European Travels: Monastery Of San Nicolò l’Arena In Sicily Is A “Baroque Splendor”

From an Italy Magazine article by Silvia Donati:

If the nuns of Catania’s Benedictine Convent devoted all their time to praying, the monks of the adjacent Benedictine Monastery were said to be a bit more lax about their spiritual duties. In southern Italian author Federico De Roberto’s most famous novel, I Viceré, which is very accurate in describing the social and political background of Catania in the years that followed Italy’s unification, the monks are described as carrying out the “art of Michelasso,” an Italian saying used to describe someone who, well, is idle, avoids hard work and responsibilities.

Their monastery, known as Monastero di San Nicolò l’Arena, resembled a sumptuous noble residence rather than a place where to retreat and pray to God. It was also very big, almost a city within a city, located in a panoramic position with views of the sea and the Etna volcano on what was once the acropolis of the Greek colony of Katane.

Monastery of San Nicolò l'Arena

The Benedictine Monastery’s wealth was an indicator of the power the religious order had acquired, in Catania and beyond. This is still clear when you visit the complex, a maze of rooms, basements, stairs, courtyards, colonnades and very long hallways, where architectural styles from different eras superimpose on one another.

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