History of San Cataldo


See San Cataldo guide for highlights and historic monuments

The town of San Cataldo developed in an area of ancient settlement, as evidenced by archaeological remains found in the area, but it is not an ancient city, and it was only founded in the early 17th century. In fact, San Cataldo was a "New Town", created for the need to increase production of wheat at a time that was marked by devastating famines.

As happened in other places in Sicily developed at the same time as San Cataldo, it was placed in an area almost depopulated, and mainly characterized by the presence of solitary "casalia" (hamlets) scattered in the countryside - in fact:

"we know that in the Norman times this territory was part of the uninhabited feud of  ‘Caliruni’  and it belonged to the County of Caltanissetta, including also the territories, which are also uninhabited, and the existing  adjacent municipalities of ‘Serradifalco’ and  ‘Mussumeli’" [1].

Origins of the original name Casale Chaliruni

San Cataldo was born around an old hamlet, carrying a name with a Greek root, "Casale Chaliruni" (or "Caliruni"),  the etymology of which refers to the concept of "beauty"  ("Kalòs" - "Chali") and of "run", “flow” [ Greek “reo "]  (" runi ");  the thing that “ran beautiful' or ‘flowed’ was the “Salito” river (or “Salso”), which passed close to the ancient medieval hamlet.

As we said, in the 17th century the question of food in all the territories ruled by Spain became very serious, so many members of the Sicilian feudal nobility made numerous requests to the Spanish government to get the "Ius  populandi et aedificandi", the right to build new towns dedicated to agriculture [2], hence San Cataldo was born.

The question of the ancient "Ius populandi et aedificandi" has been reconstructed very well by Giuseppe Testa, who writes:

[…] To obtain the right to populate, it was customary to address the King or the Viceroy for the privilege (which later was called the Permit ), “jus populandi” [the right to populate], to populate owned lands which were abandoned and uncultivated [...]” having obtained the "privilege", normally the noble chose the name of the new town...

... The name was commonly chosen by the feudatory himself and indicated in the Permit to populate (...) Many Barons chose the names of Saints (Santa Ca terina, Santa Ninfa, San Cataldo); others adopted the surnames of their respective family: (Lercara, by Francesco Lercaro, Lucca by Francesco Lucchese, Ventimiglia by Beatrice Ventimiglia, Altariva by Pietro Altariva) [...]” [3].

Origins of the name San Cataldo

In this case the name of the patron saint of the New Town was chosen by the noble Nicolò Galletti. He exercised almost absolute powers in the new village:

"the Baron (...) could judge any crime and punish the counterfeiters, usurers, corrupt judges, false witnesses and killers". What led him to choose the name of this holy is linked to the strong devotion to the Bishop Cataldo of Taranto by Nicolò Galletti, its founder" [4].

The will of Nicholas Galletti to give his "New Town" the name of San Cataldo was also reinforced by the fact that in his land there was in an old hamlet called "Cathal", which Duke Roger, in a document dating back to 1095, donated to the Bishop of Girgenti (Agrigento). The document was published and very well illustrated already in the 18th century by Vincenzo Gaglio Agrigentino:

"[...] I grant the property to Bishop Gerlando and his successors the hamlet said ‘Cathal’, with a hundred peasants" [5].

We note that "Cathal" is the Irish name of San Cataldo. Montalambert explains:

"[...] Let us confine ourselves here to pointing out, among the thirteen Irish saints honoured with public veneration in Italy, him who is still invoked at the extremity of the peninsula as the patron of Tarento under the name of 'San Cataldo'. His name in Ireland was 'Cathal', and before he left his country to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and to become a bishop at Tarento, he had presided over the great monastic school of Lismore, in the south of Ireland [...]” [6].

In fact, as has been shown by studies, "Cataldo" is not an Irish but a Lombard name; however, for the presence of a hamlet called "Cathal", or "Cataldo", some scholars rightly think that "Cathal" was the origin of “San Cataldo”.

Recent history of San Cataldo

The town was ruled by the Galletti family for many years, then passed under the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and then to the French in Napoleonic times.

The 19th century was particularly strong for the city from the political point of view; in general we can say that the union with the Kingdom of Naples did not meet the requirements of political autonomy of Sicily, where there were bitter political struggles conducted by the famous sect of the ‘Carbonari’.

After the unification of Italy, San Cataldo was raised to the rank of "city". At one time it was an important mining center, and today the city's economy is based mainly on agriculture and  the production of agricultural equipment and crafts. A considerable impetus has been received in recent years from the fields of trade and tourism, with the development of the territory, which offers scenic and safe historical attractions for tourists.

See also the travel guide for San Cataldo.

References

1. See N. Cataldo, “Un paese di Nuova fondazione, San Cataldo dalle origini a oggi”, Centro studi di Cammarata” [“A Town of New Foundations, San Cataldo from its origins to today,” Centre for the Study of Cammarata], 2002:  15

2. About the "licentia populandi" , See V. Balistreri, “Le Licentiae Populandi in Sicilia nel secolo XVII” ["The ‘Licentiae populandi’ in Sicily in the seventeenth century”], Mazzone, 1979

3. Vedi Giuseppe Testa, “Serradifalco”, 1990, pp. 58-60

4. See A.I. Lima, "The sacred dimension of the landscape", Flaccovio, 1984:  49

5. See Vincenzo Girgentino Gaglio, "A short dissertation on the investiture of a village granted to S. Gerlando and the Bishops of Girgenti”, in “Opuscoli di autori siciliani”, Palermo, 1767, Vol. 9:  62

6. See Count de Montalembert, “Saint Columba”, Edinburgh and London, 1868: 157