The Enemy Within: Church, State, Freemasonry, and the Mafia

The Enemy Within: Church, State, Freemasonry, and the Mafia

How fascism moved from left to right, and the Mafia’s enduring relationship with Freemasonry.

The historic relationship between the Mafia and Freemasonry is a fascinating one, for the role that its members have taken in world events. It’s a story that unfolds over centuries, crosses oceans, and takes many turns. But once I started asking the internet about connections between Freemasonry and the Mafia, it wasn’t long before I was neck deep in conspiracy theories about shadow governments run by corrupt pagan cultists in high places. What is true about the relations among Church, state, Mafia, and Freemasonry?

Some connections—like those between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry—are discredited. But sometimes true stories get lumped in with those that can’t possibly be true. The Mafia and Freemasonry, although both secret organizations, are not centrally governed, making the “New World Order” under their totalitarian rule, a dystopian fantasy, not a reasonable conclusion based on the facts. What has been true through much of their shared history in Italy, is that Freemasonry has been a shield behind which the elites in politics, business, and criminal enterprise meet in brotherhood and secrecy, allowing corruption to flourish.

Freemasonry today distinguishes work in stone—operative masonry—from the culture that developed through lodges, known as speculative masonry. The organization we know today as Freemasonry is believed by most historians to have evolved out of medieval guilds of master stonemasons. The term “freemason” originally referred to the advanced, operative masonry skill to shape decorative stone. From the late 17th century, lodges of speculative Freemasons—men who studied the principles of organized, operating freemasons, and applied their philosophies in other aspects of their lives—began to organize in Scotland and England. By the early 18th century, leadership of the Freemasons in the UK became the domain of the nobility. At the same time, American colonial leaders including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were active Freemasons.

Freemasonry is organized into independent Orients and Lodges, by geographical location. No group or individual rules over all Freemasons. Some bodies within Freemasonry do not recognize one another. Propaganda Due (P2), for example, was a Masonic lodge operating under the Grand Orient of Italy from 1945-1976, when its charter was withdrawn. It continued to operate covertly until 1981. The banking scandal of Michele Sindona was linked with P2.

Instead, members share bonds forged by a common authoritarian culture, and mutual recognition of rules and values. Salvatore Lupo says Freemasonry and the Mafia are similar, both by design and membership overlap. Both organizations share values of humility, a respect for the rules, and for the hierarchy. Like Freemasonry, the Mafia is made up of local organizations that are independently run, but share alliances and concerns with other families, or cosci.

Since before Freemasonry’s introduction to Sicily during the Napoleonic wars, the Catholic Church has considered Masonic membership a violation of Catholic values. As early as 1738, Pope Clement XII denounced Freemasonry, and membership remains grounds for excommunication. The Church argues that the fraternal organization teaches deism, a belief in a kind of Creator as Engineer of the Universe, which precludes such concepts as grace, in the Catholic sense of all help coming from G-d. Freemasonry requires its membership to believe in a creator, but does not further specify what relationship people should have with such an entity, making membership open, from the organization’s perspective, to a wide array of faiths. The Mafia, at least in legend, began as a mutual aid society. Masons, too, swear an oath of loyalty to help fellow members. But the Church calls for men to seek such help from G-d.

In Catholic countries, the Church competes with the state for power, particularly in periods of liberal rule, when the Church and its clergy tend to have their roles limited. The land seizures from the Church by the state, even in the Bourbon period, benefited the mafia, who were positioned to rig auctions, and had the capital to buy formerly Church-held land as it came onto the market. Liberal periods of rule after the Risorgimento also correlated with greater levels of political corruption. The lodge was where politicians, business leaders, and criminals, all at the highest levels in their fields, could meet on a level playing ground, under neutral auspices. During periods of state repression, Masons met publicly, but under other names, such as the “Centro Sociologico Italiano.”

Yet it was a vertical alignment of social classes, from high to low, that Salvatore Lupo argues made the Mafia possible in western Sicily. At the turn of the 19th century, Sicilians learned the principles of the French Revolution from Napoleon’s armies. An Italian sect of Freemasons known as the Carbonari, or “charcoal burners,” emerged, the name a reference to a now-illicit activity common among peasants, of burning wood to make charcoal in the baron’s woods. Sicily’s anti-Bourbon nobles flocked to the Carbonari and found themselves imprisoned for sedition.

