Hollow, Hallowed Body: Santa Rosalia and the Reconstruction of Identities in Palermo during the 1624 Plague

Emily Jay

In early 1624, a vessel entered the port of Palermo carrying the most feared specter of Early Modern Europe: the plague.1 By June the pestilence had infiltrated the city; the Senate issued decree after decree in an attempt to quell the spread of the disease, but to no avail.2   On July 15th of the same year, the bones of Santa Rosalia were discovered in a cave on Monte Pellegrino, the mountain that stands watch over Palermo.3 Twelve days later, the Public Council decided that this saint should be named the patroness of the city, with processions to be held in her honor.4 These processions continued throughout the next year. Previous to the discovery of her relics, Rosalia was a little-known saint, only barely associated with the plague. Her meteoric rise in popularity in 1624-5 reveals how the Palermitani ritually combated plague-related anxieties, and it underscores the necessity of communal reassertion during times of unrest. This paper argues that Santa Rosalia, and the focus on her relics, functioned as a site of manipulation and exchange for the Palermitani. Examining the processions associated with her as ritual performances through the lens of performance studies, I argue that these acts, and the establishment of her as patroness of the city, were not simply instances of cultural values being represented through art and ritual, but rather a collective action that provided an opportunity for communal regeneration. 

As many scholars have noted, identity on the Italian peninsula and in Sicily in the Early Modern period was established through familial, kinship, and neighborhood networks. These networks were constantly reiterated through the performance of daily life within the public sphere: the participation in local religious rituals, running of family businesses, and day-to-day movement up and down the streets of one’s neighborhood all helped to solidify and delineate networks and thereby, identity.5 The arrival of the plague in an Early Modern city unsettled these identities by interrupting the performance of daily activities. As Giulia Calvi, Samuel K. Cohn, and other scholars have demonstrated, the quarantining of cities, the literal closing off of infected households, slowing of economies, and forced hospitalizations in lazzaretti (public pest houses or hospitals that were often underfunded, understaffed, and overcrowded) disrupted the movements and connections, and thereby identities of the populace in a plague-ridden city.

The decrees issued by the Senate of Palermo in 1624 indicate that the city followed a typical quarantine process. By the end of the June of that year, the sale of fabric, clothing, and merchandise were strictly regulated.6 Cases of illness were to be reported to the government, the sick were not to be visited, and those who did not comply were to be jailed..7 The government allocated funds to keep the streets clean, and there was an intense focus on the cleanliness of objects, merchandise, and homes..8 At the end of August, a second lazaretto was ordered to be constructed right in the heart of the city..9 The city eventually instituted a full quarantine: people were not let in or out..10

The more restrictions that were put into place, the more networks and daily rituals were disrupted. As Calvi outlined in her book Histories of a Plague Year, this breaking up of family members and loss of personal belongings when houses were closed had profound effects on people..11 Court documents in Florence tell of those who illegally entered homes for the retrieval of family possessions, and of people who hid sick family members out of fear they would be sent to the lazzaretto, thus “destroying” the family.12 The lazzaretti were inherently spaces inhabited by fear: they were places that the sick and potentially sick were forced to enter, and places that they often did not leave alive.

This fear of a family destroyed underlines the psychological ramifications of the plague in the Early Modern city. Using plague tracts written across Italy throughout the sixteenth century, Cohn argued that fear was a fundamental part of the plague experience.13 Fear punctuated the lives of Italians during epidemics so much so that fear itself was believed to increase one’s chances of getting the plague.14 So not only was movement restricted, resulting in family and social networks being torn apart, but fear of disease also permeated an infected city.

This fear and the tearing apart of social networks highlights how the relationships between insider and outsider, community and other, were always heightened and complicated during plague times. The 1624 case in Palermo is no different. The plague was brought to the city by persons and merchandise on a boat: dangerous outsiders had carried pestilence into the city. Thus, the outside had broken through a literal and symbolic border, corrupting the inherent safety of the interior, communal, and known space of the city. The identity of the city was jeopardized by an outside, unknown, other. Rosalia was the key to the reestablishment of these literal and symbolic lines.

