BRIEF HISTORY OF ST. GEORGE’S
From the 17th century onwards, great interest in the art and history of the Greek and Roman civilisation developed in Northern Europe which led to numerous foreigners visiting Sicily; among these were many English families who actually settled on the Island, choosing it as their adopted country.
They were very active in several fields, ranging from the wine trade to the processing of agricultural products and archaeological research. The British presence in Sicily increased in 1799 when King Ferdinand IV donated the Castle of Maniace to Horatio Nelson for services rendered, along with the title Duke of Bronte. The large estate of the duchy included Villa Falconara in Taormina which was home, until the mid nineteen fifties, to the Nelson family heirs who played a fundamental role in the founding of St. George’s. The presence of the largest communities establishing themselves in Palermo and Taormina.
One English family who earned themselves a place in Taormina’s rich history is that of Sir Edward and Lady Hill. Sir Edward was the owner of a property known as Santa Catarina (now a hotel) which included a small chapel. Before he bought the house at the end of the 19th century, services for the English speaking community were held in the private houses of the wealthy and of the then British Consul in Messina. Sir Edward subsequently offered his private chapel for services and when that eventually became too small Mrs Dashwood, owner of the Villa San Pancrazio, offered the use of her large drawing room for the Sunday services. Sir Edward then decided to buy some land and build a proper church. The architect was his son-in-law, Inigo Triggs. The church was completed in the Spring of 1922.
The first Churchwardens were the then Duke of Bronte and Sir Edward’s daughter, Mabel Hill. Mabel Hill is still talked of to this day as a benefactress of Taormina, having set up a school of embroidery for the town’s womenfolk, in order for them to be able to earn a small living for themselves. She was also instrumental in helping to open the Salesian Community, dedicated to service for the young, in Taormina in 1911. The original Salesian building, in the town centre, was named San Giorgio in honour of Mabel Hill who had not only made a personal request to the then Pope Pius X to this end but also donated the property for the building to be erected.
The flat adjoining the church to accommodate the Chaplain and his wife was built in the mid nineteen eighties.
There have been many famous visitors to Taormina, to cite just a few: Edward Lear (who came to paint), Oscar Wilde, D.H. Lawrence, W.E. Gladstone, Daphne Phelps, Bertrand Russell, Roald Dahl, Tennessee Williams and one in particular, John Henry Newman, a young Anglican priest (later Cardinal Newman) came in 1833. On the view from the Greek Theatre he said it was the nearest approach to seeing Eden and he also said I felt that for the first time in my life I should be a better and more religious man if I lived here.
A more detailed history is available in the church or contact the church secretary.