I Beati Paoli: Secret Society in Palermo, Sicily

I thought today might be the last Palermonday, but then I remembered that in addition to the Capuchin Catacombs (come back next Monday for those!) I also wanted to tell you about i Beati Paoli, a secret society that may or may not have existed in Palermo.

[I think it did, but then I do love secret societies and whatnot.]

I hadn’t heard anything about this group until Cherrye and I zeroed in on a restaurant in Piazza Marina that shares its name with this mysterious sect that was immortalized in Luigi Natoli’s book I Beati Paoli.

Beati Paoli Ristorante Pizzeria, Palermo, Sicily on Flickr

The pizza was absolutely fabulous, and it’s obviously a popular local spot as the place was packed by 8 pm–and they had only started letting in patrons about 10 minutes before. Inside, the atmosphere is also amazing; it is constructed like a cave, complete with black textured walls, lanterns lighting the way and little alcoves at every turn.

Sorry there are no food or inside photos but Cherrye and I were *starving* at that point and the cameras didn’t even make it onto the table.

Back to the group, the existence of the Beati Paoli is still in dispute, but it is commonly believed that Natoli’s book was at least part historical account with some fiction thrown in. The book takes place between 1698 and 1719 during which Sicily passed from being under Spanish rule to Piedmontese to Austrian.

Throughout this difficult time for Sicilians, the secret society is said to have fought against both the Church and the State in favor of the common man–think “rob from the rich to give to the poor” kind of thing.

There was also an element of delivering justice for the people when the throne was so far away and not doing much for them; in that sense it is also believed that i Beati Paoli may have had its origins in the“Braccio della Giustizia,” or Arm of Justice, actually sanctioned by the State; the group carried out vendettas on behalf of perceived crimes committed against both individuals and the community.

Il tribunale dei Beati PaoliIt is said that their principal meeting place was a cave in the Capo quarter near the Chiesa di Santa Maria di Gesù, also called Santa Maruzza; the church is still there but the cave entrances have been blocked off. The photo on the left is labeled “The Tribunal of the Beati Paoli” and comes from the official website of the Duomo of Palermo, which you’ve seen before on Bleeding Espresso here.

Even the group’s name is a mystery but may come from the legend that by day, its members dressed as monks of San Francesco di Paola (Saint Francis of Paola in Calabria) and sat in church pretending to pray the rosary. By night, however, the men wore black hoods (like in the photo above, except black, I suppose) and carried out their business, hiding and meeting in the hidden passageways and abandoned catacombs that still lie under the streets of Palermo.

I Beati Paoli is considered by some a precursor to the current Mafia, the roots of which are in agrarian Sicily. Although the two groups haven’t been directly linked, similar mentalities and principles, including the famed “omertà” or code of silence, show some definite overlap.

Indeed, at least one Mafia pentito (turncoat), Antonio Calderone, is quoted as saying he was told to “follow the example of the Beati Paoli” when he was initiated into the Mafia.

You probably won’t come to any concrete conclusions about the group when you’re in Palermo, but whether or not this group ever existed, the restaurant is definitely worth a stop:

Al Covo dei Beati Paoli
Piazza Marina, 50

And as for the rest, I’m looking forward to checking out Natoli’s book.

Read more about I Beati Paoli in Roberto Savona’s excellent article here.

19 Beans of Wisdom to “I Beati Paoli: Secret Society in Palermo, Sicily”
  1. Very interesting. I’m glad you explained what was up with the man in the hood. As you know in the States that sign would mean something very different.

    I should do some research. I wonder if the Klan which is very anti-Catholic, realizes their “uniforms” come from that religion. Even if the robes are pagan in origin that still would be a problem for them. I don’t think they are down with pagan beliefs either.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..No more summertime blues.

    I didn’t really get why everything I saw said the men were in black hoods but then the restaurant stuff has them in white hoods, which, yes, WAY different meaning to us of the US. Of course, the “penitent” are dressed similarly (white hoods) in the Easter processions here, so there’s that weird Catholic/perhaps pagan element again…all very interesting indeed….

  2. Joanne at frutto della passione

    Oh I love a restaurant with a story!!! And if the food was good even better. I’ve written down the address and hopefully I’ll get there someday!

    Joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..Better Tony than … well that’s it really, better!

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you Joanne 🙂

  3. Scicchi

    Great bit of info! I have always enjoyed stories of the “secret societies” of the past as well( the Molly Maguires come to mind quickly).

    The place’s description just sounds like it would make good pizza! I can’t help but wonder how it compares to some local favorite spots here (like the kind you can get on the side of the highway or after a football game 😉 )

    Hah, now that you mention it, it’s probably the Mollies that started my fascination; I’m going to have to write about them someday too. The Mollies were men!

