Myths and legends of an early spring
The medieval history of the historic center of Agrigento comes to life in the narrow streets of the Colle di Girgenti: an urban cluster of Arabian origins packed around an imposing Norman Cathedral. The Arabian Kerkent and the Norman Girgenti have been blended by time and the resulting historical centre offers an irresistible opportunity to make a fascinating walk through the Middle Ages in the very heart of the modern town of Agrigento. During the Crusades, Sicily was a thriving Emirate and in 1061 the Normans launched an imposing offensive: Count Ruggero d’Altavilla invaded the island with an army of knights and after having conquered the Muslims, he started a massive campaign of conversion and reconstruction. Sumptuous churches, palaces and cathedrals were erected in every city to sanction the return to Christianity. The Cathedral of Agrigento dates from this period and was built by Gerlando of Besançon, the first Norman bishop after more than two centuries of Muslim domination. Gerlando (San Gerlando) is directly connected to Count Ruggero D’Altavilla and even their names have a curious common root: Ruggero derives from the ancient Saxon “hrod-gar” which means “glorious lance” and Gerlando derives from “gar-land” which means “lance that protects the country”. It is worth remembering that the Normans were Vikings of origin: after decades of raids and conquests on French soil they settled in the region of Normandy, where they embraced the Christian faith and swore allegiance to the King of France Charles III.
Gerlando came from Besançon, a very rich and influential city: he was born there between 1030 and 1040. He also completed his ecclesiastical studies there in the period in which Besançon and the Monastery of Cluny were the two main centers of the Reformation of the Church. He came to Italy as a pilgrim to visit the main Christian places of worship, including the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo. It was there, in Puglia, that he first met Count Ruggero D’Altavilla: the Normans had occupied parts of Southern Italy in order to protect and defend pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land. Gerlando immediately earned the admiration of the Norman Count who asked him to join his forces and to exercise his priestly apostolate in the territories occupied by the Normans. When Count Ruggero launched the conquest of Sicily and conquered Agrigento, in 1087, he entrusted Gerlando with the arduous task of renewing the Christian faith among the people after more than two centuries of Muslim rule and of rebuilding the Diocese of Agrigento. Gerlando was appointed Bishop by Pope Urban II and he soon fulfilled his mission by conquering the hearts of the inhabitants of Agrigento. He chose the Church of S. Maria dei Greci as a Cathedral and in the following six years he built a magnificent new Cathedral on the highest point of the town: the existing Cathedral of San Gerlando. At the MUDIA museum, in the Hall dedicated to Gerlando, you can admire a valuable 14th century wooden statue and various other votive effigies of great ethno-anthropological interest. These exhibits testify a centuries-old devotion that is renewed every year on the 25th of February with religious and historical celebrations in honour of San Gerlando, Patron Saint of Agrigento. The Feast is not to be missed: a precious occasion to discover the hidden treasures of the historic center of Agrigento. All useful information is on the website.