Santa Rosalia 

Rosalia is said to have lived between 1130-1170, a daughter of the noble Sinibaldo family, who were members of King Roger’s court.15 Legend says that she renounced the world at the age of fourteen, first living as a hermit in inland Sicily before moving to Monte Pellegrino where she died around the age of 30, alone in a mountain grotto.16

There are a number of incongruous accounts of the circumstances that led to the discovery of Rosalia’s relics on July 15, 1624. Most of the stories revolve around Rosalia appearing to someone in a dream and giving directions where to find her remains. Rosario La Duca, and Girolamo Mazzola have both stated that it was an ill woman, Geronima La Cattuta, who received the vision and found, or instructed someone else on how to find, Rosalia’s remains.17

The discovery of the relics on July 15th set off a rapid chain of events in Palermo. On the 27th of July, the Public Council named Rosalia patroness of the city, not only asking for a chapel to be constructed within the Cathedral, but also a “solenne et pomposa processione” (stately and sumptuous procession)18 to be held for her and a silver reliquary ark to be made in her honor.19 In August, the Jesuits carried a (now-lost) painting of Rosalia throughout the Kalsa district of Palermo, the neighborhood hit the hardest by the plague.20 In September, a painting commissioned by the Senate, most likely Saint Rosalie Intercedes for Palermo, by Sicilian artist Vincenzo La Barbera, was processed throughout the city.21 These processions with her painted image inserted Rosalia’s body into the physical landscape of Palermo, even before asserting a relationship between her body and the cityscape, and even before her relics were authenticated by the church. In November, the Archbishop instituted a commission to decide on the authenticity of the bones, which concluded in February of 1625 with their authenticity established.22 On June 9, 1625 a grand state and ecclesiastically-sanctioned procession was held in Rosalia’s honor, after three days of ceremonies.23 In this procession her relics were moved throughout the heart of the cityscape. After this the plague appeared to cease.24

The Body of the Saint, the Body of the City

In order to understand the significance of Rosalia to the populace of Palermo during the plague, it is important to examine her iconography, which was established in 1624-25. The plague recurred regularly throughout the Early Modern period, and there were specific plague-associated saints to call upon, such as San Rocco and San Sebastiano. Rosalia was not, initially, a plague saint. The earliest known image of her is from the thirteenth century, and the few early works that depict her show no association between her and the plague.25 Gauvin Alexander Bailey argues that Saint Rosalie Intercedes for Palermo, by Vincenzo La Barbera, is the work that finally and firmly established Rosalia as a plague saint, and it is in this work that her iconography was set (fig. 1).26

Fig. 1 Vincenzo La Barbera, Saint Rosalie Intercedes for Palermo, 1624-25, Palermo, Museo Diocesano, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

She is depicted with dark curly hair, about to be crowned with roses by an angel, on her knees pleading for Palermo, pointing to the lazzaretto, with a skull in the foreground.27 This skull is significant as it represents both the victims of the plague as well as the discovery of her relics.28 It is this work, Bailey claims, that influenced Anthony van Dyck’s now-famous imagery of Rosalia.

.From the outset of her establishment as the patroness of the city, the imagery of Rosalia focused heavily on Monte Pellegrino and the topographical reality of Palermo in 1624. In La Barbera’s work, the mountain is located directly below the Trinity, with Palermo and its harbor (the initial site of the infestation of plague), nestled safely between the mountain and Rosalia. The weight of her folded legs is mirrored by the weight of the mountain directly behind her. Rosalia’s head, torso, and outstretched arms create a triangle with the mountain, mirroring the triangular composition of the heavens above the city. Palermo appears in this work as a contained, enclosed, and cradled place. And in interceding for Palermo, Rosalia functions much like Monte Pellegrino: she is part of the city but also keeping watch as a sentinel, like a protective barrier (fig. 2). Her saintly body is tied, through this seminal iconography and her discovery story, to the physical landscape of Palermo.  

Fig. 2 Monte Pellegrino standing watch over present-day Palermo. Photograph by the author, 2019.

