The mystery of the Marquis of San Giuliano, a noble from Catania who became a murderer

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When Orazio Paternò Castello, the future Marquis of San Giuliano, escaped by sea, a cloud of mystery rose over him. For a long time, no one has been aware of his destiny, while now the reason for his sudden escape is clear: he killed her wife in a jealous rage

It was 1784 when a scream pierced the night troubling the family of the Marquis of San Giuliano, who were sleeping in the eponymous palace in Piazza Duomo, Catania. Orazio Paternò Castello, son of the Marquis, had just killed his wife and her lady-in-waiting in a jealous rage.

THE CRIME. The bloody uxoricide was witnessed by a third potential victim, who managed to escape death: Orazio’s son’s nurse, who threw the child to the ground and ran away in a panic. The first to report the event was the Marquis of Villabianca in his Journal about Palermo, while Francesco Paternò Castello di Carcaci wrote down the exact date: it was the 03/15/1784 when, according to his words, the news of the murder spread in the Kingdom. Yet the marriage between Rosana Petroso e Grimaldi and her husband Orazio, which took place 7 years earlier, had seemed a happy union, as together they had three children and a rich inheritance. The family resided at the San Giuliano palace in Piazza Università, built in the late Baroque style typical of the post-earthquake reconstruction of Catania after 1693. In the east wing of the palace there was the so-called Red Room, corresponding to the last two windows in the top left corner. It was the place where this double homicide took place and that is why, until the death of the heir of Orazio and Rosana, everything in the palace remained as it was. In the meantime, if in Catania the Viceroy Domenico Caracciolo was looking for the fugitive, the latter, after hiding in the church of San Nicolò la Rena with the help of his relatives (the Baron della Bruca Scammacca and his maternal uncle Francesco Gravina), had taken to the sea. The Marquis of Villafranca, who had followed the trial and banishment of Orazio, declared that he had died at sea, as many thought too.

THE DESTINY. Later, Antonino Paternò Castello, fifth Marquis of San Giuliano, decided to look for the traces of his disappeared ancestor. When he was only 27 he became the mayor of Catania, after being a good minister and ambassador. He surely was one of the most illustrious members of his family and had a deep friendship with the powerful of the world, such as Edward VII, who visited him during his trip to Sicily with Queen Victoria, and his cousin, the Tsarina of Russia. He was also a fine intellectual and went several times to Libya: it is not by chance that he read the Letters from Tripoli written and received between 1783 and 1893 by the British consul Richard Tully. The latter was an anonymous relative of Antonino Paternò Castello and told him about his encounter with a “Drugganeer” (a custom officer). He confessed that the man was nothing less than the Marquis of San Giuliano, who, after hearing rumours about her wife betraying him with the Prince of Calabria, had followed her and found out that the two were seeing each other. He had gone to the palace and there killed his wife and servant. Hence, his adventures by the sea had begun: he had sailed from Naples, where he had been captured by a Turk and had been taken to Libya. There, after converting himself and following the word of Muhammad, he had become a renegade.

In 1936, in his I Paternò di Sicilia, Francesco Paternò Castello reported a curious episode. According to him, one day a bearded Arab recently landed in Catania asked to meet the Marquis Antonino of San Giuliano and the two had a conversation about which the Marquis never wanted to talk. When he was about to die, he tried to reveal to his son Benedetto his secret, but he couldn’t utter a word. Although the story had therefore a conclusion, these facts were gradually forgotten, to the point of increasingly resembling a distant and exotic legend, such as those told by Sherazāde.

Translated by Eva Luna Mascolino

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