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Casa Cifali

  • Writer's pictureMassimo

Love, Lies and Demons in Taormina

When I was young, I loved to hear the stories my great-grandmother Nicola told me. She was born in 1885. She had seen many things and heard so many stories. She survived the two great wars, the plague of the late nineteenth century, and the famine. A strong woman of character, she was a chef during the war, trying to feed her family as she could. She told me several stories, but the one that struck me most was the now forgotten Fra Martino. The story spoke of a Taorminese gentleman married to a woman whose name I disregard. From their love a daughter was born, who they named Martina. At a still young age the child lost her mother and for the first few years she was raised by her father, but unfortunately after a few years her father also fell ill. Before he died he had to decide to whom to entrust his daughter. Not having relatives close to him, and with the malaise in which the city of Taormina was suffering, he did not want to entrust her to family close to him, so as not to burden their economic situation. He knew a friar from the monastery of San Domenico, who secretly did him the favor of guarding the child. Martina’s father died soon thereafter. Her name was changed from Martina to Fra Martino, as she needed to be disguised as a male to remain in the monastery. The years pass and the child grows, with some difficulty in hiding her femininity. Inside the monastery, another friar notices her and from here a secret love is born between the two which lasts for years. Then one day Martina becomes pregnant. The first few months were easy to manage, but when she reached the 7th month the friars became suspicious, subjecting Martina to a corporal visit and discovering not only that she was a woman but that she was also waiting for a son. Inside the monastery people shouted at the scandal, and to prevent the news from being heard by outsiders, they proclaimed she had been possessed by the devil. The friars then confined her to a cave that today is part of the Ariston Hotel in Taormina, where at that time there was also a convent. Here she remained for two months in the cold. From time to time some friars brought her bread and water. Imagine what pains this poor woman would have suffered. The friar who had fallen in love with her often and secretly visited her, trying to encourage her and bringing her food too. But the woman became weak as the pregnancy progressed. After the baby was born, his birth he was reported to San Domenico. Now lying in her death bed, she no longer even had the strength to speak. During the night she died, the friars divulged the news that her body was levitating on the bed because her soul had been freed from the demon who had possessed it and she could now rest in peace. She was buried in a crypt in San Domenico. No one knows what happened to the child. There are those who say that he was given to an orphanage, while some say he died a few days after birth. We like to believe that he was adopted by a family that loved him, as it should be for any innocent creature.

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