Monte Pellegrino was, by the seventeenth century, a well-established location for the holy; as far back as the Arab rule of the island, there may have been a monastic house on the mountain.29 It was known in the seventeenth century that the mountain had, throughout its history, housed religious hermits, and by then was understood as both a symbol for the city of Palermo as well as the city’s sanctified sentinel.30 The fact that Rosalia lived–and died–on the mountain is therefore significant. She was found within the hallowed earth of Palermo in a watery grotto in the mountain that was (and still is) the city’s sacred protection and icon. It was written at the time of the relics’ discovery that Rosalia’s virgin body was encased and protected by Monte Pellegrino, which allowed for her to be metaphorically “reborn” upon the discovery of her remains.31 This rebirth, then, enabled her to encompass the city within her protection. Her body, in fact, was so encased within the walls of the grotto-cave that it had to be chiseled out.32 Water sprang out of the cavity, which was collected and then used to cure the sick.33 The water that drips down the walls is, even to this day, considered miraculous (fig. 3). This water offers an interesting counterpoint to the water that brought the disease, the Mediterranean Sea. It is water, and Rosalia, both from within Palermo, that cleansed the city of pestilence, washing away from within what had invaded the city.

Fig 3 The interior of the grotto today, with the metalwork on the ceiling strategically set up to capture and move the sacred water into a fountain. Photograph by the author, 2019.

Many of the paintings of Rosalia by Anthony van Dyck repeat the composition and iconography of the La Barbera work. These images, painted while van Dyck was in Palermo and shortly thereafter, further reiterated the integral relationship between Rosalia’s body and the cityscape of Palermo.34 Saint Rosalie Interceding for the City of Palermo, which Bailey has argued was in fact painted in Palermo sometime between September 1624 through early September 1625 (as opposed to later and outside of Sicily), shows Rosalia pleading for the city, looking to the heavens as she gestures to the recognizable cityscape of Palermo to her right.35 What is unique about this work (and many of van Dyck’s other paintings of the saint) is that she is obviously in an elevated cave space, which is not readily apparent in the La Barbera version. Monte Pellegrino can be seen in the distance, once again cradling the cityscape between sacred mountain and saintly body. The flash of light that Rosalia looks up to draws the eye down across her body, through her outstretched hands, which in pointing to Palermo also point to the Monte Pellegrino and the skull and bones in the bottom left corner of the painting. The stark diagonal thrust of this movement coupled with the contrast between the darkness of the cave, the light of the sky, the dark shape of the mountain, and the pale bones compositionally weaves the saint’s body and the landscape together. Beyond this, Rosalia is nearly becoming the earth; her dark robes are the color of the cave so that it is hard to tell where she ends and the cave walls begin. In showing Monte Pellegrino in the distance while also portraying Rosalia in a cave in the same painting, van Dyck is collapses time and illustrates both her hermitage in the twelfth century and the discovery of her relics some 500 years later. In showing both Monte Pellegrino and Rosalia within that same location he reiterates her deep connection to the physical earth where she was born and where she died. She both becomes and protects Palermo in these seventeenth-century works depicting her.

This enfolding imagery of Rosalia, taking in all of Palermo, mirrors earlier imagery associated with the Madonna della Misericordia, who was frequently invoked for protection against the plague.36 These paintings often incorporate images of local community members praying under her mantle; they are visualizations of a particular community actively praying to Mary while also being enfolded within her protection. Art historian Louise Marshall has argued, these paintings of the Madonna della Misericordia, as well as paintings of local patron saints invoked against plague (such as those depciting S. Sebastiano), are evidence of a community of worshippers and the images—and thereby saints—that they stand in front of as being in relationship. This being in relationship with a patron saint or the Madonna is significant as it assures worshippers that they are protected by whomever they pray in front of. This, Marshall has argued, enables us to see plague saints as providers of an element of stability in uncertain times.37 The commissioning and veneration of a Madonna della Misericordia image was a “manipulation of the sacred” as Marshall terms it: a direct way for viewers to place themselves under the Madonna’s mantle, thus protecting themselves against plague and combating the ever-present fear that existed within an infected city.

