The earliest record of the Demma Family in Sicily is found in the baptismal archives of San Nicola Bari, the Mother Church of Termini-Imerese. Notated in Volume I on page 54 versus at the bottom of the page, it reads as follows in translation from Sicilian-Latin into English:
Additional Entry for February 22, 1545: The same priest, Father Basilio D’Arena, baptized the son of Luigi Demma. He was named Giovanni Pietro. His godfathers are Maistro Giuseppe DiBlasi and Monsignore Cesaro Carrozza. His godmother is the same as in the previous entry, Sister Filippa L’Angelica.
The Demma surname is derived from the term demesne, a translation into Medieval French of the Latin word, latifundum. Medieval French was the language of the Sicilian Norman Kings Roger I & II, and as such, demesne refers to the huge estates established during the latter years of the Roman Empire which passed, over time, into the hands of the all-powerful Sicilian Barons.
In addition, Termini Imerese, the home of the Demma Family, was one of 42 Città Demaniali (Estate Cities), administered directly by the crown (Kingdom of Aragon/Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, etc) rather than local nobility. Therefore, the surname Demma appears to mean: a citizen of the estate-city of Termini.
Records of the LaScola Family in Termini-Imerese can be found in the same baptismal volume as those of the Demma Family. The following entry on page 115 recto from December 29, 1547 is a very interesting example, as it involves the baptism of the daughter of a slave named Giovanni who was owned by Petro LaScola. It reads as follows in translation from Sicilian-Latin into English:
On December 29, 1547, Father Martino Romano baptized the daughter of Giovanni, the latter of whom belongs to Petro La Scola. She was named Sapia. The godfathers are Monsignore Filippo Satti and Monsignore Battista l’Abbate. The godmother is Sister Filippa L’Angelica.
The Quest to Discover the Origin
of the Surname LaScola
in Termini Imerese
1) La Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a Religious Confraternity and its Meeting Hall in Venice
A confraternity is a voluntary association of the faithful, established and guided by competent ecclesiastical authority for the promotion of special works of Christian charity or piety. They are canonically supported and they regard the personal sanctification of the members. Confraternities are divided into those properly so called and those to which the name has been extended. Both are supported by canonical authority, but the former have a more precise organization, with rights and duties regulated by ecclesiastical law, and their members often wear a peculiar costume and recite the Office in common.
Confraternities first expanded rapidly with the mendicant urban missions of the 1200s, when they emphasized peacemaking, mutual support, and egalitarian brotherhood. Into the early modern period, their individual and collective religious exercises adapted mendicant models to lay life, and included praise singing, penitential flagellation, processions, funerary and requiem services, and charity exercised to members and the urban poor. Their administration followed guild models, and most guarded their autonomy from the clergy. In larger cities, confraternities organized members according to devotional preference, trade, nationality, neighborhood, or charitable activity, and took on extensive social responsibilities as a result. Theirs was a distinctly local piety, and confraternities were often the custodians of local shrines, the organizers of civic religious rituals, and the administrators of local hospitals, orphanages, and hostels. They were the lay face of the church, and most of what passed for social welfare was organized and run by the brotherhoods.
Perhaps the most famous structure in modern Italy built for a confraternity is the Scuola Grande (construction began in 1517) next to the Church of San Rocco in Venice.
Its great rooms are covered with a fabulous series of paintings created by Tintoretto and his son. It is a very traditional structure, similar to other Venetian Scuole, consisting of two halls, one above the other, which make up the main body of the building. The Ground Floor Hall, divided into three aisles by two rows of columns, is accessible from outside through the portal onto the campo. From the hall, two doors give access to two symmetrical arms of a staircase (scala a tribunale) which end on a landing, at its height covered by a cupola and which opens onto the Upper Hall (Sala Superiore), the site of processions and meetings of the Confratelli. Between 1587 and 1618 the altar in the Sala Superiore was built. In this hall, a door was opened to give access to the Sala dell’Albergo (Hall of the Hostel), the room used for meetings of the Banca e Zonta. This room was built over an arcade known as “dei Morti” which opened on the campo through a secondary door in the façade.
