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Political and ecclesiastical power during the Sicilian-Norman era (11th- 12th century)

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Home arrowPolitical and ecclesiastical power during the Sicilian-Norman era (11th- 12th century)

Having conquered Sicily, the Normans found the remains of a timid ecclesiastical Byzantine organisation, the there were just two bishops remaining and they were reinstated. Although they professed their faith and adapted Churches to use them as mosques, the Arabs had been tolerant with the Christians, allowing them to profess their faith, yet paying a specific tax. The difficult task of restoring the Christian faith on the island was left up to Robert Guiscard and his brother Roger the Great Count. Far from Rome and Cluny, poles of western Christianity, although they were warriors of Viking origin, the two Hauteville brothers left down their weapons, even if for brief periods, to take on the unusual role of Apostolic Envoys. In this sense the Apostolic Legatine granted by Urban II was decisive.
Numerous dioceses were created, perhaps too many, if we consider the smaller centres that had no influence from a pastoral point of view. But we must bear in mind that the nomination of a bishop came about by taking the local social and ethnic situation into account, from the political components of the moment and the papal pleasure or ratification. In short, spiritual and temporal power had to find their own correct balance. During the Council of Melfi in 1059, the Norman rulers accepted an agreement with the reformist current of the popes. William II managed to obtain the Benevento Agreement from Adrian IV with which the Pope’s intervention in political matters was limited and the king was allowed to put a veto on ecclesiastical nominations. Contrasts between the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Beckett and the King of England, Henry II the Plantagenet broke out, he wanted to exercise the same prerogatives as the Kings of Sicily. The struggle was resolved in a tragic manner with the martyrdom of the English Archbishop.

The Normans of Sicily greatly favoured Latin, Benedictine, Greek and Basilian monasticism. Relations with the Cluniacs and Benedictines were intense, they were inspired by the rule of Cluny like those of Cava and St. Evroult guided by Robert of Grantmesnil. The two Augustinian foundations inspired by Norbert of Premontré are noteworthy: Cefalù, the dynastic seat of the Hauteville family and San Giorgio of Gratteri.

The Benedictines
Several Benedictine monasteries had a noteworthy impulse and importance during the Sicilian-Norman era, among these, we can mention:  Montecassino, erected by the Abbot Desiderio, St. Clemente in Casauria and the Most Holy Trinity of Cava dei Tirreni, a monastery founded in 1025 by Alferio, a travel companion of Odillon, the abbot of Cluny. From this monastery, the Abbot Benincasa, a friend of the Hauteville family, is said to have sent the first 100 monks to Monreale guided by Theobald, to live in the monastery beside the Church of Santa Maria La Nuova, founded by William II. Theobald would later become the first Archbishop of Monreale.