Sunday, March 21, 2010

St. Agostino

An almost hidden treasure in the popular tourist spot of Taormina in Sicily is the folk art museum. It is hidden in plain site on the floor above the main tourist office in the square where one turns to walk up to the massive Greek Theater. Virtually every tourist who visits Taormina walks by the tourist office, and indeed, walks by the folk art museum, but it seems that few people know it is there, and even fewer take the time to climb the stairs and take a look.

Fran and I found it by accident one day, and we returned several times. One of our favorite parts of the displays was a collection of paintings depicting several near tragedies. On each painting the artist had explained the story, with captions that translated (very loosely) to things like: On March 8, 1654 a fishing boat was swamped by a storm in the straits of Messina, but thanks to the prayers of the crew to St. Drowning, all hands were saved. Or On a sunny day in May of 1794, a group of children walking across a field were set upon by wild dogs. They prayed for the intervention of St. Gatto, and the dogs left them unharmed. Or perhaps A boat sank in the sea off Gardino Naxos on February 2nd, 1836, and thanks to the prayers and intervention of St. Pisces, no one drowned.

The paintings were done in the style of true folk art, and we thought them interesting, and extremely expressive. You can imagine my surprise when I went into the St. Agostino Church in Sciacca and found a similar collection of paintings. Of course the Church of St. Agostino is named after the great St. Augustine, of whom Bob Dylan, among others dreamed, and who spent some time in Sciacca as he travelled from Africa to Rome, only to be followed by his mother, St. Monica, who doggedly wanted to convert him back to Catholicism.

However, the paintings in Sciacca were different in one important aspect. Here, the paintings of ships foundering off the coast were accompanied by very different stories. On May 3, 1652 a ship with 6 fisherman sunk off the coast of Sciacca, and despite the prayers to St. Bubbles, all hands perished. Or On November 18, 1784, two men fell overboard from a ship in heavy seas in the Sicilian Channel, and despite prayers to the Holy Cousin, they were never found.

So it was not always good news that the paintings reported, but it was a way of keeping track of some of the history of the area. History and folk art, what a combination, and what a collection.

All of the photos in this post were taken at St. Agostino's in Sciacca. The folk art museum in Taormina does not allow photography.


Anonymous Christiane said...

My husband and I visited the Sicilian folk art museum when we were in Taormina in 2006; the ex voto paintings were my favorite part of the trip. The poor signora who was assaulted by a pack of rabid cats in her own home, and the young dandy who got a tennis ball lodged in his eye, I still remember them. They were darkly comical and the detail they were painted in was incredible. If the museum made postcards of these paintings for sale, as American art museums do with their paintings, they'd bring in quite a bit of revenue!

6:02 PM  

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