Religion in Poggioreale: Churches and Priests


This people is Catholic by tradition, one goes to mass on Sundays and on feast days, and religious holidays are held with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance. The celebration of holy week by the devoted is admirable for its devotional serenity; in general there is respect for the church. There are no non-sacramental marriages or infants that have not been properly baptized; the remains of those who die are always taken to the church for funeral services. The church’s assistance is requested for the dying and all Christians pray for the dying when the final agony comes. Missionaries and nuns are welcomed and respected, and the arrival of the Bishop in town for a holy visit is always a special day of joy. In this respect, we recall that when the news arrived of the very recent dismemberment of our diocese (Mazara del Vallo) mutilated of the towns of Alcamo, Castellammare del Golfo, Calatafimi, Vita, Borgo Fazio, the town council of the time made a resolution no. 30 dated August 20, 1950, that can be called a respectful cry of both protest and of sorrow, proof of the attachment of the locals to the Diocese and to the Bishop.

During the principle feast days: that of the Holy Crucifix, which is celebrated on the day of the Ascension, and for that of Saint Anthony of Padua, Patron of the town, there is a universal explosion of enthusiasm, the entire population joyously taking part, along with financial support from the town’s well-to-do. The majority goes to mass on Sundays, however not everyone observes the Sabbath. Here anti-religious thinking has not caught on.

A few years ago a Protestant missionary set to work in Poggioreale, taking up temporary residency, attempting to found a sect. He held meetings, mostly in the evenings, instructing with his Bible in hand, reading and commenting. He had a few initiates, a baptismal scene at the river, group songs and prayers… When his stipend ran out, that insane religious movement faded away, and when the missionary left, it all finished right then and there. The so-called initiates, mortified and repentant, filled with remorse, returned to their first religious devotions; they were rather low-class people.

There are three priests who live in town; one man from our town is at Castelvetrano in the parish of Saint John: he is Can. Prof. Antonino Salvaggio, parish priest of tire monumental Church of Saint John the Baptist.

Once the town had 18 priests at the same time, among whom, Priests of well-deserved fame are: Father Michael of Poggioreale, Capuchin (Michele Cangialosi), who died December 30, 1789, a philosopher, whose manuscripts are kept in this Municipal Library which is named “Arc. N. Caronna.”

Priest Nunzio Ingoglia, who died in Mazara, a profound humanist and theologian, professor of dogma and ecclesiastical law at the Seminary of Mazara del Vallo.

Priest Antonio Verardi, doctor of theology, professor of philosophy and law at the diocese seminary.

Archpriest Vincenzo Caronna (the first of that family name), doctor of law and theology, called the astro lurmnoso (sinning star).

Priest Giuseppe Caronna Agosta, a man of letters, a lively poet, worthy philosopher, our greatest glory, best of the seminary and an honor to the diocese. The elementary schools of the towns have taken his name; he left very valuable manuscripts in prose and in verse, not all complete, with some in fragments. He died April 30, 1872.

The esteemed Dr. Nunzio Caronna, who was born in Poggioreale on April 20, 1861 and died at 12 noon on August 23, 1928, Archpriest of Poggioreale beginning on September 4, 1894. Founder of the municipal Library’ that bears his name. He was the honored father confessor, who was referred to as an honored member of the Church Congregation of Mazara, for a contest he won at a very young age. He came out of the Monreale Academy after studying under the eminent masters: Fiorenza, Marotta, Soldano, Polizzi, Vaglica. He was a Professor of moral theology, canon law and ecclesiastic history in the Mazara Seminary. A member of the Historical Society of Palermo, Member of the Opera “Our Contemporaries of Rome”, doctor ad honorem in philosophy and letters from the Institute of Higher Studies of Madrid, member of the Academy of Guatemala, Pastor of the Arcadia, Rome, with the name: Finarco Enopeio. He left very valuable manuscripts. Author of many publications of theological, philosophical, literary, historic nature, and books of holy contemplation. Philosopher of great breadth and height and of profound thought, incisive Poet, fresh and delicate while revealing in free expression and potentiality of vigorous, warm, artistic form; his volume of poetry Fiori Sparsi [Flowers Strewn] was awarded by the literary Chronicles in 1920.

A novelist of fine and lively imagination, with vivid descriptions, acute and profound critiques. Gifted with erudite and fascinating speech, his was an imposing gift as a brilliant and improvisational orator who whipped up his audiences to delirium. This Archpriest has been called: “Pastor and Father of his people, zealous, hard-working, magnanimous, munificent.” A man of energy, who enjoyed prestige and, strong and brave in his responsible authority, always triumphed and obtained respect for his liberty and the rights of the Parish. Greatly admired, esteemed and grieved.

We must also note the names of the two Capuchin Fathers: Father Salvatore (Antonino Monticciolo), who died on March 21, 1903, meritorious because his sage advice helped to found the institution of the Cangialosi Girls Orphanage; the other is Father Giambattista (Francesco Calamia), who died on December 4, 1885, zealous Capuchin Preacher, very esteemed in his Order; P. Gandolfo da Polizzi has written of him.

