War of the Sicilian Vespers – the revolt that led to the mass murder of men, women and children

With Easter drawing near, it’s interesting to learn about an event that happened 737 years ago during the Easter season. Sicilian Vespers is the name given to a rebellion that happened in 1282 against the rule of Charles I, a French-born king who had ruled Sicily since 1266. The rebellion is said to have started on March 30th and for six weeks, massive destruction and deaths were witnessed with the event entering history as one of the worst battles in the Kingdom of Sicily. It is estimated that close to 3,000 men and women of French origin were killed by the Vespers. The event also led to the loss of control of the island of Sicily.

What are Vespers?

Perhaps, you are asking what Vespers are? It is important to understand what this term means as it gives a clear indication of why the war happened and where it started. Vespers are evening prayers in the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran liturgies. The word is derived from Greek and Latin, meaning “evening”. The term is used by a number of denominations describing evening prayers. These prayers normally take place some hours before dusk, they are meant to give thanks for the day as well as praise God. In Roman Catholicism, they normally follow a general structure.   The church of the Holy Spirit Palermo

How the event happened.

Although the actual events that led to the uprising are not precisely known due to different versions, one thing that the retellings have in common is that the insurrection started at the Church of the Holy Spirit, outside Palermo. The Sicilian Vespers: A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later Thirteenth Century by renowned British Historian Steven Runciman retells the story saying that the Sicilians at the church were holding festivities while a group of French soldiers entered and began drinking, eventually leading to the molesting of women. This was seen as an act of provocation and more so in a Holy place. The Sicilian men could not bear it no more, thus causing them to retaliate by stabbing one of the culprits to death. The Sicilian crown outnumbered the French soldiers and massacred them all on site. It was at this moment that the church bells rang calling people to Vespers. The messengers ran all over Sicily calling on the people to rise against their oppressors. The streets quickly filled with angry and armed men shouting war cries, and the killing of the French. After the massacre started, every French person whom they met was killed, including women and even children were not spared. Sicilian women who had married French husbands died alongside them. Dominican and Franciscan convents were not spared either. During this period, Sicily was a multicultural society due to it’s numerous invasions of different cultures in the past and so it was necessary for the Vespers to distinguish the French from the rest. They achieved this by devising a simple linguistic test where occupants were required to pronounce the word “ciciri” (chickpeas)  as at this time it was evident that the French occupying Sicily could not pronounce it with an acceptably Sicilian accent. Those who could not pronounce it were killed immediately. More than 2,000 French had been killed and the rebels were in full control of the city.  

The Flag of Sicily

The successful Sicilian Vespers gave rise to the flag of Sicily; first adopted in 1282. The flag symbolizes the successful revolt against the oppressive rule of King Charles I of Sicily.

Sicilian Vespers marks a very important period in the history of Sicily.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *