The Baroness of Carini

      In the 8th century the Moors occupied a good part of the Mediterranean rim. After many tries, they occupied Sicily, landing a strong and numerous fleet at Marsala (Marsa-Ali, Port of Ali).
To defend themselves from attacks they built many fortresses up steep hills. One of these fortresses was built in a little town which had been destroyed two times by different occupiers. The name of this town at that time was called Iccarini.
In 1060, the Normans, who had already occupied Southern Italy, moved down to Sicily and started a liberation war against the Moors. It took Roger, Count of Sicily, 30 years to bring to completion the capture of Sicily.
The Normans were succeeded by the Swebes, and these by the Anjoins, and these, at last, by the Aragonesis. All these people, all the Princes that came through this town, added to, reinforced and modified the original defense Bastion built by the Moors. Every Prince chose the Bastion as a personal dwelling, because it was built to withstand any assault. It is not known when, but during this lapse of time the town took the name of Carini, which, as one can see, is a derivative of the name that Daedalus had given to it many centuries ago.
Sometime during all this bustle of people, the name of Castle of Carini was given to the Bastion, now surrounded by a large complex of buildings.

The complete construction of the Castle was accomplished by Manfredi Di Chiaromonte, while the last refinishing and actual appearance was given to the Castle in the 14th century. The Castle still stands today, and looks awesome and majestic to all those who come to Carini for the first time.

The Castle of Carini
The Castle of Carini – Wikipedia image

Superbly perched up on the highest rock of the hill, stately and unconquered, from the North side , while looking down on a strong and imaginary enemy already defeated, it is outlined against the blue sky during the day, as if it were at the outer limits of the universe, while its silhouette against the dark night sky makes one shiver with fear as if it were a Shakespearean castle.

Martin I D’Aragon, with a royal decree, gave the Castle and surrounding land to Umbertino La Grua, elevating at the same time the feud to Baronage. Later, for lack of sons from Umbertino, the son-in-law Talamanca took over the Baronage, with his father-in-law’s clause that he would incorporate the name of La Grua, which was the daughter’s name, and so initiating the Talamanca-La Grua lineage. In 1536, we find Vincenzo Talamanca-La Grua, Baron of Carini and owner of the Castle, who in 1543 married Donna Laura Lanza Di Trabia.? It was here, in this Castle, one clear morning of December 1563, as a contrast to the beauty of that day, the limpidity of the sky, the green of the hills and the mountains, that the Baroness of Carini fell victim to the parricidal fury of her father.

This deed of blood would have remained in the darkness of time, as many others, if a poet, still unknown to us, hadn’t romanticized that tragedy of the Talamanca-La Grua family, giving us, at the same time, one of the most beautiful poems of Sicilian literature. A poem full of humanity, compassion, true sorrow, and poetic beauty, making us forget that we really do not know the real story of that tragedy that hit the Talamanca-La Grua family in that distant year of 1563, and assists us in participating in the pain of that great loss.
We are still in the past, and even if we are in the full swing of literary Humanism, no civil rights exist.
The feudal system is in full swing and the people are subject to endure all types of injustices and barbarism. These do not stop, not only on the subjects at large, but impose themselves on every social rank, to the point that the dreams of young people were exchanged as merchandise: in fact weddings were strategically and politically arranged by families, keeping in sight the importance of social rank, power, wealth, and land ownership of the candidates, without keeping in mind, in any way, the spiritual welfare nor the feelings of those candidates.??

The news (of the death of the Baroness) shook all of Sicily. It caused astonishment, wonder, gossip and sorrow. It is in the intrinsic ties of pain with the Sicilian soul from whence rises the unknown voice of the poet that cries, threatens, condemns, and, at last, takes vengeance over the brutality, haughtiness, insensibility and hypocrisy of the feudal system. It is from the suppression of the individual liberty, from the feudalistic tyranny, from the bondage of the values held most dear to man that the voice rises up, which, in the case of the “Baroness of Carini”, in the ineffable pain of the loss of the beautiful Castellana, which makes the Sicilian language flourish in all its splendor.? It is from this cultural mood that the song of the poet is set free. Like the troubadour, he sings his pain, his emotions, and his joy, spontaneously, as his heart dictates. It is with this spontaneity that the unknown poet tells us of this brutal crime that was perpetrated in the Castle of Carini. It is for this reason that we are incredibly fortunate not to have lost this beautiful example of Sicilian literature, which is not the start, nor the end, of beautiful Sicilian poetry. It is, at the same time, a forerunner of a poetic production so prolific and so elevated, as to keep pace with other world literature.