The painting by La Barbera of Rosalia can be read as a manipulation of the sacred, as can the many processions for her. The populace was in a sacred relationship with Rosalia, calling upon and honoring her in exchange for protection against the plague.  What is of particular interest is the function of Rosalia’s relic as this site for ritual exchange. The story of the discovery of her relics is tied to the recovery of a living body. 

Geronima La Cattuta was hospitalized and quite ill when she received a vision from the saint and subsequently resolved to recover the relics.38 From the outset, an exchange is established between a Palermitana and Rosalia, with Rosalia’s body in the form of her relics demarcating the exchange. The other patrons of the city had been called upon through processional means, but the plague did not, in the minds of the citizens, go away until the relics of Rosalia were unearthed and carried throughout the city.39 Rosalia thus became a symbolic focal point allowing the Palermitani to collect as a single communal body.

Procession

Considering Rosalia as a symbolic focal point allows her processions to be understood as functioning beyond simply Baroque political spectacle; they were a means of healing for the city. For example, the June 9th 1625 procession was a grand, ostentatious spectacle that visually and physically represented and incorporated nearly all parts of Palermo. Don Onofrio Paruta, who recorded his memories of the 1625 procession in an published account from 1651, gives details of the elaborate nature of the June 9th event, which represented the culmination of a series of celebrations honoring Rosalia that began on June 6th.40 The beginning of the festivities on this date was purposeful, as it was Corpus Christi, and the tying together of Rosalia with this holiday was intended to highlight the sacred unity of the city body—the Palermitani, the government, the church, all united under the saint.41

Palermo was richly decorated for the occasion with opulent draperies in a myriad of hues hung on the outside of the Cathedral, as well as the churches and palaces that lined the processional route.42 The procession commenced with drumming in the late afternoon (Sara Cabibbo estimates between four and five in the afternoon), with members from the city government, religious institutions, and the different quarters of the city present and moving from the Cathedral down the Via Toledo, the major thoroughfare through the city, towards the sea (which was the initial site of infection).43 Many of the participants were clothed in rich costumes; the drummers who initiated the procession were outfitted in red with the city insignia emblazoned across their chests.44 Others were in extravagant allegorical costumes representing the virtues. For example, “Grace” was clothed in a red dress adorned with white roses, crowned with and holding even more roses.45 Paruta notes the predominance of flowers throughout the procession.46 These florals were symbolically indicative of Rosalia (rose and lily), and for those fortunate enough to be holding or wearing these flowers, the smell would have mingled with the smells of bodies and the street, creating a heightened olfactory experience.

Following these figures were representatives from the city government and as well as from each of the quarters of the city.47 Following each group of representatives were Palermitani representing their own quarter, or city district, marching in rows of two; each group carried its own decorated fercolo (float, or portable shrine) that celebrated Rosalia.48 Paruta records how the fercolo representing the quarter of Santa Ninfa resembled Monte Pellegrino, with a small church for Rosalia on the facsimile mountain.49 With this we see, once again, the holy mountain of the city–which protected and represented Palermo–associated visually with Rosalia. That visual association would have been accompanied by the sounds and smells of the procession as well; thus, the relationship between the earth of Palermo and Rosalia bound the bodies of both participants and observers through an intense shared sensory experience. It must also be noted that to carry a facsimile of Monte Pellegrino throughout the cityscape functioned as a metaphorical sacralizing of the city space, and would have primed participants for the work that Rosalia’s relics would do as she brought up the rear of the procession in her silver reliquary.

Although this painting by an unknown Sicilian painter,  the Processione di Santa Rosalia, depicts the 1693 procession, it can still give us an idea of the 1625 festivities (fig. 4).50

Fig. 4 Anonymous Sicilian Painter, The Procession of Santa Rosalia, 1693. Collection of the Fundacion Casa de Alba di Madrid.

In this painting, richly dressed figures from all walks of life process in pairs of two, following various ornate fercoli. This nearly never-ending line of Palermitani snake their way throughout the cityscape, with Rosalia’s reliquary bringing up the rear. The painting clearly illustrates how the procession would have overtaken and dominated the city. Even if one was not standing in a window or watching from a corner (let alone actually processing), the sounds and sights of the event would never have been far off. 

