Norman Sicily’s Monastic Houses by Order and Historical Region
|Historical Region (Percent of Total # of Locatable Houses)||Augustinian Canons||Basilians||Benedictines||Cistercians||Cluniacs||Hospital of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem||Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem||Knights of the Hospital of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem||Knights Templar||Premonstratensian Canons|
|Val Demone (64%)||6 (38%)||68 (72%)||43 (68%)||2 (29%)||1 (50%)||1 (100%)|
|Val di Mazara (26%)||5 (31%)||23 (25%)||11 (18%)||5 (71%)||3 (100%)||1 (50%)||1 (100%)|
|Val di Noto (10%)||5 (31%)||3 (3%)||9 (14%)||1 (100%)|
Note how monastically dense the Val Demone was, containing almost 2/3’s of the monasteries and, conversely, how monastically sparse the Val di Noto was (just about 10% of the 188 monasteries that can be located in an historical region). We can drill down a bit more by looking at these numbers using the considerably smaller unit of modern province (a geographical unit that was meaningless in the Middle Ages but provides a convenient way to take a more focused approach to the data).
Norman Sicily’s Monastic Houses by Order and Modern Province
|Province (Percent of Total # of Locatable Houses)||Augustinian Canons||Basilians||Benedictines||Cistercians||Cluniacs||Hospital of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem||Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem||Knights of the Hospital of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem||Knights Templar||Premonstratensian Canons|
|Agrigento (3%)||3 (3%)||1 (14%)||1 (34%)||1 (100%)|
|Caltanissetta (2%)||1 (6%)||3 (5%)|
|Catania (15%)||2 (13%)||5 (5%)||20 (31%)||1 (100%)|
|Enna (4%)||1 (6%)||5 (5%)||1 (2%)|
|Messina (47%)||3 (19%)||59 (63%)||23 (36%)||2 (29%)||1 (50%)|
|Palermo (21%)||5 (31%)||16 (17%)||11 (17%)||4 (57%)||2 (66%)||1 (50%)||1 (100%)|
|Ragusa (1%)||1 (2%)|
|Syracuse/Siracusa (4%)||4 (25%)||1 (1%)||3 (5%)|
|Trapani (3%)||5 (5%)||1 (2%)|
Messina contained almost half of all the locatable monasteries. Palermo had almost 25%. Catania came in a distant third with just 15%. Syracuse, Enna, Agrigento, Trapani and Caltanissetta each contained 4% or less. Ragusa had the fewest - just 1% of the monastic houses.
Augustinian canons were especially dense (1/4 or more of the houses) in Palermo and Syracuse. Basilians, on the other hand, were centered in Messina with a handful of houses in all other modern provinces except Caltanissetta and Ragusa. Benedictines were heavily represented on the island’s east coast, especially in Messina and Catania, whereas the Cistercians were concentrated in Palermo province with a few in Messina and just one monastery in Agrigento. The three Cluniac houses were divided between Agrigento and Palermo (see the blog post on distance and religious life for more information on these). The military orders were scattered across the island in Agrigento, Catania, Messina and Palermo. As for the single Premonstratensian foundation, see the blog post on the significance of this outlier.
Questions to Consider
How does the monastic landscape suggested above compare with the approach Idrisi takes to describing Sicily’s geography in the Book of Roger*?
“The island, at the time at which we are writing, is under the rule of the great King Roger. It comprises 130 localities, towns or fortresses, without counting the agricultural estates, villages and other places. We shall deal first of all and in particular with the coastal regions, limiting ourselves to them to the exclusion of all others, and proceeding in this manner to return to the point from which we departed. Then we shall undertake the description of the localities, of the fortified towns and of the vast inhabited region in the interior of the island, point by point and one place after another, with the help of God most high.”
Idrisi then begins with his description of Palermo.
*Roger II commissioned the Arab geographer Mohammad al-Idrisi to write the Kitab nuzhat al-mushtaq fi ikhtiraq al-afaq (The Pleasure Excursion of One Who Is Eager to Traverse the Regions of the World), whose title Idrisi later changed to Kitab Rujar (Book of Roger) around 1139. For the Arabic text, see Opus geographicum; sive, “Liber ad eorum delectationem qui terras peragrare student” (Leiden: Brill, 19-1984). A modern French edition based on Pierre-Amédée Jaubert’s nineteenth-century translation is available in La première géographie de l’Occident, trans. Henri Bresc and Annliese Nef (Paris: Flammarion, 1999). A partial English translation is available in Graham Loud, Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012), 355-63 (selection above is from 358).
It appears that the population on the south and west coast of the island remained Muslim well into the thirteenth century (see, for example, the thirteenth-century observation in “L’archivio capitolare di Girgenti,” ed. Carlo Garufi, Archivio storico siciliano 28 (1903): 147-48 that that there were few Christians in Agrigento up to the death of King William II, who died in 1189). What might the scarcity of monasteries in these areas suggest about the intentions of the founders of monasteries in Norman Sicily vis-a-vis this (non-Christian) population?
How might the relationship between the Norman rulers and the Basilian monks have functioned differently in Sicily, which was dominated by Muslims before their invasion, than it did on the southern Italian mainland, where historically Basilian monks acted as agents of political and cultural influence on behalf of Byzantine emperors attempting to assert control in the region?