I have many distinct memories from my childhood of visiting cousins of my grandfather who lived up in the hills outside of Perth, WA (Lesmurdie to be precise). I remember feeling as if we were going on an adventure, out into the middle of no where. I can still see those generous, vivacious people who spoke with a peculiar accent, if I close my eyes I can hear their laughter and energy.
My Nonno’s cousins spoke the dialect from their native San Piero Patti and even their children who were born and raised in Australia spoke with the same distinct accent. It’s difficult to explain, my uncle can do a hilarious imitation, it sounds as if they are talking with their mouths filled with marbles. Don’t get me wrong it doesn’t sound garbled or ugly but they are doing something funky with their tongue to give them an added force still. As compared to the usual double emphasis on the consonants so common here in Sicily, I think at San Piero Patti it’s more like a triple emphasis and they roll their ‘r’s’ well back into their throats. It’s all quite operatic, emphatic and dramatic at the same time.
I was so thrilled to make a pilgrimage to this tiny town deep in the Nebrodi mountains in honor of my Nonno and his cousins a few years ago together with my mother. It’s quite a difficult place to get to, it’s hidden away between the folds of the mountains.
Like most small secluded Sicilian towns it was filled with casual encounters which made my jaw drop.
The main square seemed untouched by time with the usual group of elderly men sitting around talking, smoking and sipping endless espresso coffees.
On the other side of the ‘piazza’ was the parish church which seemed unassuming but ambling up to the front stairs and into one of those tiny mouse hole openings cut into a larger front entrance door I found one of the most elaborate churches I’d ever seen.
Everything was covered in rich rose coloured San Marco marble and every inch was smothered either in elaborate marble decoration, gold details or sculpture. The magnificent centerpiece was a massive crucifix complete with a life size Madonna statue mourning the death of Christ. What stuck me the most is how the ‘Madonna Addolorata’ as she is known in Sicily was my height and all dressed in black. The church is the Chiesa di S. Maria and dates back to 1580.
Shaking off my surprise out of the church we walked back into the piazza and ambled towards the main road where we had parked our car when we literally bumped into an elaborate stone work fountain which seemed like something from the middle ages.
Later I discover the fountain is dedicated to Saint Vito who was a christian saint originally from Sicily.
Known as St Vitus in english he is the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics. San Vito protects against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping. He is the patron saint of Rijeka in Croatia; Ciminna in Sicily, Forio on the Island of Ischia, in Campania, Italy, the town of Winschoten, Netherlands and St. Vith in Belgium.
It was such a breathtaking visit to San Piero Patti, I’m tempted to go again, perhaps to see that weeping Madonna walking around the town in some kind of religious procession during Easter.