    The pizza at this place I would say was closest to Hollywood’s, although the crust wasn’t as thick; just a similar texture in the dough.

  4. 06.30.2008

    How many restaurants have a story like this behind them? The pizza must be great! One day, one day, I will go there.

    Beatriz’s last blog post..In case you didn’t know…

    Hope you get there Beatriz 🙂

  5. 06.30.2008

    Wow, fascinating!

    And I’m looking forward to hearing about the Catacombs next week too…

    nova’s last blog post..The Downer Post

    I’m looking forward to writing about them too–I love virtual visits and revisits 🙂

  6. 06.30.2008

    Wow! Really interesting stuff!!! I’ll certainly put it on my list for when I visit 🙂

    I am always facinated by these secret society’s. To the point that I can obsessively research them to death 😉

    I get a little crazy on the research myself, Robin; sometimes it’s nice when I come across something rather obscure like this…saves me some time since there isn’t a whole lot out there on it!

  7. Stephanie

    How was the food? I will have to tell my daughter (who is there now for two months) to try it. I agree the
    hood looks like something I’ve seen in the states!!

    Cherrye and I had pizza, and it was fabulous. We were absolutely famished, so probably anything would’ve been good, but seriously, this was definitely great pizza 🙂

  8. 06.30.2008

    I agree with the other commenters. I love a restaurant with a theme and great atmosphere.

    thotlady’s last blog post..Gene Hackman

    This one definitely fits that description 🙂

  9. 06.30.2008

    This is fascinating. I will definitely be reading that article. I wish I had the Italian to read the book, as well. I love stories of secret societies and this level of intrigue.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..Music Monday: Music in my Life

    I may have to work on a translation of that book 😉

  10. 06.30.2008

    I love this kind of intrigue too, but that whole hood thing is never a good look. I mean whatever the colour it’s just plain creepy!

    amanda’s last blog post..Spellbound.

    *So* very true Amanda. Secret societies should really take note of that….

  11. 06.30.2008

    Ah! What an interesting story, I unfortunately didn’t try many restaurants in Palermo–but this one looks interesting and as the saying goes “if its filled with locals, it must be good!” My favorite pizza in sicily is the pizza alla norma much like the pasta…! What kind of pizza did you get?

    Lisa’s last blog post..Ristorante Revista Lunedi (Restaurant Review Monday)

    Lisa, I think I had a vegetarian–eggplant, zucchini–and Cherrye had an “American” one with “bacon.” Both delicious 🙂

  12. 07.01.2008

    I lived in Catania for 2 years and Naples for two years. when you have eaten pizza made in Italy – there is nothing else like it.
    Have you been to Siracusa – it’s my favourite place in the whole world! (well, all the places I have visited anyway). Agrigento is great too!
    But I do love the background to the name of the pizza restaurant!

    Estelle’s last blog post..Photoshop!!!

    I haven’t been to Siracusa yet, but I would love to go–same with Agrigento! Thanks for stopping by Estelle 🙂

  13. 07.01.2008

    I love the mystic behind secret societies. That cave you snapped a photo of was great!

    Christina Arbini’s last blog post..My Life In A Sauna…Or How I Spent My Weekend

    I can’t take credit for the cave photo–I had no idea the cave was even around when we were there!

  14. 07.01.2008

    Fascinating! You’re such a wonderful teacher.

    Thanks Nino 🙂

  15. 07.01.2008

    So do the pizza makers wear masks like that? (They totally should.)

    Hah! You’re right, although I can neither confirm nor deny. I’m afraid we weren’t anywhere near the kitchen….

  16. 07.01.2008

    That is the COOLEST!!!!!

    I love that whole thing, the story, the pictures, the idea, the mystery… the possibility…

    There is truth in the center of it. I just *know* it.

    So cool!
    You made my whole day with that.


    Scarlett & Viaggiatore

    Wanderlust Scarlett’s last blog post..One Nation Under…

    Somehow I knew you’d love this too….

  17. Tina

    Wow! At first I thought the same thing nyc/carribean ragazza did when I saw the white hood but then I read on, and this is very interesting! 🙂

    Tina’s last blog post..A new look

    Glad you read on for details Tina 🙂

  18. 07.03.2008

    This sounds very interesting! I can’t wait to try this place out myself! I really enjoyed your blog! I’m happy that I stumbled upon it!

    FYI’s last blog post..Incontinence: A Woman’s Little Secret

    So glad you stumbled over too 🙂

  19. 07.03.2008

    intrigue wrapped up in food…gotta love that! looking forward to the installment of the capucchin crypts~ there is a very cool one in roma! tell your mom we wish her un buon viaggio… 🙁

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..the wild ride of summer pauses for a moment…

    Thanks Qualcosa; I hope to make a grand catacomb tour one day 😉



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