“Castelbuono: the miracle of manna and the holy skull”. Sulla rivista “L’Italo-Americana” l’intervista a Elisabeth Barreca

Riportiamo qui di seguito l’intervista a Elisabeth Barreca, guida turistica certificata per l’intera Sicilia, che ha raccontato Castelbuono e la manna a una giornalista della rivista “L’Italo-Americana“.
L’intervista è in lingua inglese ed è corredata da bellissime foto, alcune delle quali, del nostro Robert Goodman, alias Roberto Bonomo.

Leggende, storia e tradizioni di Castelbuono si incrociano formando un quadro interessante del nostro Paese.


Pinned like a medieval brooch on the slopes of Mount Milocca, Castelbuono is the leading producer of manna in all the Mediterranean region.
In this small corner of the Madonie Park near Cefalù, manna does not fall from the sky as was the food sent by God to sustain the Israelites during the 40 days they wandered in the wilderness. It drips from ash trees.

The castle surrounded by people in Medieval gear (Photo: Robert Goodman)

But each summer, such a windfall is a form of manna from heaven for the Castelbuonesi. The specialty has been their principal source of income since the 18th?century.“Manna is a natural sugar that comes from a special ash tree called fraxinus ornus,” says Elisabeth Barreca, a resident of Castelbuono who is a certified tour guide for the entire island of Sicily. “Manna takes the form of a whitish stalactite that manages to be vaguely sweet. It drips from the ash trees in Castelbuono and the nearby town of Pollina.”

The sap is?extracted by making a cut in the bark and on both stems and branches.

“Manna takes the form of a whitish stalactite that manages to be vaguely sweet. It drips from the ash trees in Castelbuono and the nearby town of Pollina.”

“Once dried under the hot sun, it is collected from the ground in the hottest weeks of summer and used as a sweetener, laxative, depurative and even for cosmetic and medicinal purposes,” Elisabeth explains. “A recently created consortium of young producers is working to revive the culture of manna,” she says.The Slow Food movement supports and encourages the production, also helping keep the tradition alive.

Locals use it as an ingredient to keep on hand for baking. “Pastry shops use it for panettone and torroncini,” Elisabeth says.

The holy skull of St. Anne arrived in town in 1458 when the Ventimiglias decided to settle in Castelbuono (Robert Goodman)

She explains that some consider it an important ingredient in the brewing process as well. In addition, some?Castelbuono restaurants flavor dishes with it.Manna is also employed?in the cosmetics industry due to its softening properties. “Some people even put liquid manna on their faces as a beauty mask,” she says.

Castelbuono is a well-preserved village of classic medieval appearance with an unexpected jewel: Ventimiglia Castle.??“It?was built upon an existing watchtower in 1317 by the powerful Count Francesco I Ventimiglia, who represented one of the most influential Sicilian families of all times, the Ventimiglia family.”

Don’t miss a visit to the Palatina chapel within the grounds of the castle. The magnificent church was decorated from 1684 to 1687 by Giuseppe and Giacomo Serpotta, two brothers who are credited with raising Sicilian stuccowork from a craft to an art.

Castelbuono (Photo Robert Goodman)

“Here, behind the altarpiece, enshrined in a fine, silver reliquary bust from 1521 is the skull of St. Anne,” the town’s adored patron saint, explains Elisabeth. “The Castelbuonesi consider her a mother who never fails to protect her children.”?The holy skull of St. Anne arrived in town in 1458 when the Ventimiglias decided to settle in Castelbuono. Originally from Ventimiglia, Liguria they mysteriously received the relic from the Duke of Lorraine, France. One day in 1605, the guardian monk stole the relic and took it to Palermo. He confessed only on his deathbed, notes Elisabeth. Finally in 1615 the Ventimiglias returned the relic to their castle and secured the silver reliquary bust in the chapel behind a grate with several locks.

Some say during WWII American soldiers attempted to rob Castelbuono of its sacred relic as well. But church bells rang so loud and continuously that all the Castelbuonesi rushed over and were able to chase them off.

The relic is visible once a year during the spectacular Festa di Sant’Anna from?July 25 to 27.

The castle also has a tunnel that leads to the Church of Saint Francis which contains a magnificent pipe organ of the Venetian school. “It is one of the oldest in Europe,” Elisabeth says.

What celestial and soothing harmonies!

You can find great serenity in the sounds of nature all around in the Madonie hillsides, home to more than 160 species including wild boar and wildcat. Several types of falcon, eagle and vulture, make it a haven for twitchers.

According to legend, these mountains are where Hades abducted poor unsuspecting Persephone into the underworld. They are beautiful and mysterious.

Castelbuono’s rugged charms ensnare many visitors who end up moving there.

“Some Americans have chosen to live here even if they have no genealogical connection with the town,” says Elisabeth. Some have married Castelbuonesi. “Sicilians like Americans,” she says. “Every year there is always some US citizen who visits the place to research their roots and find long-lost relatives.”

Quite a few Castelbuonesi migrated to the United States from?the 1880s to 1920 and then again after WWII.

The Castelbuono castle was actually bought at auction by the municipality in 1920 after a group of Italian-Americans from the town supported a fundraising effort, notes Elisabeth.

“Castelbuono is a human-scale town,” she says. It is also a summer destination for music lovers. A jazz festival, a popular indie rock festival called Ypsigrock and a classical music festival take place in July and August.

The variety of food on offer is surprising. Don’t miss caciocavallo in crosta and testa di turco, the town’s signature dessert.
“But what makes my town really special is the hospitality of its people,” says Elisabeth.