Procession was a standard response to any number of crises in Early Modern Italy; from drought to volcanic activity to plague. As the June 9th procession for Rosalia illustrates, a procession was a deeply symbolic experience of unity of the senses, allowing a community to become a single moving being.51 The invocation of a patron saint was often an important element of processions. To call upon a particular saint encapsulated the processional body within an understood spiritual culture and would help to solidify a sense of community identity.52

If we view processions as both ritual and performance, something fluid rather than fixed, we can understand the processions for Santa Rosalia as enabling the Palermitani themselves to enact the intercession they hoped to acquire from the saint, all while building a sense of community.  When ritual is understood as a performance, ritual is no longer simply a vehicle for ideologies.53 As noted by Gavin Brown, rituals can be understood as performances when we see that they are actions that are dialectical: they follow a script, but in the enactment of the script, the script is rewritten.54 Transformation is inherent to the performance of ritual; there is a space within the enactment that is opened for participants, whereby they themselves are the ones enacting the transformation, as they enact (and thereby evolve) the processional script.55

Scholar and dancer Beatrice Jarvis has noted that bodies in collective creative movement can create civic regeneration via a collective somatic experience.56 An uncommon collective somatic experience in the street, the space where networks and identity were delineated, breaks normative time.57 This break in normative time solidifies for participants and spectators that the time before the present performance of movement is past, and that what comes after is thereby a new present.58 In the case of the processions surrounding Santa Rosalia, the movement of bodies through Palermo moved the cityscape, and thus the people witnessing and participating, out of the past plague time and into a healthier future under Rosalia’s protection.

Beyond this, ideas, meanings, and identity are constructed through the body, and the cityscape is understood through the body.59 The corporeal form, during times of pestilence, became something that was both precious and fear-inducing. The concern about one’s own body getting sick in addition to the regular site of plague-riddled corpses would have exacerbated the ever-present fear that permeated the city.60 The June 9th procession, though, was an experience of living bodies moving in union with the relics of Rosalia in the city space. The focus on the body of Rosalia and the enacted ritual of procession enabled the community of Palermo to re-orient their relationship to their own bodies at the same time that they were being reoriented to the larger “body” of the city as a whole.

The sights, sounds, smells, and textures of the June 9th procession would have completely bodily enveloped participants and onlookers into the experience. The sound of drums and cries for the saint, the smell of florals and the myriad other bodies, the touch of bodies side by side, the sight of rich drapery, the participants in extravagant costumes, the neighborhood fercoli, and of course Rosalia’s reliquary high above would have activated the body, via the senses, of even those who were simply onlookers, and would have pulled them into the physical experience of the procession. Onlookers–watching their own quarter of Palermo represented via a fercolo, seeing their neighborhood representatives walk in the procession, while surrounded by the heat and scent of the bodies around them, and by the sounds and movements of participants and onlookers alike–would have not only been seeing their part of the city highlighted, they would also be experiencing their city in a new way.  Even today, the mid-July celebrations held annually for Rosalia commemorating the discovery of her remains include multiple processions that are a feast for the senses. Onlookers are overwhelmed by the mass of people present along the processional route, which continues to follow the 1625 path. The noise, smells, and sights of all of these people collected into a relatively shallow space on either side of the street, including the sounds of multiple bands, of loudspeakers blaring mass, and of people shouting “Viva Palermo, Viva Santa Rosalia,” is overwhelming. This, along with the many confraternities and local groups, all carrying their own hand-made banners and dressed in colorful costumes as they walk before the silver reliquary, creates a sense of communal joy.

The 1625 Carrara marble sculpture of Rosalia, sculpted by the Tuscan artist Gregorio Tedeschi for her shrine in the Grotto Sanctuary on Monte Pellegrino, further intensifies this somatic connection between worshippers, their patron saint, and the Palermo cityscape.61 Rosalia appears in a reclining position, with her head looking upwards to the heavens as she is presumably dying; an angel stands next to her (fig. 5).62

Fig. 5 The recumbent Rosalia, sculpted by Gregorio Tedeschi out of Carrara marble in 1625 and decked out in silver finery in 1748. Photograph by the author, 2019.