To which structure and confraternity in Termini Imerese the family name La Scola refers is as yet unknown. But it could be that there was once a Scola for the guild of shoemakers and cobblers located next to the church dedicated to their patron saints, San Crispino & San Crispiagnano.
2) La Scola Grande Tedesca, a Synagogue in the Venetian Ghetto
Known as Scole, the five synagogues of the Venetian ghetto were constructed between the early-16th and mid-17th centuries. (The word Scola can be compared with the Yiddish ‘Shul’ meaning synagogue.) Each Scola in Venice represented a different ethnic group that had settled there and obtained a guarantee of religious freedom: the Tedesca and Canton Scole practiced the Ashkenazi rite; the Scola Italiana, the Italian rite and the Scole Levantina and Spagnola, the Sephardic rite. Despite a few later interventions, these synagogues have remained intact over time and testify the importance of the Venetian ghetto. The unusual tall buildings found here were divided into floors of sub-standard height, demonstrating how the density of the population had increased over the years.
The Scola Grande Tedesca (Great Ashkenazic Synagogue) was founded by Ashkenazim (the Hebrew word for German Jews). Although they first settled the German speaking lands of Rhine Valley, most Ashkenazim were pushed out of Western Europe during the era of the Crusades and found refuge primarily in the Kingdom of Poland-Lithuania where they lived for hundreds of years. Their brethren, the so-called Spanish Jews, that is to say, Sephardim, were forced out of Spain in 1492. A large number of them converted to Catholicism rather than leave, but an equal number fled to the East, settling primarily in the Ottoman and Persian Empires. By good fortune, some Ashkenazim and Sephardim also found refuge in Venice.
The Scola Grande Tedesca occupies the top two floors of an ordinary-looking building and recognizable only by the five big windows on its third floor. Built in 1528, the Scola Grande Tedesca is the oldest of the three synagogues in Campo Ghetto Nuovo and among the oldest surviving synagogues in Europe.
And, to be sure, Termini-Imerese in Sicily once had a synagogue (Scola) with the unusual name ‘La Moschetta’ (The Little Mosque). Torn down in 1492, it stood in the Jewish Quarter on the land now occupied by the Monastery of Santa Chiara:
The mother of the Demma children of Springfield OH (Rosalia, Teresa, Angelina, Francesco, Joseph, and Sebastiano) was Liboria LaScola. As the Demma Family name appears among the family names of the Neofiti (Jews who converted to Catholicism) of Italy published by Nardo Bonomi, there is a strong possibility that the LaScola family, like the Demma family, was Jewish until the years following 1492 when the Jews of Termini had to make a choice to leave the island kingdom, or convert to Catholicism and hand over 45% of their assets to the Crown. To be sure, it does make sense that the families of Neofiti, as the converts were known, continued to intermarry just as they did when they were adherents of the Jewish Faith.
Two other Matacia family names also appear on the list of the former Jews of Sicily: Restivo and De Stabile. Rosalia ‘Rosina’ Demma was married to Agostino Matacia who had several siblings. Agostino’s sister Rosa ‘Rose’ Matacia married Antonino ‘Tony’ Restivo, and Rosa ‘Rose’ Matacia, one of the six daughters of Agostino’s brother Antonino ‘Tony’ Matacia married Dominic ‘Fred’ Stabile. Of course this begs the question: were Matacias also descended from Neofiti?
3) La Scola di Vimignano, a Village in Emiglia-Romagna
Greg LaScola has discovered yet another answer to origins of the LaScola surname. It is his understanding that his LaScola forbears came into Sicily from the area around Bologna. In fact, there exists a village southwest of Bologna formerly in the Papal States called La Scola di Vimignano, then located in the Legazione di Romagna (now part of the administrative region of Emiglia-Romagna).
The village of La Scola di Vimignano in central Italy, derives its name from the Lombard term Sculca, which means a lookout from a high position. The village’s defenses were strengthened over the years with the construction of walls and towers, as a final bulwark of defense. The most important building in the village, Casa Parisi (named after the family that owned the village until the eighteenth century), which dates from the second half of the fourteenth century, is a massive construction that follows the shape of defense fortresses. The higher part of the village still houses the Oratory of S. Rocco which, built with blocks of sandstone, is the only example of this type of building left in the Bolognese Apennine.
