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The Saint and the City. S. BENEDICT THE MOOR of Palermo

In Italiano

Devotion and Rituality in the Worship of Saints
Thursday December 11, 3:30 p.m.


Alessandro Dell'Aira


The Black Saint and the Rosary. Devotion and Representation.

There is a relationship between the Black world and the Catholic rosary which has existed for more than four centuries. This connection originated at the beginning of the modern era with the slave trade between Africa, Europe and the New World, and is still very prevalent in Brazil where African ethnic groups make up a considerable portion of the population.
Even before Columbus’s expeditions, Dominican and Franciscan monks were converting Spanish and Portughese slaves through their confraternities (hermandades/irmandades). From the second decade of the XVII century on, particularly in Brazil, "The Rosary and the Black Men", "The Rosary and St. Benedict" and the "St. Benedict" confraternities spread thanks to the work of Friars Minor and Franciscan Tertiaries. The name and cult of Benedetto Manasseri da San Fratello, who became the first black canonical saint in 1807, was included in this evangelical activity, which has become common knowledge in Europe only in the last few years. The Sicilian born son of African parents, Benedetto Manasseri was first a hermit then a lay friar of the reformed minor order of St. Francis of Assisi, and died in Palermo in 1589. This devotion to a "saint of the earth" was one of the many channels through which the syncretism of symbolic substitutions emerged and materialized, from African religions and pre-Hispanic myths to Catholicism. To cite only a few: the Virgen del Cerro de Potosi, in Bolivia, and the saints identified with the orixas mediators between man and the God of the heavens in Brazil. It can be suggested that the rosary introduced to the black population as an alternative to the ifa, an African divination instrument, from the second half of the XV century, is another example of substitution. Various forms of representation (verbal, figurative, theatrical) portray this event, whose complexity the study will attempt to convey without being influenced by ethnocentric views or preconceived ideas.
An unpublished document can be found in the appendix: the Statute of Irmandade de Sao Benedito, signed by Salvador da Bahia in 1777. 


Alessandro Dell’Aira studied in Palermo at the school Eugenio Manni, a scholar of classical history. He was a cultural attaché and regent of the Italian Cultural Institute in Lisbon from 1991 to 1993, and headmaster of the Italian high school Enrico Fermi of Madrid from 1993 to 1997. He is currently headmaster of a secondary school in Trent, Italy.In 1993 Alessandro Dell’Aira published Il gufo e il mago in Oporto, on Fernando Pessoa’s esotericism. He also edited the first Italian edition of the comedy by Lope de Vega, El santo negro Rosambuco de la ciudad de Palermo (Palumbo 1995), with an introduction containing two preliminary studies on the historical figure of Benedetto Manasseri of San Fratello.


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