Regarding the churches of Poggioreale, very little new can be said since they have been so thoroughly described in the history by Archpriest Nunzio Caronna in the volume “Memorie Stonche” [“Historic Memories”] (F.lli Marsala Editors, Palermo 1901). Here follows simply a mention about recent developments.

The sacramental Church of Saint Anthony of Padua, is the continuation of the tiny shrine dedicated to the Saint even before the town was founded. Every detail of its construction is explained in the publication “ll Culto di S. Antonio di Padova in Poggioreale” [“Worshipers of Saint Anthony of Padua in Poggioreale”] (published by Boccone del Povero, Palermo 1938).

We will briefly mention the large increase in the worshipers of Santa Rita da Cascia, a name that is new to Poggioreale, as the statue has only been displayed since 1930. Of artistic works, we mention the gold Ostensorium, 21 inches tall, whose halo rays have a diameter of 12 inches, with a weight of 3 and a half pounds, all finely embossed. In order to ensure stability, silver votive offerings have been fused to the base. The marvelous Ostensorium is the result of the welding of all the votive offerings given to the Saint.

During his first Holy Visit to Poggioreale, in the church of Saint Anthony of Padua, his excellency Monsignor Gioacchino Di Leo, Archbishop, while admiring the collection of gold votive offerings, proposed that the creation of an Ostensorium be undertaken. On March 24, 1955, the votive offerings were personally delivered to the above-mentioned Archbishop in Mazara by the Rector Can. Francesco Aloisio, along with the Mayor Nicolo Tamburello. The Archbishop thoughtfully gave the verbal order that it be honored with his esteemed signature.

The casting took place in Palermo, in the presence of the Archbishop and the Rector Can. Aloisio, on April 20, 1955. The valuable work was accomplished by the silversmith-artist Giuseppe Perricone Marano.

By order of the Archbishop the Ostensorium was unveiled in the Saint’s church on the feast of the Corpus Domini, on June 9, 1995, generating universal enthusiasm in town: the Rector Can. Aloisio presided over the celebration, assisted by the Priest G. La Rocca.

An inscription was engraved on the base: “Chiesa di S. Antonio di Padova. Poggioreale 1955 – ex voti – Rettore Can. Francesco Aloisio” [“Church of Saint Anthony of Padua. Poggioreale 1955 – ex voti – Rector Can. Francesco Aloisio”].

In the publication cited above “11 Quito di S. Antonio di Padova in Poggioreale” the author had spoken of the utility of employing those votive offerings which were like a dead body and certainly not without concerns for the responsibility on the part of the Rectors of the church (as cited, pp. 98-99).

The sculptor of the statue of Saint Anthony was not Bagnasco, as is written on page 96 in the volume ‘Il Culto di S. Antonio di Padova in Poggioreale” but on the contrary, it was Vincenzo Genovese, as may be seen on the sculptor’s written autograph which was found after the publication.

The Church of Jesus and Mary is sacramental; it appeared in 1745, rectored by the Rev. Priest Impastato, brother of the Priest Antonino who was the first in town to think of the foundation of a hospital. Again here is found the group of the statues of Jesus and Mary along with statues of Saint Joseph and of Saint Calogero; the flooring of the church, the main altar, and the altar to the Madonna have been constructed ex novo; since about a year ago, there is a golden crown on Jesus’ head.

The Church of the Addolorata was rebuilt in 1658, restored in 1748.

The Oratorium of the Holy Sacrament, which flourished long ago due to the attentions of a numerous brotherhood, in the year 1863 was converted to a barracks for the local town police; after very few years it was again opened to the holy order and since then was used exclusively by them. Due to a lack of Priests for many years it no longer serves as a religious residence.

The Church of Purgatory, erected in 1752, lost its purpose as a church when it was ceded by the Bishop, who, with an official note number 6, of November 24, 1927, directed it to the town’s Prefecture Commissary, upon the request of the local political secretary, with deliberation number 49 of August 16, authorizing the expense to adapt it to its new purpose. The altars were demolished, the choir remained an empty room with a large window to the south, separated from the church sanctuary with a wall. In the two connected rooms all the activities of the local Fascist party office were carried out, and by then every trace of the church has been eradicated.

In the year 1943, in June, mad men burned all the papers collected there, while they made a clean sweep and divided among themselves the valuable furniture. So that, when the Americans finally set foot here, they occupied the Fascist party office, using it for a military police office. After the Americans left, a mobile altar was brought in for celebrating mass on feast days, in the room outside the former choir room. There are worrisome structural problems; cracks in the main walls and the collapse of the roof; the structure was short-lived, considering the age of its construction, as min threatens, and it is dangerous to even be inside it.