Time is collapsed in this work; Rosalia is both in union with God here in the moment of her death, but also emerging from the sacred earth as she did in 1624. Today we cannot see the marble sculpture as it would have been seen in 1625 when pilgrims visited; in 1748 on the orders of Carlo III Bourbon, this marble Rosalia was outfitted in a sumptuous silver robe.63 We can, though, still see her marble face in ecstasy, and her hands, one cupping her ear and the other on her breast holding a cross. Rosalia is nearly life size, and despite her silver clothing we get the sense of a voluptuous body. 

The entirety of her mountain shrine would have been, and still is, a site of intense corporeal evocation. For worshippers, this is the site where Rosalia lived, died, and was “reborn” thanks to the sacred power of the earth of Palermo. The Tedeschi sculpture presents Rosalia as she was found in 1624, and therefore presumably in the position she was in when she died.64 To be face-to-face with the beautiful likeness of the saint in the moment of her union with God was, and still is, an intensely emotional experience. While today one can take a bus to the shrine, in the seventeenth century it was only possible to visit the site through bodily exertion.65 The grotto is located high upon the mountain and worshippers would have been physically and emotionally exhausted by the time they arrived into the cool, damp, and dark interior of the grotto (fig. 5). Allie Terry-Fritsch has written extensively about the somatic experience of pilgrims at the Sacro Monte di Varallo, arguing that the necessity of corporeal experience within the site enabled participants to “act out sacred history…assuming a prosthetic relationship to this history through their mind-body engagement.”66 Physically engaged with the site, pilgrims at Varallo were able to participate in the history that was presented there, thereby forming their own memories of this sacred history.67 I would argue that the same is true of Rosalia’s shrine on Monte Pellegrino. The physical exertion required to arrive there, combined with the movement from open vista in daylight to the cool, moist, and dim enclosed interior of the mountain would have heightened the corporeal experience of pilgrims. Their bodies would have been highly attuned for the encounter with this most sacred of space. To then be confronted with an image of Rosalia in the moment of both her death and later discovery would have allowed the participants to bear witness to both of these events and create their own memories of these significant histories. The release she exhibits on her face would have been easily recognizable, in fact felt, by worshipers. Rosalia, in this reclined position, with her hand cupping her ear, is in a posture of vulnerability, offering to tired visitors a safe and comfortable focal point after a difficult trek up the mountain. And while listening to the divine, her cupped ear is also indicating that she is listening to the exhausted pilgrims that would have been standing before her. All of this would have evoked a feeling of intimacy and connection with the saint.

In addition to the physical exhaustion, the journey up the mountain afforded pilgrims views of their city as they had perhaps never seen before. From high up, Palermo could (and still can) be seen not as fragments—collections of interwoven spaces that were part of the daily life of the climber—but as a great, contained whole. The individual streets, homes, and quarters would have slowly moved out of view the higher one moved upwards, until all of Palermo, and the sea beyond, was held within the pilgrims’ eye. To then move into the mountain, into sacred earth, after seeing all of the city, would have further accentuated the interrelationship of Rosalia and the topography of Palermo. When one then descended the mountain, moving back into the city, the city could be understood in a new way, with the protection of Rosalia all the more apparent. 

Hollow, Hallowed 

Sara Cabibbo noted in her 2004 publication, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo, that the entirety of the June 9th procession was a close symbolic tying together of “santità, regalità, nazionalismo, e imperialism” (holiness, regality, nationalism, and imperialism).68 Cabibbo is certainly correct that the governmental and ecclesiastical support for Rosalia, even beyond the June 9th procession, did work to maintain power structures. As I have argued, though, Rosalia also allowed for community building and identity formation from below. The transformation of Palermo through the sights, sounds, smells, and movement of procession created a liminal city space, one that was open to the possibility of regeneration. The liminality of these processions was enhanced through Rosalia, with the focus on her providing the Palermitani a central site for exchange, thereby providing a measure of agency in their own fate. Her sacred body, mirroring the grotto where her relics were found, was a hollow, hallowed site that enabled the living bodies before her to move outside of normative time. In stepping outside of normative time, the horrors of disease were moved to the past and a healthier future was initiated, thus relieving the populace collectively and individually of the horror of living within a pestilence-riddled city, if only for a short period.


