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N. B. The copy of this discourse, which was in the Harleian Library, being imperfect, we have been obliged with that which is here printed, being the author's original MS. by Peter Thompson, Esq; the present worthy High Sheriff of Surrey.
LATE TERRIBLE EARTHQUAKE IN SICILY,
WITH MOST OF ITS PARTICULARS.
Done from the Italian Copy, printed at Rome. London: Printed for Richard Baldwin, near the Oxford-Arms, in Warwick-lane,
1693. Quarto, containing thirty-six Pages,
THE TRANSLATOR TO THE READER. THIS account of the late terrible earthquake in Sicily, I thought, deserved to be put in English. The author, who is a priest, has wrote it in a very plain style; and I have ventured to leave out se. veral things that are in the original, especially that relate to mira. cles, and other fopperies his profession leads him to believe. As to the rest, I have translated it as near the Italian as I can, and with the same simplicity of expression, which is more to be valued in accounts of this nature, than flourishes of rhetorick. THE late earthquake, that fell out in Sicily, is of so astonishing
a nature, as can be easilier imagined than expressed ; and such a one as can hardly, if at all, be paralleled in any preceding age. It is true, that island has been often the scene of such kind of tragedies, and the irruptions of mount Ætna have been no news in the world for near two thousand years past: but whether, as an effect of the anger of heaven, or of the craziness of this globe of the earth, which seems to begin to yield to the injuries of time, as all other things do; certain it is, that this last earthquake, for the suddenness of it, and the mighty desolations it has produced, is the most astonishing one that ever was.
Philosophers will be inclinable to search for the natural causes of such a phænomenon, in the quality and temper of the summer that went before : and I am willing so far to humour them, as to suppose, that the many great rains and intense heats, succeeding so often one another this last summer in all the southern parts of Sicily, might contribute to this affrightful irruption : for the imperceptible
chasms, thereby made into the bowels of the earth, might probably give room for the vapours of the atmosphere, to insinuate
themselves into those subterraneous cavities, which afterwards dilating themselves, and requiring greater room, must needs force their way through all obstacles that penned them in.
But, leaving this disquisition to others, it would seem this earthquake carried along with it some more than ordinary marks of an immediate stroke of heaven. And as seldom the divine vengeance exerts its power upon us mortals in any national calamity, without giving us some previous warnings; so this late stroke was ushered in with unwonted presages, of which it were hard, if not impossible, to give any natural cause, though perhaps, I be as little a votary to superstition, as any man can be, notwithstanding the world is pleased to tax our order with it; yet the strangeness of one
wo omens, that preceded this earthquake, may justly prevail with me, to give here a short account of them.
Passing over that mighty loud warning from mount Ætna, tbat happened for three days together in June last, which is always re. marked as a forerunner of some irruption, either of the mount itself, or of some part thereabouts; this following strange phænomenon fell out at Syracusa, on the fifteenth of May before.
About two hours before sun setting, the atmosphere being very clear, the heavens appeared, on a sudden, all on fire, without any flashes of lightning, or the least noise of thunder, which lasted about a quarter of an hour. About which time were seen in the air, as it were perpendicularly above the city, two rainbows, after the usual manner, with points towards the earth, and a third transversed; the colours of all three being extremely bright. This was by all spectators thought the more supernatural, that during the whole time these rainbows appeared, there was not one single cloud to be seen in any part of the horizon.
