In memory of my 26th great grandfather, Count Roger I of Sicily (1031-1101)

My surname stems from the latin De Apapis, meaning descendant of the priest, which is novel in itself because my surname is from the Mediterranean, and Catholic priests cannot marry, but the novelty of my surname is a topic for another article.

In any case, the De Apapis line can be traced back through the Maltese aristocracy into the 15th century. My 16th great grandfather, the notorary Salvatore De Apapis I, married Leonora de Nasi, the daughter of a Sicilian noble circa 1500.

Leonora de Nasi is novel in being the only Jew in my family tree. The word Nasi means “prince” in Hebrew, and the noble family can trace its lineage in Europe back to antiquity and all the way through to the Jews of the Bible in my tree. I am through the de Nasi family a descendant of King David of Israel. Oy vey!

Through the de Nasi lineage, I can trace my family tree back through to the 13th century, at which point in time my ancestor Nicolas de la Porte married Ciara di Chieti, the daughter of Ricardo, an Italian count. Ricardo di Chieti was the grandson of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor (Emperor of what was left of it in the 12th century). Whilst noteworthy in of itself, this relation (my 23rd great grandfather) is not the one I wish to shine a light on here.

I wish to draw light to Roger I, Count of Sicily and great grandfather of Emperor Frederick, my 26th great grandfather.

Roger I was born in 1034 in Normandy son of Tancred of Hauteville, and was also known as Roger Bosso (Roger the Great) and was Count of Sicily. Tancred was a Normon and descendant of the noble Vikings who fought and died in defence of a pagan Scandinavia.

Roger moved to Southern Italy from Normandy in 1057 and was thus described by a local monk:

“He was a youth of the greatest beauty, of lofty stature, of graceful shape, most eloquent in speech and cool in counsel. He was far-seeing in arranging all his actions, pleasant and merry all with men; strong and brave, and furious in battle.”

 Roger and his brother pondered invading Sicily and other Southern territories for several years, which were at the time under Muslim rule, with Christianity suppressed and the indigenous Europeans in slavery.

In 1061, Roger and his brother amassed a force and conquered parts of Sicily. In 1072, Roger finally ousted the Arabs from Palermo, capital of Sicily and was made Count. The Muslims weren’t completely ousted until 1091 at which point Roger reinstated the Catholic church in Sicily.

A statue of Count Roger I

Roger wasn’t content there though. In 1091, Roger set sail with a fleet to retake Malta from the Arabs.

His ship reached the island before the rest. On landing, the few defenders the Normans encountered retreated and the following day Roger marched to the capital Mdina.  Many Greek and other Christian prisoners were released, who chanted to Roger the Kyrie eleison. He left the islands with many who wished to join him and so many were on his ship that it nearly sank.

The invasion was romanticized in later centuries, and legends arose that the Count gave the Maltese their red and white flag by cutting a part of his banner. Mass is said once a year in remembrance of the Count at the Cathedral of Mdina, as a recognition for the Count’s role in liberating Maltese Christians from Muslim dominance and rule.

Heritage is about understanding one’s place in a greater space outside of one’s physical self, and I am proud to say that I descend from such a great man and that his life continues on in me. We are all comprised of unrealised glory.
Health and happiness!

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