Maybe, for fear of retaliation from the powerful Family of Carini, or for other reasons, the poem was never written by the anonymous poet but was recited or even sung , and so conveyed from one generation to another for more than three centuries. Finally the poem was collected by Salvatore Salomone-Marino, a folkloristic poet, who heard it from the real voice of Giuseppe Gargagliano, a story singer of that time in Carini. Salomone-Marino cleansed the poem of its acquired roughness, documented it the best he could, and, in 1870, he published it. He kept searching for other variants of the poem and more historic documents, and, in 1873, published a second edition, revised and corrected. The poem raised great interest and curiosity among the learned men of the time such as, to mention a few, Luigi Galante, who gave us a beautiful edition of “The Case Of The Baroness Of Carini”, Giuseppe Pitre’, Antonino Pagliaro, and Federico De Maria, who gave us another edition of the poem. The best known edition, best accepted and most popular, is the one that Salvatore Salomone-Marino gave us in 1873.

Caterina Talamanca-La Grua, daughter of Pietro Vincenzo II, Baron of Carini, and Donna Laura Lanza from the Baronage of Trabia, according to the legend, became the lover of her cousin Vincenzo Vernagallo, Lord of Dainu Asturi, and son of Elisabetta La Grua. As soon as the father knows of the illicit relationship of his daughter with her cousin, he leaves Palermo to cleanse the shame with which Caterina has stained the family honor. Caterina, looking out the balcony, from where one could see the mountains of Palermo, sees her father coming, and knows in her heart the reason why.

“Viiu viniri na cavallaria,
chistu è mê patri chi veni pri mia!
Viiu viniri na cavallarizza
chistu è mê patri chi mi veni ammazza!”

She tries to hide herself in the inner rooms of the Castle but her father reaches her and kills her with inhumane ferocity.
Vincenzo Vernagallo fleas to Palermo, hiding in the zone of Lattarini, and from there to Spain where, in Madrid, he becomes a Carmelite monk.
The version most accepted by the historians, who have analyzed the poem and the history of the time, is deducted from the archives of the Cathedral of Carini. Here in the Register of the Acts of Death one can read:
“…on the 4 of December… 1563 was dead the Resp.le Donna Laura La Grua. She was entombed in the Mother Church…” …”In the same day was dead Ludovico Vernagallo…”

Carini’s Mother Church

Then the victim of the terrible tragedy of Carini must have been the daughter Laura (Caterina never even existed!), guilty of a crime (adultery) that can only be cleansed by death. The poet changes the players for fear and/or respect toward these three powerful families, whose reputation would have been dragged through the mud of gossip by every social class.
In conclusion, Donna Laura Lanza-La Grua was killed by her father and her husband, Baron Vincenzo Talamanca-La Grua, and not Caterina, who would have been the granddaughter (not the daughter) of Don Cesare Lanza di Trabia. Thus she was killed together with Ludovico Vernagallo, and not Vincenzo (his brother), who really became a Carmelite monk in Spain and died in 1588.
In these later years, some new information has come to light. Which, if it confirms the story of the poet, who makes the father responsible for the crime, it changes the weapon in the hands of the killer. It was always known… well, we always thought… actually, we always ASSUMED that the killer’s weapon was the sword. Now, suddenly, we find out something altogether different and surprising.

In the #18, Year II, of the Daily News Of Sicily, printed for the Italians of the United States, Mr. Giuseppe Quatriglio, reporter for said newspaper, while researching the Battle of Lepanto, fought by the Christians against the Turk Ottomans and the consequences of that war, came across a document, prepared by the House of Representatives of Italy, for King Philip II of Spain, about the Spanish domains in Italy. That document is the confession of the Baron Don Cesare Lanza. ( who now is a Count instead). With that confession, by means of some influential party, the Baron gets his case thrown in the archives and avoids the murder prosecution. This is the document filed by Don Cesare Lanza to the king of Spain, to justify the killing of his daughter Laura:

Sacred Catholic Royal Majesty,
Don Cesare Lanza, count of Mussomeli, will explain to your Majesty, how, having gone to the Castle of Carini, to see his daughter, as he was used to do, from time to time, found the Baron of Carini, his son-in-law very upset, because he had discovered at the same time in his room Ludovico Vernagallo, her lover, with the said Baronessa. At this point myself and the Baron, moved by just indignation, went and found said Baroness and her lover in said room, locked inside, and so right there and then they both were killed with an Arcabuz (shot gun).
Signed: Don Cesare Lanza Count of Mussomeli.


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  1. the above story brought to light what I recall when I was a youngster, being born in CARINI, about the killing of the daughter of CESARE LANZA ,LAURA.
    WAS born in CARINI of an AMERICAN mother, hence an AMERICAN. FAMILY IMMIGRATED TO THE U S IN 1949.

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