In July thereafter, at Catanca, the nearest town to mount Ætna, there fell out another as surprising presage. In the church of the Minims there, one father Baletti lies buried; a man who was believed by the people of that country to have, by his prayers, stopped the progress of that fearful irruption of Ætna, which happened about a hundred and twenty years ago. The story goes, that a flood of bituminous matter, like burning oil, being thrown out of the mountain, was carried down with a mighty rapidity, to the very gates of Catanea, bearing erery thing before it in its way. Every body expected to be immediately devoured by this sulphureous inundation, when this holy man, by his exorcisms and prayers, in presence of all the people, put a stop to its career. Now this tomb being ever since held in greatest veneration by the people of Catanea, and notwithstanding his name wa never in the calendar, yet daily prayers and offerings ceased not to be offered at his shrine. It fell out, as I have said, in July last, that one morning when the doors of the church came to be opened, the statue of the saint, that was placed upon bis monument, was fallen down, and lay flat on the ground. This was at first thought to be but an ordinary accident; but the statue, every time it was set up upon its basis again, for seven or eight nights together, was constantly found fallen down to the ground in the morning, and at last was forced to be laid flat upon the tomb, in which posture it lay till this late destruction both of it, and the town itself.
A third presage, that seemed to foretel this earthquake, happened in a little village, within three miles from Catanea, named Alari, where used to grow as good wine as any in Sicily.' In February last, about sun-setting, all the people of the country about saw, as they thought, this village all in flames. The fire, they imagined, began from less to more, increasing for about a quarter of an hour together, and then all the houses of the village appeared as in one flame, which lasted for about six minutes, till it seemed to decay, for want of more fewel. A great many people, that lived near the village, when they saw the fire first begin, came running to it, to do the friendly office of helping to extinguish the fire; and, all along the road, till they were almost within the very village itself, they imagined they saw the fire extend itself more and more; but, being entered, they found all was a deception of the sight, if not a presage of that calamity that, some months after, befel the place.
But I come to the dreadful earthquake itself, a greater than which we read not of, in either ancient, or modern history. It is here indeed, that I can neither give myself, nor others, the satisfaction I could wish, there being so many little places, and even some considerable towns destroyed, where there are no inhabitants left to give us an account of the manner how these places were swallowed up; so that, of these, we can have no other narrative, but what people at a distance, and in a hurry themselves, for fear of sinking into the same ruin, have been able to give us.
This earthquake diffused itself into all these three districts, or divisions, into which the island of Sicily is ordinarily divided; which are, 1. Valli di Noto, comprehending principally the eastern parts of the island; 2. Mazaro, containing the western and southern parts; and, 3. Mono, which confines itself to the north and north-east parts of the island. The greatest shaking reached, from mount Ætna, all along to Cape Passaro, the Pachynus of the ancients. In all this vast tract of land, nothing stood the shock, but all fell under the weight of a general ruin.
It was on the seventh of January, 1693, about ten at night, that mount Ætna began to utter those hideous roarings, which commonly usher in some tragedy of the nature of what followed. Those loud bellowings continued till the ninth, when, about twelve of the clock, they began to cease, or rather fall lower. Within an hour after, the in habitants of Catanea, which was the next town to the mountain, began to perceive a shaking under them, about three minutes together. This did litile other hurt, than affright the people, and give them fears of some further hurt. It was remarkable, that, during the three minutes this shake continued, and an hour before, there was not the least noise heard from mount Ætna, but, within less than a minute after the shake was over, not only did the noise redouble, infinitely more terrible than it had been before, but the whole top of the mountain appeared all in flames, which, the wind blowing from the westward, carried with it a vast quantity of burnt ashes, which have always been found to be the ordinary attendants of those flamy irruptions. It is not certain how far this shake of the ninth diffused itself, but it is probable, that more or less of it was felt through most of the south parts of this island; for the inhabitants of the cities of Mineo, Palaonia, Ragosa, and the town of Licodia, felt all of them the same shake, and at the very same minute of the day, as Catanea had done.
All this was but the forerunner of the horridest shake of all, which fell out on the eleventh. This affected the whole island, but very unequally; and, by the exactest computation that can be made, the whole period of it lasted not above six minutes, from Messina northwards, to cape Coio, the farthest point of Sicily te the south.