Lupo writes, “According to a document dated 1818, the distinction between freemasonry and carboneria was the openness of the carboneria movement to the lower classes, to the ‘good craftsman, [to] the honest farmer,’ perhaps even to the ‘common riff-raff.'” In prison, the seditious barons shared their ideas with the men they met there, who spread the radical idea among other mafiosi. The Carbonari were singled out for excommunication by Pope Pius VII after they played a key role in the uprisings of 1820-21.

Foto_di_Giuseppe_Mazzini_dal_Fondo_Comandini,_Biblioteca_Malatestiana
Giuseppe Mazzini

One of the Italian Carbonari, and a 33rd Degree Freemason, was Giuseppe Mazzini. By the 1830s, he had founded Young Italy, a secret movement organized around the principle of “Italian unification as a liberal republic.” Despite his use of the term “liberal,” by most analyses Mazzini’s politics are on the far right of the political spectrum. He called for “class collaboration,” a vertical alignment of social classes, to use Lupo’s phrase, that made Mazzini “an enemy of both communism and capitalism.” (Karl Marx, on more than one occasion, called Mazzini a reactionary old ass.)

Vincenzo Bentivegna of Corleone was influenced by Mazzini’s ideas, and began to spread his philosophy among other young people who were, like him, the children of Carbonari. The Marquis of Chiozi, Ferdinando Firmaturi, of the only noble family that lived in Corleone at this time, was converted by Vincenzo. Don Giuseppe Catinella, who would later represent the district in Palermo, was a Carbonaro. One of his close friends and advisors was Francesco Bentivegna, a cousin of Vincenzo’s, and an ardent Republican revolutionary.

However, the revolution of 1848 was not successful. The mafia, initially supporters, switched sides and were rewarded by the Bourbon king with lucrative government contracts. By 1856, the Bentivegna brothers, and the revolution they came to represent, had been betrayed, the brothers themselves imprisoned, or killed.

Another follower of Mazzini’s ideas, Giuseppe Garibaldi was inducted into Freemasonry in 1844, while in exile, and used his networks of Freemasons and socialists, among others, to gain support for Italian unification. Garibaldi conquered Sicily in 1860, but he no longer believed, as Mazzini wrote, that popular insurrection was the only way to unite Italy. Instead, Garibaldi handed the conquest of the Thousand to Piedmont, who he believed was the only force powerful enough to unite Italy against foreign rule. Francis Marion Crawford gives credit elsewhere. In his nonfictional account, Rulers of the South, he writes that “when the Mafia joined Garibaldi, the Bourbons fell.” (There is a third theory of Garibaldi’s success in Sicily, which credits the saints of Corleone.)

The term “fascism” was originally applied to organisations on the political Left. “Fasci” are bundles of sticks, like in the parable. Band together, like a bundle of sticks tied together, and no one can break you. The Fasci Siciliani was a peasant movement to organize labor, similar to the guilds of master tradesmen. The term was subverted to serve Mazzini’s far-right political agenda during World War I, when Benito Mussolini founded the Fascist party in Italy.

Bernardino Verro (my third cousin, three times removed) was an early labor organizer, and Corleone native. In the summer of 1893, he hosted a labor conference in Corleone. That was also the year Verro joined the Fratuzzi, the local mafia, to “give teeth” to his labor unions. Their relationship was strained from the start, with Verro’s organizing in direct opposition to the concerns of the nobility, which were protected by the Mafia. A year and a half after taking office as the first Socialist mayor of Corleone, Verro was killed, in November 1915. “Socialist carpenter” Carmelo lo Cascio (no known relation by blood, though he is by marriage) replaced him as mayor. Although there was a trial, there were no indictments for Verro’s murder.

Although the Mafia and the Fascists were both on the Right, politically, they were in opposition to one another. The Fascist regime in Italy was strongly opposed to the Mafia—authoritarians do not like competition—and nearly destroyed the organization during WWII. In the 1920s, hundreds fled Sicily to avoid arrest. Not only the Mafia, but Freemasonry was also suppressed. The latter became a dog whistle for the former. Angelo di Carlo, who is later called an architect of the Mafia in Sicily after WWII, went to New York during the purges of the Twenties. Shortly after his arrival, the Italian government accused him of the politically motivated murder of a Fascist in Palermo. Rather than call him a member of the Mafia, the Fascists call di Carlo an opponent of Fascism and “a member of the Masonic fraternity.” This is a strange set of accusations, unless you’re keeping track of political alliances.

When the Allies occupied Sicily during WWII, the Mafia regained power because they were the only ones who “had no compromising dalliances with the Fascist regime.” Di Carlo began his involvement in a decades-long money laundering conspiracy that was later discovered in an investigation of Vito Ciancimino, mayor of Corleone in the early 1970s. The Fascists were again in control of Italy at this time, planting bombs to frighten the public away from the liberal philosophies spreading on college campuses. The government called di Carlo, who died in prison awaiting trial in 1967, an anarchist and a deserter during WWI.

In recent years, the Italian government has voiced the opinion that Masonic affiliation continues to provide criminals with networking contacts in every field. In 2013, Father Alexander Lucie-Smith made some remarks in the Catholic Herald, about the mafia in masonic organizations, that serve the same caution when applied to the state, or even to the culture. “Italian masonry is strongly identified with big business and banking, and the powerful secretive elites that are supposed to be the ‘real’ government of the country,” Father Lucie-Smith writes. “Masonry is also seen as strongly anti-clerical; thus a masonic lobby in the Vatican would be opposed to virtually everything the Church stands for, and a real enemy within.”

 

Sources:

Silvia Bentivegna. La Rivoluzione del 1848-49. Accessed http://www.bentivegnanellastoria.it/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=352:la-rivoluzione-del-1848-49&Itemid=250 21 July 2015.

Commissione Parlamentare d’inchiesta sul fenomeno della mafia e sulle altre associazioni criminali similari (CPA: Commissione Parlamentare Antimafia) Relazione sui Rapporti tra Mafia e Politica, Page 59, Roma, 1993.

Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith. “Most of us would laugh at the idea of a masonic mafia at work in the Vatican. I’m not sure that we should.” Catholic Herald. Published 30 July 2013. Accessed at http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2013/07/30/most-of-us-would-laugh-at-the-idea-of-a-masonic-mafia-at-work-in-the-vatican-im-not-sure-that-we-should/ on 8 March 2016.

“Man Arrested Here in Italian Murder.” 19 August 1927 New York Evening Post accessed at [fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html Fultonhistory.com] 26 February 2016.

Salvatore Lupo. History of the Mafia. Translated by Antony Shugaar. Columbia University Press, 2009.

Peter T. Schneider and Jane Schneider. Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo. University of California Press, 2003.

“Wealthy Italian Arrested Here As Slayer Of Fascist.” The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, Friday, August 19, 1927 edition. Page 16. Accessed [http://www.fultonhistory.com online] 26 February 2016.

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A stranger in this town

A stranger in this town

At the height of the cholera epidemic, a foiled Republican plot for independence leads to mob violence.

Strangers are the enemy in every story of Sicilian revolution. This is because the Sicilian story is one of constant invasion and foreign control. In 1282, during the Sicilian Vespers, anyone who looked or sounded French was killed. The shibboleth was “cece,” the local word for a common food staple, the chickpea. If a stranger could not pronounce the word, he was killed as a foreign invader.

The same fear of outsiders aroused by the Sicilian Vespers was inflamed by the cholera epidemic of 1837. In “The Betrothed,” (called “the most widely read work in the Italian language”) one of the lovers, Renzo Tramaglino, is taken for an “anointer” because he looks like a foreigner. An anointer was someone who, according to the rumor, was sent as an agent of the king, to poison the Sicilian populace with cholera. The story fueled an insurrection, which was violently suppressed by the Bourbon King Ferdinand II.

