From Master Antonio Paris, OSMTHU comments on a full day of engagements:
“Concistoro per la Creazione di Nuovi Cardinali. Basilica Papale di San Pietro. Con il Cardinale Pietro Parolin Segretario di Stato Vaticano.”
Congratulations also to Mons. Tolentino de Mendonça, new Portuguese Cardinal, currently heading the Vatican Library and the Vatican Secret Archive.
HE Antonio Paris, Master Emeritus OSMTHU, has received the Gran Cross of the Order of Saint John – Knights of Malta, during a ceremony in the Palace of the Order in La Valeta, from the hands of Grand Master Don Basilio Cali. The Grand Cross is the highest distinction given by the Order.
The Order of Saint John is one of the branches of the Order of the Hospital, that had headquarters in the Hospital of Saint John in Jerusalem at the times of the crusades.
This acts inaugurates a new cycle of cooperation and amity between the OSMTHU and the Order of Saint John, bringing, at the same time, Master Antonio Paris to the forefront of the Templar activity, after a few years of quiet retirement.
The Templar Globe congratulates Master Paris on this happy occasion.
The Shroud of Turin is stained with the blood of a torture victim, scientists have claimed.
Analysis of the linen cloth, purportedly used to bury Jesus after his crucifixion, contains “nanoparticles” of blood which are not typical of that of a healthy person, according to researchers.
Institute of Crystallography researcher Elvio Carlino, one of the authors of the report, said the particles are conducive with someone having been through “great suffering”.
“Our results point out that at the nanoscale a scenario of violence is recorded in the funeral fabric,” authors wrote in the scientific article, published in PLOS One.
“The consistent bound of ferritin iron to creatinine occurs in human organism in case of a severe polytrauma.”
Researchers believe the particles show a “peculiar structure, size and distribution”, which corroborates the theory that it was used as a burial cloth.
They also believe it contradicts previous theories that the shroud was made in medieval times.
Professor Giulio Fanti, one of the author’s of the research, said: “The presence of these biological nanoparticles found during our experiments point to a violent death for the man wrapped in the Turin Shroud.”
The cloth’s authenticity is highly contentious and divides religious opinion.
Some Christians believe the fabric – which is kept in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin – is the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazereth, dating back over 2,000 years.
But previous scientific studies have suggested the cloth, which appears to be imprinted with the face of a man, may in fact be from the 13th or 14th century – centuries after Jesus is believed to have died.
One study found the cloth had been manufactured in India.
The research was published in US scientific journal PlosOne and is titled: “New Biological Evidence from Atomic Resolution Studies on the Turin Shroud.”
On the morning of the 31st March, 1282, the Sicilian Vespers came to an end. The night of rioting and massacre which had started on Easter Monday proved crucial in the history of Sicily and also had a significant impact on the broader history of the Mediterranean in this period.
The revolt, which gets it name from the Hour of Vespers ceremony where it supposedly began, started on the 30th March and is believed to have been triggered by an Angevin soldier stopping a Palermitan woman outside the church of Santo Spirito di Palermo, to search her for weapons. Although details of the event of course vary depending on the source, it seems the soldier somehow offended the woman, triggering a riot against the Angevin-French among the local community.
Reflecting the deeply ingrained tensions in Sicily’s multicultural society, the rioting spread through Palermo and then the whole of the island. The local Sicilian population attacked and killed Angevin people wherever they could be found, going as far as murdering monks and nuns. The rioters supposedly used a simple test to determine the Sicilian population from Angevin. Anyone believed to have originated from Anjou was asked to say the word “ciciri”, something native French speakers could not do in a convincingly Sicilian accent.
In the annals of Medieval history, the revolt was a unique event. A spontaneous, popular uprising which affected political change. Following the night of the 30th to the 31st March the Angevin-French fled Sicily, and the people of the island eventually secured the support of the King of Aragon who sent troops there in August 1282. Although the revolt seemed to have occurred without any pre-planning, it is important to acknowledge that the uprising against the Angevin-French rulers was not completely without premeditation.
Since 1266 Charles of Anjou, with the support of the papacy, had ruled Sicily from Naples. Deeply unpopular in Sicily, Charles’ strict rule incurred the wrath of normal Sicilians, but his unpopularity in a broader context was just as significant. A group of Italian nobles, known as the Ghibellines, supported the authority of the Holy Roman Emperor rather than that of Charles and the papacy. Peter III of Aragon, a rival of Charles for the Neapolitan throne and one of the main beneficiaries of the uprising, also had a clear interest in altering the status quo on Sicily. The Night of the Sicilian Vespers may have been a demonstration of popular dissatisfaction at Charles’ tyranny, but there were a diverse range of groups with an interest in ending the Angevin presence on Sicily.