Catanea is thought to have beeu the first that fell under the weight of this heavy calamity. This city, which is as ancient as most in Sicily, seated in a pleasant and rich soil, inhabited by several of the gentry thereabouts, endowed with an university, and containing about twenty-four thousand souls, was sunk out of sight in a moment. There happened some fisherboats to be at that time in the bay that lies south of the town, and within a league's distance, who give an account, that they saw the city sink down, with the noise, as it were, of some thousand pieces of great ordnance discharged all at once. After it was thus vanished out of their sight, the fishermen say, that, some minutes thereafter, to the eastward, near where the city stood, there rose up a little mountain, which, lifting itself up several times a considerable height above the ordinary level of the ground thereabouts, sunk at last likewise out of their sight. The fishermen do likewise declare, that, during all this horrid tragedy, which they saw befal the city Catanea, they themselves were every moment expecting to be swallowed up in the bay, by reason of the strange violent agitations of the sea; and scarce
was this heaving up of the imaginary mountain on the southside of Catanea øver, but they felt the sea calm, It is thought there have not escaped, of the inbabitants of Catanea, above two thousand in all: those, that escaped, came away either after the shaking of the ninth, or the morning of the eleventh ; and the hideous roaring of mount Ætna, which used to be the forerunner of some calamity on that side, gave them warning to flee: but they were the better sort of people only, that had the opportunity to make so happy an escape, the rest falling under the universal ruin. In the place, where Catanea stood, appears now at a distance a great lake, with some great heaps of rubbish appearing here and there above the water.
I had almost forgot one circumstance very remarkable, which the fishermen, that were in the bay. of Catapea, at the time of this last shake, do positively affirm. They say, that both before, and some minutes after the earthquake bappened, mount Etna appeared more than ever in flames, and the noise was greater than it had
been since its first irruption of the seventh. But, a few minutes after Catanea was swallowed up, there was neither flames to be seen, nor the least noise to be heard for the space of five or six hours together. And then the mountain began a-new again to roar and throw out fames more duskish and smoky than at ang time before.
The same shake, that utterly destroyed Catanea, did lay in heaps more than half of Saragosa, the ancient Syracusa. This city, once the greatest of Sicily, and, if we will believe some ancient historians, particularly Strabo, the largest once in the world, may contend with any in Europe for antiquity, having been the seat, for a great many ages, of a flourishing commonwealth, and the scene of a great many warlike actions. It retained still some marks of its ancient greatness, and, with the advantages of a rich soil, and pleasant situation, and a strong castle to defend it, might contain about six. teen thousand people. This ancient city suffered much by the shake of the ninth, most of the best buildings, and the greatest part of the castle being rent in several places. Upon the tenth at night, it underwent another considerable shake with a mighty tempest of wind, so that the great bell in one of its churches was beard Several times to make a sound, through the violent trembling of the steeple. A great many were killed by the fall of houses the time this shake and tempest happened ; and most that were able, or had the opportunity, fled out of town that night, which was the occasion of their safety.
But the shake of the eleventh brought with it a sudden and inevitable destruction, throwing down, in a moment, more than two parts in three of the whole city, and burying in its rubbish above four parts in five of the people that were left. The least computation that can be made of the loss of the inhabitants of it, is above seven thousand, the rest escaping, as I have said, the night before, and some hundreds were digged out of the ruins alive, but lame and bruised, so that few of them, it is thought, will recover.' Most of the magistrates, and people of best fashion, ran into the great church for shelter, where they met with death by the fall of the stone roof and the steeple both together.
The city of Noto had yet a worse fate than Syracusa, scarce any part of it now standing. This place is one of the ancientést of Sicily, and once contended for the preheminence with Syracusa itself. It is situate on a very high rock, almost inaccessible on all sides, but by one narrow passage ; having under the cape Passan, one of the best and largest harbouts of the whole island, and being the key of Sicily on that side. The mighty hardness of the rock on which Noto stood, seemed to secure it from the hazard of earthquakes, but it felt that shake on the ninth, with more violence than any other place of the island. That of the eleventh faid it, in a moment, in heaps, the manner whereof we cannot attain, by reason none of the inhabitants are left, but some few that left the place on the ninth. There is seen yet standing a part of the church of a