Early in the 19th century, laws regarding debt, land ownership, and the rights of leaseholders had oriented the agricultural marketplace toward short term gains that enriched an already ascendant class of gabelloti. In 1789 and 1820, estate managers had taken advantage of reforms to grab land and reinforce their power over landowners and the peasantry alike. Denis Mack Smith writes in his history of Sicily, “All the ingredients of the mafia were present [by 1831] except the word itself.”

In 1837 in Sicily, a liberal movement for independence from the Bourbon king was spreading among educated nobles like the Bentivegna family of Corleone, guildsmen, dissident groups including the Carbonari and Freemasons, and criminals, the latter of whom learned of the political movement in prison. The revolutionary leaders of 1848 and 1860, Francesco Bentivegna and Giuseppe Garibaldi, were both Republicans. In the year of Bentivegna’s revolt, 1848, there would be another outbreak of cholera, and again in 1867, but in 1837, when Francesco Bentivegna was seventeen years old, a third of his town fell ill, and half of those people died. That was the year he became a believer in Republicanism.

“Colera,” in Italian as well as in Spanish, has two meanings: the deadly disease caused by various strains of Vibrio cholerae, and emotional passion, which people once believed was caused by an excess of bile. In the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez uses the word’s double meaning to warn against the dangers of an excess of passion.

In the days when health was still a matter of balancing the bodily humors, cholera morbus was a catchall term for any kind of stomach flu. “Morbus” sounds worse in English than its meaning in Latin, which is simply “disease” or “ailment.” “Cholera” is derived from the Greek khole which means “illness from bile.”

“Asiatic cholera,” which is what we recognize today as the deadly disease, cholera, caused by various strains of Vibrio cholerae, used to be thought of as merely a more aggravated form of  cholera morbus. Before it spread to western Europe, Asiatic cholera was endemic to India, and spread through shipping ports. It was seen in England as early as the mid 17th century. It’s possible it was seen in Sicily before 1837, but this was the first time the disease spread to such devastating effect.

Patients infected with cholera died from a rapid depletion of bodily fluids, and as their bodies broke down, they exhibited the symptoms first of dehydration, and then of oxygen deficiency, which made their extremities cold and blue. At first, cholera victims thrashed and screamed, and their muscles spasmed. The disease was presumed to be spread by bad air, not contaminated water. Treatments included bloodletting, opiates, and mercury.

Within just a day in most cases, patients were exhausted and unresponsive. It was an agonizing death, and terrifying to behold. American medical records of the time reported bodies that twitched for hours after expiration. In a later cholera epidemic in Sicily, in 1888, the British Consul at Palermo reported that the people there had lived for some months in a state of “savage panic.”

***

King Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies took the throne in 1830. At first, he appeared to be a progressive ruler, like his grandfather and namesake, the first King Ferdinand of Sicily, son of the Bourbon king of Spain. He commissioned the Royal Palace of Ficuzza, the King’s hunting lodge in the Ficuzza woods, near Corleone.  

Ferdinand II opened institutions in support of the sciences, including agriculture and statistics, and built the first railroad, in mainland Italy. Garibaldi’s Thousand famously rode the train to Rome in 1860, but the Industrial Revolution would be slow to reach Sicily: the island would not have its first rail service for decades.

By 1835, the King had lost interest in remediating the island of his birth, and his rule veered right. He shut down clubs, and increased censorship of foreign books. Land reforms and a growing market in Russian and American wheat meant that for Sicilian peasants, bread and pasta were increasingly luxuries, and meat, rare: the typical Sicilian peasant subsisted on cactus fruit and chickpeas. Even natural resources were diminishing, due to poor land management that resulted in soil erosion, deforestation, and flooding. In times of great poverty, peasants increasingly turn to banditry. The early years of Ferdinand II’s reign were the years in which Rapanzino and his band were active, stealing cattle and hiding them near the King’s hunting grounds.

At this time, practically everything came from abroad. The basic necessities of life, from bricks to buttons, were imported. In June, 1837, the first to be affected by cholera were two sanitation guards in the port of Palermo, who the historian and priest, Don Giovanni Colletto tells us were also smugglers. The district attempted a quarantine by putting up barricades, but the disease swept through the city and out to the countryside, with the citizens who had fled the city, attempting to escape the epidemic. A rumor began circulating that “anointers,” agents of King Ferdinand II, were spreading the disease through their food.