Nevertheless, this Church dedicated to the Holy Saints of Purgatory is still very dear to the hearts of the Poggiorealesi. It could be rebuilt from its sturdy foundation, since it is in fact restorable. Because of its central location it was very convenient and therefore frequented by the faithful.

The old Rectors celebrated Masses for the dead there, the functions of Holy Week and First Mondays, and for public charity gathered monthly in town with the very emotional invitation:

“cu’ avi parintuzzi morti chiama!”

The Matrice Church assumed its canonical structure when it separated from Gibellina on July 14, 1779. The east corner of the facade has recently been refurbished.

The silver Ciborium (Pyx) in the Matrice is of great artistic merit, with richly and strikingly baroque engraving, gold-plating, fired, 16 1/2 inches tall, weighing 4 pounds. From the inscription we read that it was donated by the Archpriest Dr. Nunzio Carolina to the Matrice in the Holy year 1900. Also found here is the gilded silver chalice, 16th century style, 12 inches high, cup diameter 3.85 inches, weighing 640 grams, baroque, finely embossed, which was offered to the Archpriest Nunzio Caronna in 1919 for his Silver Anniversary as Archpriest, from the Committee, presided over by the Mayor of the time, who promoted those sumptuous honors.

The others churches mentioned above are all directly subject to the Bishop of the Diocese who oversees them according to canon law 480.

The church of the Convent, the center for the followers of the Madonna Ascended into Heaven and of the Holy Crucifix, is esteemed for the works of art that we will recall here, and has always remained dear to the Poggiorealesi who look upon it with sweet nostalgia.

There is nothing of the architectural or monumental in Poggioreale. In the church of the convent just mentioned, the 13-foot tall painting depicting the Ascension of the Virgin is admired, at the bottom of which San Francis of Assisi is shown in an ecstatic stance; the painting is the work of Father Fedele da San Biagio. Brother Felice da Sambuca (Gioacchino Viscosi, who died on December 14, 1805) was a worthy painter of valuable paintings in Sicily and beyond, of whom Scaturro has often spoken, and is also the artist of the painting depicting the ecstasy of Saint Anthony of Padua and of the two medallions of the Madonna of the Chair. Other artistic works worthy of mention are the Reliquary or Case, as high as the cornice, all in carved cypress, a symmetrical and perfect work with drawers adorned by excellent carving work. It contains 174 Relics, 154 given by Signora Maria Teresa Bonanno, Princess of Poggioreale, with the donation of August 9, 1755, drafted by notary Onofrio Saldo of Palermo.

Again, the Tabemaculum of cypress and ebony, made lovely by very fine, delicate carving, surmounted by an imperial crown, also of cypress and artistically sculpted with fine drapery. Inside this crown with its drapery the statuette of San Francis of Assisi is shown, about 24 inches tall, finely sculpted; the interior of the Tabemaculum is inlaid with mother-of-pearl; in front of it on both sides are the statuettes of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, about 9 inches tall, beautifully wrought, each towering between two columns of ebony. The artist Brother Riccardo from Palermo, ebony artist (Felice Pirrone, who died December 23, 1871); has been written about at length by Rosario Tirrito (Palermo, Priulla Press, 1911). Both Case and Tabemaculum were produced in the year 1817.

In addition to the above-described painting of the Assumption, other paintings of the same size were dedicated, according to the occasion, to cover the Reliquary described above, putting them on display each year on the appropriate feast day. This onerous movement of the paintings was accomplished with a hand winch installed behind the main altar, whose cords served to raise and lower the canvases held in a roll. These paintings, it seems, are accredited to the renowned artist Brother Felice of Sambuca, as mentioned. In the same church on its own altar stands the Crucifix sculpted in cypress, life-size, delivered in 1755 and is the work of the meritorious sculptor Brother Benedetto of Trapani (Michele Valenza, who died August 4, 1790). The work is of great value, and is so perfect that it inspires religious contrition. Father Gandolfo of Polizzi speaks of the esteemed sculptor Brother Benedetto.

A colossal work in terms of construction is the great basin, 115 feet long, 31 feet wide, 16.5 feet deep, built between 1759 and 1769 by the master builder architect Brother Leone of Poggioreale, who died in the infirmary of Palermo on November 12, 1776. The work is truly colossal and of architectural merit, visited and admired by experts.

A new statue was introduced and blessed in the Hospital Chapel on August 25, 1955, made of heavy pressed paper board, of the Immaculate Virgin, to substitute for the previous one which had been ruined by the humidity.

Of art there is little else to be seen given that the town does not date from ancient times, but has existed for only about 314 years.

[This webpage is excerpted from the book: “The History of Poggioreale, Sicily – From 1640 to 1956.” Originally written in Italian by: Canonico Dottore Francesco Aloisio in 1956. Adapted and translated by: Dr. Jeremiah P. Spence, Ph.D. of Austin, Texas. 5th Edition. International Order of Genealogists Publishing. Ireland. 2019. ISBN: 9781072403371. The book can be purchased online at: ]