Storia di Agrigento bizantina. Gregorio di Agrigento

Byzantine Agrigento

The history of Byzantine Agrigento

"pitched his tent near the idolatrous temple
which is close to the south wall ... then, he restored
that temple in a wonderful way, and named it
after the Princes of the Apostles Saint  Peter and Saint Paul
consecrated it ... and there celebrated the sacred mysteries
after building in the same place
comfortable cubicles in which he and his monks lived "

Leontius, abbot of S. Saba and Hieromonk
in Ancient Rome


In 535 the armies of the Eastern Roman Empire, led by General Belisarius, during the so-called Gothic war, landed in Sicily and conquered it  quickly: thus begins, under  the reign of Emperor Justinian, the Byzantine rule of the island, marked, at least in its first century, by a certain tranquility, which however did not stop its decline. Between the sixth and seventh centuries Agrigento shows some evidence of life in  the Hellenistic Roman district and its port continues to be used  to the years preceding the Muslim conquest. Other populous suburbs such as  Emporion survive in the neighborhoods.

It was in one of these suburbs, said "of  the Praetorians", that in 559 Gregory was born to the wealthy and pious Agrigentans Chariton and Deodata. At the age of eight, they presented him to the bishop Potamione, so that he was brought up 'in piety and letters'. At the age of 19, feeling attracted to monastic life and driven by the desire to visit the Holy Land, he went to Jerusalem where became a monk and devoted himself  to the profitable study of the Holy Books. From there, he moved to Constantinople and then to Rome to the monastery of San Saba where he was able to show his great wisdom and doctrine. When  the seat of the Bishop of Agrigento fell vacant and was disputed by different factions, Gregory, at the age of 31, was appointed  bishop by  the Pope himself. The rival factions of the clergy ceased all hostilities and allied against him, slandering and accusing him of having an affair with a woman of easy virtue. Put in jail in Rome, after a trial that lasted two years, Gregory was acquitted, returned to Agrigento to exercise his ministry as bishop, and died here in 630.

San Gregorio of Akragas is certainly the most representative figure of the culture of the Byzantine period in Agrigento, especially for his exegesis of the Ecclesiastes, considered the most difficult book of the Bible, which he interpreted in a very original way showing great learning and deep understanding of Greek philosophy and Aristotle in particular.

It can be attributed to him the transformation into the church of the so-called temple of Concordia, after the pre-existing cathedral had been desecrated by the usurper Lucio; thus, he unknowingly allowed the preservation of that monument to this day, while other temples were systematically destroyed in the same historical period. The Byzantines, in fact, introduced in Sicily an edict issued by Emperor Theodosius in 393, which permitted the destruction of pagan temples, or their possible transformation into Christian churches; in fact, in Agrigento only the Temple of Concordia beefited of this possibility.

As long as the central Mediterannean Sea remained firmly under the control of the Byzantine Empire, Agrigento enjoyed if not prosperity, at least, some security, but when, since the second half of the seventh century,  the raids of the Muslims who had settled in North Africa
became more intense, the population gradually moved to that part of the city corresponding to the ancient acropolis and along its slopes, giving rise to a troglodyte settlement less conspicuous  and more easily defensible (in the district now called "balatizzo").