In the minds of many Sicilians, the epidemic of 1837, a disease of unknown origin or cure, was fused to the known threat of Bourbon oppression. Cholera was called “the Bourbon disease.” (Italians called syphilis “the Spanish disease,” in much the same spirit.) Denis Mack Smith writes that even university professors (who were not the most highly educated) and the archbishop of Palermo (who might have been more so) believed cholera was spread by “anointers” from the mainland.

As part of their campaign against the rumor, the police published manifestos, ordinances, and posters correcting assumptions about the disease. This did not stop the lynch mobs, in towns throughout Sicily, from attacking suspected anointers. In Roccamena, close to Corleone, Colletto alludes to early signs of civil unrest: two citizens were held in a makeshift hospital, not because they were ill, but to protect them from rioting.

Word came to Corleone from Palermo on 12 June to take precautions against disease. Corleone established a cordon sanitaire around the city. In Don Pietro Scaglione’s fondaco (a marketplace/storage depot/hostel), near the church of San Antonio, there were ten people being held under observation. Other people suspected of illness were kept quarantined in their homes.

As the death tolls rose throughout the island, ordinary food supply channels were cut, towns closed their gates, and cities emptied. There was widespread hysteria, lynchings, and looting. People were dying from disease in Corleone. But on 1 July 1837, when the Church there recorded the event, they said they were suffering merely from cholera morbus.

On 21 July, violence broke out in Corleone. The town had been under a quarantine for more than a month. Maestro Gaetano Governali, his nineteen year old son, Giuseppe, and two more men, Ciro Boscarelli, and Leo lo Bue, were dragged to the Gatto bridge by a mob, beaten, and then shot to death with rifles. The main aggressors in the crowd were Giuseppe Catalinotto (called “Catinotto Moscoglione,” which is a rendering of his surname followed by a nickname that apparently means a weaver of spiderwebs), Liborio Perricone, Leoluca Milone, Simone Majuri (called “Maione” in two different accounts), and Benedetto Glorietti, all but the last, natives of Corleone. Two more men were murdered this day, according to the Church’s records of their deaths: Antonino Giaccone and Maestro Gesualdo Birritella.

Two days later, Antonio di Puma, who was called by the ingiuria “Lasagna,” was killed by Antonio Ciraulo. Also on the twenty-third, three women were killed by the nineteen year old Biagio Listi, called “Frattiglione (Frattaglione is a nickname and local place name) and his companion, 23 year old Simone Majuri, who was also involved in the killings on the Gatto bridge on the nineteenth. Their victims were Carmela Billera and two wives of the men killed: Maria Pomilla, the recent widow of Don Leo lo Bue, and Birritella’s widow, Angela Colletto. Another man killed this day was Don Ignacio Gennaro. Colletto tells us that the three women, and Di Puma, were all accused of spreading poison.

Catalinotto, Pirricone, Milone, Majuri, and Benedetto di Mitri, were all executed on 2 August. From another source, the list of those executed is longer, with some overlap to Colletto’s. In addition to Giuseppe Catinotto Moscoglione, Liborio Perricone, Leoluca Milone, Simone Majone (Majuri), Benedetto Glorietti Dimitri (this Monreale native is known by at least three versions of this name), and Biagio Listi Frattaglione di Antonino, this source lists among the executed Antonino Celauro (Ciraulo), Liborio Greco, Leoluca Trya (possibly Friia, or Traina), Antonino Palazzo, Vincenzo Palumbo, Pasquale d’Auria (d’Anna), Vincenzo Grimaldi, and Cosimo Notarbartolo. The execution was performed by a military battalion, as part of an island-wide crackdown on insurrection.