Notes

1. Girolama Mazzola, La morte nera a Palermo. Roccolta degli atti del senato che consacrano Santa Rosalia a Patrona della città, Le pergamene, (Palermo: Edizioni Ex Libris, 2018). 8-20.

2. Ibid, 15-23.

3. Ibid, 8.

4. Ibid, 26-28.

5. Richard Trexler has extensively covered this in many of his writings, most notably his book, Public Life in Renaissance Florence, first published in 1980.

6. Mazzola, La morte nera a Palermo. Roccolta degli atti del senato che consacrano Santa Rosalia a Patrona della città, 15-22.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid,13-14, 24-25.

10. Gauvin Alexander Bailey, “Anthony Van Dyck, the Cult of Saint Rosalie, and the 1625 Plague in Palermo,” in Hope and Healing: Painting in Italy in a Time of Plague 1500-1800, ed. Pamela M. Jones, Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Franco Mormando, Thomas W. Worcester (Worcester Art Museum and the University of Chicago Press, 2005), 124-125.

11. Giulia Calvi, Histories of a Plague Year: The Siocial and the Imaginary in Baroque Florence, trans. Dario Biocca and Brant T. Ragan Jr. (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California University of California Press, 1989). 

12. Ibid, 123-154, 241-244.

13. Samuel K Cohn, “Plague Psychology,” in Cultures of Plague: Medical Thinking at the End of the Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 264-293.

14. Ibid, 266-267.

15. Xavier F. Solomon, Van Dyck in Sicily: 1624-1625 Painting and the Plague (Milano: Silvana Editoriale, 2012), 34-35.

16. Ibid, 35.

17. Mazzola, La morte nera a Palermo. Roccolta degli atti del senato che consacrano Santa Rosalia a Patrona della città, 8.

18. Translation from Latin into Italian by Girolamo Mazzola; English translation by author.

19. Ibid, 26.

20. Bailey, “Anthony Van Dyck, the Cult of Saint Rosalie, and the 1625 Plague in Palermo,” 123.

21. Ibid, 124-25.

22. Solomon, Van Dyck in Sicily: 1624-1625 Painting and the Plague, 35.

23. Sara Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, vol. 53, La nuova diagonale (Palermo: Sellerio, 2004), 113-116. 

24. Mazzola, La morte nera a Palermo. Roccolta degli atti del senato che consacrano Santa Rosalia a Patrona della città, 9.

25. Bailey, “Anthony Van Dyck, the Cult of Saint Rosalie, and the 1625 Plague in Palermo,”119-123.

26. Ibid, 124.

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Rosario La Duca, Monte Pellegrino e il Festino di Santa Rosalia (Caltanissetta-Roma: Salvatore Sciascia Editore, 2013), 17.

30. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 97-98.

31. G. B. Rosciolo, Oratio habita in Aula Collegii Romani Jesu, s.e.s.l. (1627), 4, quoted in Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 101.

32. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 104.

33. Ibid, 104-105.

34. Bailey, “Anthony Van Dyck, the Cult of Saint Rosalie, and the 1625 Plague in Palermo,” 118.

35. Ibid, 125.

36. Louise Marshall, “Manipulating the Sacred: Image and Plague in Renaissance Italy,” Renaissance Quarterly 47, no. 3 (1994): 506.

37. Ibid, 506-510; 529.

38. Mazzola, La morte nera a Palermo. Roccolta degli atti del senato che consacrano Santa Rosalia a Patrona della città, 8-9.

39. Ibid.

40. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 112-113.

41. Ibid, 113. What is particularly interesting about this association between Corpus Christi and Rosalia is that another female patron saint of Palermo, Cristina, is deeply tied to the same feast. 

