The Crypt of the Repentite in Palermo and a blessed tax

The “Repentite” were an order of nuns whose peculiar name derived from the old Italian expression ‘ree pentite’ (“repenting guilty”): they were all former prostitutes, and lived in a dedicated convent at the heart of Palermo.

The 16th-century monastery – officially the Convent of Santa Maria la Grazia – had a crypt that was rediscovered only a decade ago or so, during maintenance work on the rooms currently used by the local university. Among other finds, there were a splendid 17th-century altar decorated with colored majolica tiles representing Saint Francis and Saint Clare, the mother superior’s sepulcher, and a few crucifixes.

We know the nuns used to be supported by streetwalkers still in business, as Palermo’s Senate had issued a law imposing a tax on the right to wear the specific “uniform” intended to make courtesans of the time immediately recognizable. This forced generosity helped former call girls continue on the right path, since before the tax was applied a few were drawn back into bad habits even inside the convent.

A historical chronicler reported:

“Father Girolamo Domenecchi did the poor women in the Repentine Monastery in Palermo a great amount of good. The women were like wild animals in a cage […], locked in more by strength than by will, and so destitute they started rekindling old habits with their old friends. Father Domenecchi worked hard and put great zeal into bringing them back to the right path.”

“Twenty-seven of them where so touched in their hearts, and so changed into completely new women, that they started crying in contrition and macerating in harsh penance, like twenty-seven Mary Magdalenes. Once he had provided for their souls, he tackled their physical needs – and convinced the viceroy to turn the useless expense the city made every year for a lavish banquet on the day of Corpus Christi into a donation for those miserable outcasts.”

Photos via: ©Luciano Romeo

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The Crypt of the Repentite in Palermo and a blessed tax

Palermo
Via Divisi, 81

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