Antonio Ciraulo, who was executed on the second of August, is also known as Antonino Ciravolo: a cousin of mine, and the nephew of Nicolo’ “Puntillo” Ciravolo, a member of Rapanzino’s gang, most of whose members were killed by the police, the previous summer. Vincenzo Palumbo was the brother of two members of Rapanzino’s gang, Bernardo and Antonino Palumbo, who were both reportedly guillotined in Palermo in December 1835. Legend has it, the Palumbo brothers escaped to Tunis, but Vincenzo was not so lucky. He was executed on 19 August 1837 in the public square in Corleone.

Sources:

Denis Mack Smith, A History of Sicily: Modern Sicily After 1713. Dorset Press, 1988.

Charles E. Rosenberg. The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.) Accessed https://books.google.com/books?id=k2pL9c00rl4C&pg=PA74#v=onepage&q&f=false 24 April 2016.

The Lancet. “Dr. Smart on cholera in insular positions.” 19 April 1873. p. 555.

Giovanni Colletto. Storia Della Citta di Corleone (Siracusa: Tip. Littoriale, 1934.)

Death records 1747-1751, 2 August 1837, “Italia, Palermo, Diocesi di Monreale, Registri Parrocchiali, 1531-1998,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.3.1/TH-266-11555-102038-84?cc=2046915 : accessed 22 April 2016), Corleone > San Martino > Morti 1837-1843 > image 91 of 194; Archivio di Arcidiocesi di Palermo (Palermo ArchDiocese Archives, Palermo).

Archivio storico siciliano, Volume 14, accessed https://books.google.com/books?id=q3JMAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA444&lpg=PA444&dq=Moscoglione&source=bl&ots=hINJuyeggI&sig=mefpuW2GKvMA3ZKHG5W9djfGrDg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiXydKLx6XMAhUCNT4KHabrCQMQ6AEIMzAE#v=onepage&q=Moscoglione&f=false 23 April 2016. Pubblicazione Periodica della Societa Siciliana per la Storia Patria. Nuova Serie, Anno XIV. (Palermo: Tipografia dello “Statuto”, 1889.)

Image credit: By Francesco Redenti (Correggio 1820 – Torino 1876) (Scan da “Il fischietto” del 20 gennaio 1857) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

City of courage, city of faith

City of courage, city of faith

There are two versions of the events of the twenty-seventh of May 1860 in Corleone. There is the version every person from Corleone knows and celebrates in a church festival each spring, in the month following Easter. And then there is what really happened.

The popular story is that the revolution that birthed the Italian Republic, was aided by the miraculous intervention of one of Corleone’s patron saints, and one of the most important saints in Catholicism. Italian unification, the Catholic church, and the civic courage of Corleone are wedded in the miracle of 27 May 1860, and its annual commemoration with a race of the saints Leoluca and Antonio. This is a myth that unites a people. No wonder they don’t want to hear another story.

At least as powerful in mythology as the town’s association with the mafia, are Corleone’s reputations for faith, and revolutionary might. It is the town of a hundred churches, birthplace of the Sicilian Vespers and two saints, and the starting point of the revolution of 1848. In 1860, Corleone played a part in Garibaldi’s successful Expedition of the Thousand… the Corleonesi would say, a miraculous one.

Corleone’s hundred churches have (not quite) a hundred confraternities, many going back to medieval times, and each under the protection of a different saint. (Or pair of saints, like Constantine and his mother, Elena.) On important Church holidays, confraternities and their attendant marching bands hold processions, or parades, traveling between and among the churches of the town, in an order that holds religious significance, like the stations of the cross. On the festival of a saint important in Corleone, an icon, or life size effigy of the saint, is carried on a bier, like a king, and paraded through the streets.

In addition, many saints days have agricultural significance, marking times to harvest wheat, for instance (Santa Lucia) or slaughter pigs (Santa Teresa). In early spring is the best time to prune olive trees. San Leoluca’s feast day, on the first of March, is marked with bonfires that recall one of the saint’s miracles: a stack of firewood that carried itself.

Every year on the last Sunday of May (usually the fourth Sunday after Easter), in a celebration called “Cursa Santu Luca,” (“cursa” is Sicilian dialect for “corsa,” which means “race”) the saints’ icons are carried at a run, from the Borgo Piano, now the Piazza Falcone and Borsellino, to “Santu Lucuzza,” a chapel at the end of the village. The “Pietro Cipolla” community band, which has been in existence since at least 1860, when they greeted Garibaldi himself, plays the March of the Bersaglieri (the “Sharpshooters”), keeping pace with the saints.