42. Don Onofrio Paruta, Relatione delle feste fatte in Palermo per lo trionfo delle gloriose reliquie di Santa Rosalia, vergine palermitana, scritta dal Dottor Don Onofrio Paruta, canonica della Chiesa metropolitana di Palermo, figlio di Filippo, e poi perfettionata da Don Simplicio Paruta, monaco cassinese, e dal medesimo drizzata all’Illustrissimo Senato di Palermo (Palermo: per Pietro Coppola, 1651) quoted in Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 114. 

43. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 113-125. 

44. Paruta, Relatione delle feste fatte in Palermo per lo trionfo delle gloriose reliquie di Santa Rosalia, vergine palermitana, scritta dal Dottor Don Onofrio Paruta, canonica della Chiesa metropolitana di Palermo, figlio di Filippo, e poi perfettionata da Don Simplicio Paruta, monaco cassinese, e dal medesimo drizzata all’Illustrissimo Senato di Palermo

45. Ibid.

46. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 116.

47.  The city is divided into four quarters, with each corresponding to and protected by one of the early patrons of the city: Ninfa, Cristina, Oliva, and Agata. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 118. 

48. Ibid.

49. Paruta, Relatione delle feste fatte in Palermo per lo trionfo delle gloriose reliquie di Santa Rosalia, vergine palermitana, scritta dal Dottor Don Onofrio Paruta, canonica della Chiesa metropolitana di Palermo, figlio di Filippo, e poi perfettionata da Don Simplicio Paruta, monaco cassinese, e dal medesimo drizzata all’Illustrissimo Senato di Palermo.

50. Cristina Lombardo, “1693. Il terremoto. La Santa. La Processione. Palermo.” Fondazione Federico II. Accessed July 18, 2021. https://www.federicosecondo.org/1963-il-terremoto-la-santa-la-processione-palermo/ 

51. Remi Chiu, “Singing on the Street and in the Home in Times of Pestilence: Lessons from the 1576-78 Plague of Milan,” in Domestic Devotions in Early Modern Italy, ed. Maya Corry, Marco Faini, and Alessia Meneghin (eiden; Boston: Brill, 2018)27-33.

52. Ibid.

53. Gavin Brown, “Theorizing Ritual as Performance: Explorations of Ritual Indeterminacy,” Journal of Ritual Studies 17, no. 1 (2003): 3-8.

54. Ibid, 5-6.

55. Ibid, 8-9.

56. Beatrice Jarvis, “Performing Community/The Pride of Promenade: Site specific performance and the construction of collective urban identity within post conflict landscape,” Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies 12, no. 5 (2016): 5. 

57. Ibid, 14.

58. Ibid.

59. Ibid, 15.

60. Cohn, “Plague Psychology,” 272-274.

61. Bailey, 131.

62. Ibid.

63. Ibid.

64. Ibid.

65. Taking the bus to the shrine is no easy feat, even today. Bus schedules in Palermo are notoriously finicky and the ride up is full of twists and turns; even the hardiest of riders may find themselves feeling a bit queasy. The last time I visited, in 2019, it took multiple attempts over three days to catch the correct bus up the mountain. 

66. Allie Terry-Fritsch, “Performing the Renaissance Body and Mind: Someasthetic Style and Devotional Practice at the Sacro Monte di Varallo,” Open Arts Journal 4, (winter 2014-15): 130.

67. Ibid.

68. Cabibbo, Santa Rosalia tra terra e cielo: storia, rituali, linguaggi di un culto barocca, 116.


About the Author: Emily Jay is an interdisciplinary artist and educator from Ohio. In 2013 she earned her MFA from Bowling Green State University. She has exhibited internationally, and has been co-director at The Neon Heater Art Gallery in Findlay, Ohio since October 2016.  Utilizing photography, paintings, installation, poetry, performance, and book making, her work repurposes the iconography of Italian Renaissance devotional imagery in order to root female perspectives into historical contexts. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University examining the intersection of female saints, the plague, and place-making in Early Modern Palermo. For more information please visit http://emily-jay.com/