Places of the Myth of Cybele or Great Mother

Places of the Myth of Cybele or Great Mother

santoni palazzolo acreide


Summary sheet


The main characteristics of Cybele were those of universal mother, goddess of the earth, protector of agriculture and vegetation; these characteristics meant that the cult of Cybele was confused with that of Rhea, Gaea, Demeter and, in some way, also with that of the Egyptian Isis [1].

 Cicero speaks of the cult of Cybele in Sicily (Verrine IV.97). He tells that Scipio [3] gave bronze breastplates and helmets to the temple of the Great Mother in Engio [4], after having his name engraved on it. It is probable that other goddesses were also venerated at Engio, often connected to the cult of Cybele. Diodorus Siculus also talks about it (lib. IV.79) about a temple "to the Mothers”Built by the Cretans who landed in Sicily after the defeat of Troy.

 Traces of the cult of this goddess can be found in Piazza Armerina, in the villa del Casale, where, in a mosaic depicting a circus race, [5] the statue of Cybele is portrayed.

In Akray there are the so-called holy men, a series of rock sculptures aligned along a rocky wall: almost all 12 reliefs represent scenes in which the goddess Cybele appears in various positions [6].

In Syracuse there is an area similar to that of the santoni by Akray. In the locality of Fusco, not far from the British military cemetery, on a rocky wall, there is a relief in which Cybele is represented on a throne with the inevitable lions next to it. Furthermore, a Greek sculpture always representing Cybele on the throne between two lions, located this time inside an aedicule, is kept in the Regional Archaeological Museum of Syracuse.

 The advent of the Christian religion meant that, in the syncretic context of the "great mothers", the cult of the Madonna partially absorbed some of the characteristics of Cybele. An example was the feast of the Assumption in Messina, on August 15, where two very large statues, called the Giant and the Giantess [7], were carried in procession by the population. Some writers of the past have called these statues Cam and Rea, OtherSaturn and Cybele, or Zancle and Rea and also Griffin and Mata. The latter name has sometimes been changed to Mother, perhaps by mistake or perhaps because both Rhea and Cybele were actually seen as mothers; in fact, Cam and Rea were considered by the population as ancestors. The Giant and the Giantess were dressed as warriors, both on horseback, the Giantess had on her head a turreted crown similar to the one with which Cybele was often depicted.

Detailed information and bibliographic information on our page taken from the study of Ignazio Caloggero (Cults and Myths of Ancient Sicily): 

Cybele (Great Mother) 


Places indicated in the IWB register of the Sicily Region (Places of Identity and Memory):

  • Santoni di Akrai (Palazzolo Acreide, Syracuse) 



In light of the summary sheet presented, it is believed that the following places could be added to the IWB:

  • Villa Romana del Casale - Piazza Armerina
  • Syracuse (Locality Fusco)
  • Messina 

Visit Sicilian Intangible Cultural Heritage database  to learn about other intangible assets

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