The 2013 Cursa

The people of Corleone believe that San Leoluca and Sant’Antonio saved their city from the Bourbons, but as the author remarks on Dino Paternostro’s website, “Città Nuove Corleone, “The historical fact has a different explanation, but this is of little interest to people.” (“Il fatto storico ha una spiegazione diversa, ma questo alla gente interessa poco.”) Enrico Morucci also makes the point that people don’t care what “really” happened. Having a modern notion of history and cause and effect is as useful in this situation, he says, “as milk is to lemon.” Faith rewards us with power over the unknown, and tells us that every action, no matter how small, can be consequential. The collective faith of a group of people can start a revolution.

There were riots in Palermo during the festival season of that city’s patron saint, Rosalia, in the summers of 1773, 1813, and 1820. The people were starving. Penitent brotherhoods flogged themselves and people in the crowds. Insurrection was in the air, but Sicily was not yet powerful enough to break her bonds.

In 1848, the Bentivegna brothers of Corleone led a revolution against the Bourbons, which was also, ultimately, unsuccessful. At first, the mafia supported the revolution, but when things looked bleak, they switched sides. After the revolution, the mafia was strengthened by their support of the Bourbon king, who gave them contracts for jobs like tax collection, which were privatized and extremely lucrative. In this way, the mafia consolidated their power, and by 1860, was the most powerful force on the island, deciding the course of the next revolution.

The mafia has achieved an unprecedented level of power when a new leader wants to conquer Sicily, and must have the criminal organization’s consent to do so. Austrian troops could take away the ice trade in 1820, and the mafia might have won by betting on the house in 1848, but in 1860, Garibaldi had the mafia’s support, and kept it through to the end. In Francis Marion Crawford’s nonfictional account, The Rulers of the South, he writes, “when the Mafia joined Garibaldi, the Bourbons fell.”

Giuseppe Garibaldi was a revolutionary, but no radical. He courted landowners, including the leadership of the mafia, and ensured a smooth transition that would not disrupt their power. Rather than being the champion of the peasantry, it was men like Sr. Giuseppe Catinella of Corleone, a Carbonaro from a wealthy family, and whose grandfather represented the district in 1816, who were given positions in Garibaldi’s Italy. Angelo Paternostro, a veteran of Forty-Eight, was made mayor of Corleone, the month of the invasion. The younger Catinella was appointed to his grandfather’s old position in July.

Sicilians believed in the Redshirts’ imminent arrival, and this faith spurred insurrection all over the island, beginning in Palermo on the fourth of April. Leaders of the mafia in Palermo who had supported the revolution in 1848 (and the Bourbons in 1849), were revolutionaries, once again. Denis Mack Smith writes in his history that police were attacked and killed with such brutality in Palermo, that many left their posts.

After landing in Marsala, to the west, on the eleventh of May, Garibaldi and his volunteers began marching toward Messina, the port city in the east, closest to the Italian mainland. He declared Salemi Italy’s first capital—and himself, dictator—on the fourteenth. Using a ruse Garibaldi devised himself, his troops lured the Bourbon army out of the city to be met by Colonel Vincenzo Giordano Orsini. They engaged in a fierce battle outside Corleone, on May 27th, but Orsini’s men were a diversion from the real attack, which Garibaldi led on insurrectionary Palermo.

When General von Meckel, at the head of the Bourbon army, realized this, he was poised to loot Corleone, as punishment for the revolutionary town’s part in Garibaldi’s ruse. But they were fiercely resisted by several hundred well armed peasants—or possibly, by the apparition of two saints. In either event, the Cursa Santu Luca evokes the rapid retreat of von Meckel’s army.

The Bourbons launched a devastating bombardment against Palermo, but the Redshirts emerged triumphant. The next day, Garibaldi declared the Bourbon authority deposed from Palermo. Six weeks later, having conquered Sicily, he and the Thousand would cross the strait of Messina to Naples.

 

Image credit: By Berlis (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons