Italian Palermo Inquisition cells open to the public

This video is the Spanish inquisition, by British comedians Monty Python.

From ANSA news agency in Italy:

Palermo opens Inquisition cells

Prisoners’ graffiti and artwork attract fresh interest

Palermo, October 5 – The cell in which a monk turned on his torturer during the Inquisition and killed him is opening to the public this weekend as part of renovation work on former jail cells in the Sicilian city of Palermo.

Graffiti by prisoners held in the Steri complex, once the Inquisition’s Palermo headquarters, has attracted the attention of historians for some years. But there has been a flurry of fresh excitement in recent weeks, with news that experts have discovered the cell in which the legendary Diego La Matina committed murder.

From 1601 till 1782, the Inquisition tortured, tried and killed countless prisoners in the Steri prison yet only La Matina turned the tables on his captors. The story of the tortured monk, immortalized by the Italian writer Leonardo Sciascia in one of his novels, tells that La Matina was charged with heresy and bound with chains.

While being tortured, however, he snapped, and turned on the famous inquisitor Don Juan Lopez De Cisneros, striking him with his chains and killing him.

The well-known story has now received corroboration through the discovery of a document in the Inquisition archive in Madrid. “The document, which was originally sent from Palermo to Madrid to report the killing of the inquisitor, has helped us identify the precise room where the murder took place,” explained the head of the restoration team, Domenico Policarpi.

“We have also discovered the stairs that linked the area to the main Steri building, which the inquisitor’s secretary used to escape and sound the alarm”. The identification of the cell is the latest in a series of spectacular discoveries made by the team working on the complex.

Sections of the graffiti were first discovered in the early 1900s by the historian Giuseppe Pitre, who rescued them from destruction, but it is only in recent years that experts have started methodically uncovering the walls in search of past lives.

While prison graffiti is not uncommon, the Palermo complex is considered unique. This is because inscriptions left by inmates are usually anonymous but many of those held in the Palermo cells left invaluable details that are helping experts reconstruct their lives, including names and dates.

Among those identified so far are Francesco Mannarino, who was held in the prison in 1610, and Paolo Majorana, who was there in 1681.

Another fascinating detail is the artwork completed by the inmates.

Workers have painstakingly scraped off centuries of plaster to reveal massive paintings covering entire walls, coloured with dung, excrement, fragments of terracotta and possibly egg yolks.

Images of Christ and the various saints, vie for space with prayers, imprecations, personal stories and the memories of those incarcerated there.

Anyone imprisoned in the jail was unlikely to emerge alive, as the Inquisition was notoriously ruthless with suspected heretics, soothsayers and blasphemers.

“However, many of the victims were simply intellectuals or artists whom the Church considered a threat to its power,” explained Policarpi. The discoveries by the team working on the site are particularly valuable to historians, as Viceroy Domenico Caracciolo ordered all the Inquisition’s documents burned in 1782.

Work to convert the complex into a museum began in 2004 and should be completed next year.

The museum, which will eventually include a library, auditorium and documentation centre, will be unique, as these are the only surviving testimonies of Inquisition victims anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile, visitors to Palermo can get a foretaste of the cells’ grim treasures when they temporarily open to the public in October as part of the city’s Via dei Tesori initiative. Sections of the complex will be open for four weekends in October, from 10am until 6pm. Entry is free.

How the Vatican destroyed the Knights Templar: here.

Senso, film by Luchino Visconti on 19th century Italy: here.

17 thoughts on “Italian Palermo Inquisition cells open to the public

  1. June 30 2009

    Python classic Life of Brian to be shown in Glasgow for first time

    Monty Python comedy classic Life of Brian is to be screened in a Glasgow cinema for the first time.

    And members of the Monty Python cast and crew are to be invited to attend a special screening in Glasgow Film Theatre.

    When Life of Brian was released 30 years ago this year it was described as a motion picture destined to offend nearly two thirds of the civilized world and severely annoy the other third.

    In 1980 Glasgow councillors agreed and refused to allow it the 15′ certificate agreed by the British Board of Film Censors.

    Instead they insisted it could only be shown as an X’ rated adult movie resulting in it never being screened in the city.

    The licensing committee has now overturned that decision following a request by GFT which wants to mark the 30th anniversary of the film’s release.

    Life of Brian, which was written by and starred the Monty Python team, is an irreverent satire of Biblical films and religious intolerance.

    It focuses on Brian, played by Graham Chapman, who is born in the same era and location as Jesus Christ and is subsequently mistaken for the Messiah.

    Allison Gardner, head of cinemas at GFT, wrote councillors asking them to allow the movie to be screened.

    Her letter said: “In the three decades since the film was first shown, Life of Brian has been universally acknowledged as a true British classic.

    “It is frequently voted one of the funniest films ever made and has earned widespread respect as an example of the beloved Monty Python comedy team at the peak of their creative powers.

    “The film has been widely available to the general public on video and DVD and has been screened on terrestial television.

    “None of these events has caused widespread offence or in any way destroyed the sanctity of the church or undermined its place in our wider society.

    “I believe the film is seen as an affectionate and inspired depiction of the life of Jesus from a perspective that is humorous rather than intentionally blasphemous.

    “Given the passage of time and the status of the film, I wonder if you might consider it being an appropriate moment to consider this request to overturn the ban on screening the film in Glasgow cinemas.”

    Councillors agreed overwhelmingly to the GFT request and Willie O’Rourke, vice convener of the licensing and regulatory committee, said: “This is the first application we have received to show Monty Python’s Life of Brian since the first request back in 1980.

    “Life of Brian has been broadcast on television over the years and is now widely available on DVD.

    “The world, and people’s attitudes, have moved on in the last 30 years, so I believe the committee made the right decision.”

    Seonaid Frame, GFT press officer, said all the cast and crew of Life of Brian will be invited to a special screening of the film in September.

    She added: “The exact date of the screening will depend on our guests.

    “It will be a gala event but a very small number of tickets will be set aside for guests and the rest will be available to the public.

    “We have 394 seats in GFT and it will be a sell out and if there is a lot of demand we would be open to bringing it back.”


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