Maps showing the location of the remote village of La Scola di Vimignano in the Apennine Mountains south of Bologna.
According to Greg’s family’s oral tradition, his family’s move to Sicily from the village of La Scola di Vimignano occurred only a few generations before they emigrated to America. But it is certainly possible that LaScola family emigres from La Scola di Vimignano actually arrived in Sicily centuries earlier, and that their names or those of their descendants are the ones recorded in the 1542-48 baptismal records of Termini Imerese. Greg has also informed me that an analysis of his DNA does not indicate Jewish ancestry.
Greg added the following details:
“So all of our ancestors came from either Trabia or Termini Imerese. My father remembers his grandfather and father talking about both the two towns because they are literally right next to each other; almost intertwined. So I’m not sure which one they came from, but it’s all the same area. The “Borgo La Scola” connection is only known through oral tradition, so before Termini Imerese, we do not have any data pointing to where they were born, who their parents were, etc. All we know is that our La Scola ancestor’s name was Ignazio Lascola (yes, spelled without a space and with an uncapitalized ‘S’). I know from his tombstone that he was born in 1856 and died on Feb 1, 1911. He came in through Ellis Island, and they all ended up settling in Fredonia, New York where our relatives still live. Many Sicilians and inhabitants of Trabia/Termini Imerese ended up going to Fredonia and Dunkirk NY (they’re within 5 miles of each other). We believe he had some siblings, but we don’t know who they are or where they ended up. I do know that Ignazio lived in Dubois, PA for some time where my grandfather was born, but that’s all. He married a woman by the name of Antonina (aka “Lena”) Leone (of whom we know nothing). She was buried in St Joseph Cemetery in Sheridan, N.Y (right next to Fredonia).”
Russ LaScola adds the following information:
La Scola (derived from la Sculca = lookout) was named by the locals as a place where they could keep an eye on the Lungobardi of Pistoia–‘un posto di guardia dei lungobardi di Pistoia’. Pistoia is just south of La Scola.
Greg LaScola continues:
I recently found the Sculca website and passed it on to my father. La Scola actually means a “lookout from an elevated position”. Sculca is itself of Germanic etymology. The village became a center for masonry and architecture characteristic of the Comacini Masters (an ancient Guild of Master-builders and Stonemasons) who were themselves from the area of Lake Como (Note “Comacini” is itself derived from the word “Como”). They spread this style throughout Italy as previously discussed.
A great history of this little village “Borgo La Scola” is summarized below. [This was obtained from viewing] http://www.iguidez.com/video/guides/vimignano/la-scola-village/
Construction of this village began in the second half of the 1300s though most of the buildings date to the early 15th century. It’s an exceptional example of medieval architecture designed by master tradesmen referred to as Maestri Comacini. They belonged to a distinguished school of craftsmen who came from Milan and Como. There are many other examples of their work throughout this region but none more so than this village.
We are now in the tiny square named Piazza della Meridiana, which is overlooked by this Meridian clock on the side of a house. In one of the houses is an inscription and a painting dated 1610. It also bears the coat of arms of the Parisi family who may have stemmed from Tuscany. Another room illustrates two paintings of St Anthony and the Madonna with Child. They are attributed to the Carracci school of art and said to adorn the walls of a bedroom.
This cosy little chapel called St Peter’s Oratory is at the entrance to the village or at least what is now the modern entrance. Mass is occasionally still said here. There is no information about the painting above the altar and judging from its faded appearance it’s in need of restoration.
There are certain times of the year when local actors pose as medieval inhabitants and when it’s also possible to see inside a typical residence.
Walking through the cobbled-stoned streets you will notice numerous towers – albeit not so high – which are part of the natural construction of the houses. The reason for this was so that the inhabitants and those on guard could watch out over the hills. In fact, the name of Scola is derived from the longobard origins of Sculca meaning ‘look-out post situated at a vantage point’. Another inscription above a door way obviously intended for those not welcome reads: ‘Entry not opened to enemies, 1638’.
There are still people living here however anyone walking around these streets now are more often than not tourists. The local history and picturesque scenery leaves little to the imagination of how life used to be here over 500 years ago. There are no modern facilities at all so the uniqueness and magical splendour of this village will certainly leave an enduring mark upon your memory.
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