There Weren't Many Nuns in Norman Sicily

*We have added St. Angelo of Prizzi, attested as early as 1161, to the male count as the house’s colonization by nuns from Tripoli, Syria also took place at the rather late date of 1188, suggesting that it had spent the majority of its time during the Norman period as a male establishment.

The obvious takeaway from this chart is that female communities made up just 7% (12 of 169) of the monasteries whose genders are known. The imbalance is striking. The reason why there were so few nuns relative to monks may be revealed by a closer look at the female communities, particularly their locations.

*The locations’ designations have been taken from the Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi’s Arabic text. King Roger II commissioned Idrisi to write the Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq fī ikhtirāq al-āfāq (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 studeant” (Leiden: Brill, 19[70]-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.

Preliminary Conclusions

The vast majority of the female houses (10 of 12 or 83%) were located in or near Mazara (1), Messina (4), Palermo (4) or Syracuse (1), all of which Idrisi calls “cities” (villes). Another existed in an unknown location in Corleone, a bourgade fortifiée (small fortified town) which Idrīsī describes as well-defended and inaccessible; indeed, it was protected by at least four fortifications during the Norman period: al-Khazân, Calatabusammara, Corleone and Qal’at at Tariq. The last of the known female monasteries was in Adrano, which Idrīsī describes as a village.

In the cases of San Michele di Mazara, a Basilian house, and Santa Lucia di Adernò (present-day Adrano), we can calculate the distance between the monasteries and the fortifications that protected them. The nuns in Mazara lived approximately 1167 feet from the castle (coordinates 37.65030,12.59115).