Wednesday 29 April 2009

per miracolo

April in Sicily, and a swift trip from our base in the Alcantara Valley to Taormina on the east coast. An exquisite (if hyper-touristy) hill-town with Etna on one side, and the straits of Messina and Calabria on the other. Near the centre of town is an eccentric little museum in a 14th-century palazzo where the Sicilian parliament used to sit hundreds of years ago: the musty Museo Siciliano d'Arte e Tradizioni Popolari. All sorts of odd bits & pieces, the unquestionable highlight being an extraordinary sequence of 25 panel paintings from the late 19th century, representing an array of grisly deaths narrowly escaped, due to miraculous saintly interventions (Christ, the Madonna, St Peter, St Sebastian etc.)

Some terrible and rather surreal fates are avoided, and indeed staged, in these naive retablo images. People falling off horses. A child falling off a carousel. A bull falling off a wall. A woman tumbling through a ceiling, another from a bridge into a river. A blinding with a ball during a tennis game, and with an arrow during an archery class. A gaggle of nuns attacked by a knife-wielding lunatic in classical fencing pose.

A horse crushed by a train, its rider tossed to one side. A celebrant at a religious fiesta trapped under the cart bearing a saint's relics. An early football injury, in a game apparently played by teams of extras from the RSC. Wild cats ('gatti arrabbiati') attacking a group of chefs, and a woman, her breast bared and bloodied in fine Catholic iconographic fashion. A rider thrown from his horse by a charging bull. Shipwrecks. A blood-red lava flow from Etna halted - per miracolo, as ever - by a rather ponderous and perruqued St Agata in an auratic circle of smoke in the sky.

Cumulatively, the effect is both alarming and hilarious. A strip cartoon catalogue of disasters and panic, like a score for a sequel to Lone Twin Theatre's Daniel hit by a train, in which only the Catholics are saved.

Photographs from Taormina © David Williams, April 2009

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