Ex convent of the retreat
I have told you about my city, now it seems right to give you some information about the dwelling that currently hosts me and the events that have defined it, in my humble opinion very interesting. I’ll take a step back and give the official history, the one you find in books just to understand.
At 31 Via Mirabella stands a building, a splendid example of Sicilian Baroque, which in the third decade of the eighteenth century housed a women’s monastery of Carmelite nuns. The street is certainly one of the oldest in Ortigia.
Right next to this palace, or rather to what remains of it after the extensive architectural alterations due to the terrible earthquake that struck Syracuse and the Val di Noto in 1693, stands the building now known as the Ex-Convent of the Retreat.
At this point of the narration the true protagonist enters the scene: Carmela Montalto-Gargallo, a woman of incredible charisma and determination.
Born on October 3, 1688 from Giuseppe Montalto and Angelica Gargallo (two of the most prominent noble families of the city), since her adolescence the young Carmela manifested her intention to embrace the religious life, meeting the firm opposition of her father, who tried in every way to dissuade her from this aspiration. All in vain, the young Carmela eventually prevailed and in 1715 she succeeded in crowning her desire to devote her life to the Lord by entering the Carmelite order with the name of Sister Mary of the Holy Trinity. In the years that followed, the reputation of the religious sanctity increased to such an extent as to arouse aversion. Her example and dedication provoked slander and various accusations of being a visionary and of straying from the true faith. Futile for her adversaries, thanks to her perseverance and her unshakable faith, she not only managed to get the better of those who opposed her, but also to convince the new bishop Tommaso Marino, who had initially opposed her.
The same Pope Benedict XIII, had news of the extraordinary faith of the nun, and agreed that the simple female Conservatory of the Retreat, be elevated to a monastery with the name of Santa Maria del Carmelo. However, problems were not over and on her path Sister Carmela met her most bitter enemy, the new bishop Matteo Trigona. It was he who strenuously opposed the Papal Brief using every means (licit and illicit). He collected and pleaded the accusations, presented and supported by prominent people of Syracuse, so detailed and well constructed that the Court of the Inquisition from Palermo sent one of its representatives, the Dominican Father Taglierini, who subjected Carmela to a long and meticulous interrogation.
Sister Carmela had won her personal battle. Her simplicity and charisma soon crossed the borders of the island, so much so that Pope Benedict XIV himself wrote to her on more than one occasion.
It is at this point that history gives way to mystery and legend and to strange coincidences, for which the Founder of this exhibition in Via Mirabella, are no small occurrences. Yes, my dear friends, the story thickens and the woman who decides to institute this museum dedicated to the two geniuses, from research done, would have an incredible affinity with the nun.
In 2014 museum director, Maria Gabriella Capizzi, accompanied by the town Councilman for Culture, the current Mayor of Syracuse on a visit to the location in Via Mirabella, chooses to dedicate that mystical place as the home of the two geniuses. Driven by strange sensations, comments Maria Gabriella, this dense plot begins, in search of the life and history of this extraordinary nun. From that day on, the relationship of these two women is inextricably intertwined, thus giving up a quiet existence, in the name of an unconditional love for the truth and for this magical place where I live. Even today, more than one person swears to have seen the nun wandering the monastery, some say they even heard her speak and prophesize future events, as if since the disappearance of her mortal remains she cannot find the peace so longed for in life. Better to stop here and not go too far into a topic whose contours are still undefined. So between my works and Leonardo’s and the rooms of the convent, there often is a great traffic of unresolved souls. You can recognize us because we send light and benediction daily and sometimes, as the director of this museum tells us, a sweet and delicate perfume of roses inebriates the great halls of the convent.