleman, and more. Mario recalls the salient moments of their lives, and at the same time sees himself from a different detached perspective.

Romance, adventure, life, death, the Mafia, good and evil, racism, and impermanence are themes throughout the novel. November 2: The Day of the Dead in Sicily is thought provoking and captivating from beginning to end.

Ettore Grillo author of these books:

November 2 The Day of the Dead in Sicily
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

THE LAST AND THE FIRST DAY OF THE YEAR

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Now I am at Arambol Beach in Goa (India) for my winter holidays.
How did I spend the last day of the year? At dawn, I went jogging on the beach, saluted the rising sun, and helped some fishermen that asked me to give them a hand to beach their heavy boat.
At night, I walked along the seaside where thousands of people were waiting for the stroke of midnight.
On the first day of the new year, I went to the beach at daybreak again. There were a few cleaners that were collecting the garbage littered by those who had celebrated Happy New Year all night.
I jogged and then saluted the rising sun as usual. It was the same sun as yesterday. Seeing me, the fishermen waved their hands from a distance. Nothing had changed! We humans divide time into days, months and years, and make wishes whenever a new year comes, but in nature there is only an uninterrupted flow of happenings without beginning or end.
Ettore Grillo author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

CEMETERIES IN THE WORLD

 

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Before the Napoleonic edict, the dead were buried in the churches. Later, this custom fell into disuse.
In the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, the friars used to embalm the dead. Still now it is possible to visit the underground cemetery of the monastery where the embalmed corpses are displayed. Through this practice, the Franciscan friars wanted to draw attention to the frailty of human life.
The Franciscan friars of Rome did something similar in the Capuchin Church on Via Veneto. In the crypt are displayed the bones of about four thousand Capuchin friars. With the bones, the friars made chandeliers, chairs, tables, decorations on the walls and other objects in the Baroque style. Also in this case, the Capuchin friars aimed at making people meditate on the impermanence of life.
In Korea there were no family vaults. They set the dead into the ground and then made a womb-shaped mound. They called it the womb of Mother Earth, the final abode of the body. But, cremation was also practiced in Korea.
In some tribes I have visited in Tanzania, the dead were buried in front of the house where they had lived. But, before being set in the underground niche, the dead person was placed on a chair in front of his house for some time. This way the relatives and friends could offer condolences to the family,
In America I couldn’t spot any chapel in the cemetery of Arlington in Washington DC. I just saw a vast expanse of graves. Even the president of the United States had been buried in a grave. What impressed me for its simplicity was the grave of Robert Francis Kennedy. It was located at the foot of a grassy hill. On it was just a cross on one side and a small tombstone with the name Robert Francis Kennedy and the dates of his birth and death on the other side. At that time, I meditated for some minutes in front of the graves of John and Robert Kennedy. They were my idols when I was a boy. When I was about to leave the cemetery, a guard approached me, saluted me, and then shook my hand. I was shocked! Did the Kennedy brothers order the guard to treat me as a special guest?

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

MY HOMETOWN ENNA (SICILY)

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Although Enna is in Sicily, an island with a temperate climate, its weather is quite inclement during the winter. It is windy and above all foggy. The citizen of Enna have nicknamed the fog la paesana (the fellow citizen) for it envelops the city like a cloak quite often. Seen from below, the fog looks like a wide hat on the head of the plateau. Actually, the fog is nothing but low clouds. Once, the snow used to fall on the city, but these days, due to global warming, it has become more and more rare.
The plateau is not completely flat. There are three a bit elevated areas that gently slope down to the center of the city. Seen from above, the area looks like a triangle. On one tip is an old castle, called the Castle of Lombardy, which is still accessible even though a few towers have fallen into ruin. On the other tip, is the Franciscan monastery of Capuchin of Montesalvo, and on the third tip is the cemetery which lies on a hillock.
The Castle of Lombardy stands in the highest part of the city. According to some authors, it took this name from a garrison of Lombard soldiers who defended the castle during the Norman period. The best preserved tower is called the Pisan Tower. It was built by Frederick II of Swabia. It was so named because it was defended by a garrison of soldiers from Pisa. It was considered an impregnable castle. Later it was converted first into a prison and then into an open-air theater. It was called the theater closest to the stars. These days there is neither the prison nor the theater, but tourists come and visit it and the Pisan Tower. From the top of the tower it is possible to admire valleys, mountain ranges and Mount Etna.
The Monastery of Montesalvo is near the center of Sicily. An obelisk symbolizing the center of the island stands just a few meters away from the monastery. According to some, in ancient time the pagan feasts of Ceres, Kore, and Dionysus were celebrated in this place. Then, around the year 1300 a Catholic church was built to replace the pagan festivals with the one in honor of The Most Holy Mary of Visitation. The monastery is adjacent to the church. Once it teemed with Franciscan monks, but nowadays its many cells are almost all empty except for two or three where monks still live.
The cemetery is large enough to look like a town. It has broad streets and tall tombs. Many tombs are similar to small houses. They have a room inside with walled niches and an altar to celebrate Mass on November 2. My grandmother used to keep in her family tomb a few chairs for herself and for her families, relatives and friends that came to visit the tomb or passed by.

Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE, MOTHER GODDESS TONANTZIN, AND DEMETER

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The place where the basilica now stands was a holy place long before the Spanish conquered Mexico. It is called the Hill of Tepeyac. At the site there was a temple devoted to the mother goddess called Tonantzin. Later, the Spanish destroyed the temple and built a nearby chapel. But the destruction of the temple couldn’t prevent the natives from pouring into the site.
Ten years after the Spanish conquered Mexico, a local peasant named Juan Diego, who had recently converted to Christianity, had a vision said to be Our Lady in the same area, who asked for a chapel to be built in the place. People from all over Mexico rallied to the chapel to worship the shrine, and it is reported that many miracles occurred. Nevertheless, the natives kept calling Our Lady by the name of Tonantzin, the ancient mother goddess revered by the native population. This gave rise to the doubts of the Franciscan friars, who were convinced that the veneration of the holy image was a pagan cult.
Something similar also happened in Enna. In  fact, Our Lady, who is the patron saint of Enna, replaced the ancient cult of Demeter, who was the town’s mother goddess. The celebration in honor of Our Lady happens on July second every year, the same time when the old pagan cult of Demeter was celebrated. People of Enna today still invoke the name Kore, who was Demeter’s daughter.
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter the name you give to God; what matters is the spiritual feeling that radiates from the worshipper. So you can call God Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva without losing the purity of your heart. Jesus and the Virgin Mary are beyond time, as they existed before time, long before coming into human history. They also existed in the pagan era and were worshipped differently.
The Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego in the form of a crossbreed maiden, and in the same place where the Spanish had destroyed the temple dedicated to the goddess Tonantzin. That means that nobody is allowed to destroy others’ temples, even if they are considered pagan. In fact, religion and spirituality are not related to a particular cult. Over the years people have given various names to God and worshiped Him in different ways, but it doesn’t entitle anybody to resort to violence to make one religion prevail over another.
As for the holy image imprinted on Juan Diego’s cloak, it was kept for some time by the Franciscan friars until it passed under the custody of the diocesan priests. With the passing of time, possibly in good faith, the original image was retouched in some spots. For instance, the crescent on which the Virgin Mary stands was painted with silver. Apparently, nowadays the retouches have discolored naturally, while the original image is still unaltered.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by Ettore Grillo
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo

TRAVELING FROM ENNA (SICILY) TO BANNEUX (BELGIUM)

 

our-lady-banneux-statue-source-inside-sanctuary-belgium-125672172[1]When we arrived in Banneux, the bus stopped next to a square. At the end of the square there was a street that led to the sanctuary. The atmosphere in Banneux was different from other Marian sanctuaries. It was much simpler and there weren’t many shops. We walked towards the chapel and found a water basin on the right, which was where little Mariette had dipped her hands. We too dipped our hands and drank some of the water.
After visiting the chapel, we walked through the woods that bound the water basin. While we were walking, I realized why Our Lady had called herself The Virgin of the Poor. We well-to-do people tend to underestimate the issue of poverty. It is one of the most serious social problems.

Here amid the woods of Banneux, in my mind I saw all the jobless, poor Sicilians that had migrated to Belgium to work in the coal mines after the end of the Second World War. Many of them died trapped underground, while those who survived contracted an illness called silicosis, which was a progressive disease caused by the inhalation of dust in mines. My mind went to the immigrants that try to reach the Sicilian coast packed in precarious boats, which sometimes wrecked, causing the deaths of hundreds of people, whose only fault is to be poor and searching for a better place to live.

I recalled a butcher in Enna who had a large family. My father used to go to his shop to buy lamb at Easter. Over time, many butcher shops sprang up in Enna, so that butcher couldn’t match the competition and became poor. He took on debts to feed his family, hoping he would be able to pay them, but things didn’t go well. He fell into despair and couldn’t find a way out. One night he left his home and told his wife that he had to cut a few lambs’ throats, but things went differently. He pulled down the shutters in his shop, and instead of cutting lambs’ throats, he cut his own. The following day his blood still leaked through the chink of the shutter, flowing into the street.
There are many tragedies caused by poverty that we don’t know about. Sometimes, even when we know about them we ignore them instead of doing something to try to overcome the scourge of poverty.
Here, where Our Lady of the Poor appeared, I saw in my mind’s eye how many conflicts were sparked off by poverty. Indigence gives rise to social malaise, and then to a Mafia, terrorism, and war. It is not by chance that terrorists and members of the Mafia are recruited from the poorest classes.

This is an excerpt from A Hidden Sicilian History by Ettore Grillo
Ettore Grillo, author of these books:
– A Hidden Sicilian History
– The Vibrations of Words
-Travels of the Mind
http://www.amazon.com/author/ettoregrillo