Like many other Sicilian families of their class, every year, in May, the Agnello family would pack up and travel to their country estate – and there they would remain for the summer months. It was a short journey from the family palace in Agrigento to the large airy farm house at Mose’, but a major excursion. At Mose’, the family entered into a completely different way of life.

For those who made the journey many years ago, the Mose’ of today is obviously greatly changed. The farm, which still produces olives, almonds, pistachios and wheat, as well as fruit and vegetables, is greatly reduced in size, and the house and surrounding buildings have been extensively restored and opened to guests. Nevertheless, thanks largely to Chiara who now manages the farm and Agriturismo business, it is still possible to feel something of the rhythm of a past way of life. Something of those magical summers that linger on in the family’s memory can now be shared by anyone who visits.

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“This is not Rome or Venice, where the city’s treasures are on display, there for all to see.  Palermo is quite different: here, things are hidden away behind closed doors”.   That was part of my landlady’s introduction to Palermo. 

As I wandered the streets of the old city over the next few weeks, catching fleeting, tantalising glimpses of vaulted ceilings, leafy colonnaded courtyards and frescoed interiors disappearing behind rapidly closing doors and shutters, I began to realise how very apt her introduction to the city had been.      

Gradually, with the passing of time, I have managed to see behind some of these doors, but, until now, one particularly intriguing one has remained firmly closed to me.  It is a heavy wooden door with ornate baroque surrounds, tucked away between candle factories and printing shops in via Ponticello, a narrow paved street in the old city.  Partly because of the door itself, partly because of the sign beside it:   ‘Oratory of a Congregation of Noble Women 1733’, I always suspected there was something of interest here.  But I wasn’t at all prepared for the treasures, both artistic and historical, that I ultimately found.      

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