The revolt was followed by series of sea skirmishes and land battles between Angevin and Aragonese forces, sometimes referred to as the War of the Vespers. The fighting finally came to a close in 1302, with the Peace of Caltabellotta. The treaty saw Charles II, the son of Charles of Anjou, concede Sicily to King Frederick, a relative of Peter of Aragon. Sicily was now firmly under the sphere of Spanish influence, a situation which would persist for another five centuries.
Historians have since argued that the Sicilian Vespers, and the subsequent war, proved crucial in the failure of the crusades in the Eastern Mediterranean. Charles of Anjou and the Vatican had been planning to send troops to take Constantinople when the uprising started. The need to divert resources to Sicily put this campaign on hold. Although one of many factors which ultimately led to the failure of the crusades, it is not a coincidence that the fall of Acre in 1291, a pivotal defeat for Christians in the Middle East, took place during the War of the Vespers.
Indeed, the significance of events in Sicily in the broader context of Mediterranean history in this period can be seen in the theory that the Aragonese and Sicilian forces received financial support from Byzantine. Although the scope and nature of this support cannot be confirmed, it hints at the complex political workings of the period.
The Sicilian Vespers revolt was an expression of popular dissatisfaction at the harsh rule of Charles of Anjou over Sicily. This moment of rebellion by Sicilians however, can only be truly understood in the broader context of Medieval history.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: Enzian44
By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com
Originally dictated in a Genoese prison cell, ‘The Travels of Marco Polo’ straddles the line between travel literature and adventure story. The teller of the story, Marco Polo, claimed that the work was based completely on fact, compiled from his travels around the world. The book was hugely popular in Medieval Europe, despite being widely referred to as ‘The Million Lies’.
Marco Polo was not the first European to venture into Asia, but he traveled much further to the East than any before him, and, according to the book at least, became much more integrated into the cultures there. The real key to the work’s success is the imagination and energy put into the descriptions of Asia, Africa and the Mongol Empire. The work often seems fantastical, partly because some of the things Polo described were indeed made up, but also because the language used is so colourful it seems unbelievable.
The adventure to the East actually started when Nicolo and Maffeo Polo, Marco’s father and uncle, set off for Constantinople in 1260. From this journey they ventured into the lands of the Mongolian tribes, eventually reaching the court of Kublai Khan. The Polos returned to Europe, eventually arriving in their home city of Venice in 1269. Upon his return, Nicolo discovered he had a son, Marco Polo. The Polos, who had promised Kublai Khan they would come back to Mongolia with Catholic missionaries, eventually set off on their return to Asia with Marco and two Catholic friars, in 1271. Although the friars eventually gave up on the journey, the Polo’s returned to the Khan’s court, where Marco became a confidant of Kublai Khan.
Marco Polo remained in the Khan’s court for seventeen years, and was sent on a variety of missions and errands, allowing him to travel in previously uncharted territories. Through his service he explored much of what is now China, as well as venturing into India, and crossing over to Sri Lanka. A recently revealed map, attributed to Polo and signed for authenticity by his three daughters, is believed to sketch out the coast of Japan and Alaska. The origins and veracity of the map have not been confirmed, but some researchers have claimed that it proves Polo’s travels actually took him as far as the shores of North America.
‘The Story of Marco Polo’ details his experiences in this period of his life. It includes descriptions of the journey from Acre (in what is modern day Israel), through Persia and then onto the Khan’s palace in what is now Beijing. The Polos traveled over a series of overland trader’s routes, what would eventually become known as the Silk Road. As well as providing detailed descriptions of Polo’s experiences in the Khan’s court, the book is just as crucial for its depiction of the journey along the Silk Road, providing information on the cultures and landscapes the Polo family encountered.
Some critics question the validity of the text, pointing out that there is no mention of Polo in the detailed records of the Khan’s court from the thirteenth century. They also point out that despite Polo’s extensive stay and travels in Asia, he never made reference to major landmarks, such as the Great Wall, or distinctive cultural traits, such as eating with chopsticks or foot binding.
Polo himself eventually returned to Europe in 1295. He became involved in a conflict between Venice and Genoa, during which he was captured and imprisoned. While incarcerated he met Rustichello, a writer from Pisa who started to write down Polo’s stories.
Whether these stories were a complete fabrication, or just heavily embellished by Polo or Rustichello, they remain a fascinating document. The book was pivotal in shaping opinions on Asia and the Mongol Empire, long after its publication. Whether the book is factually accurate or not, it cannot be denied that the stories within, as well as the history of Polo himself, make it a fascinating read.
By: Daryl Worthington in newhistorian.com
Starting January 1st, 2016, Fr+ Roman Vertovec is ceasing functions as the Visitor General of the OSMTHU. It’s with a great sense of pride that the Magisterial Council acknowledges the high quality of its members, frequently chosen to lead Templar initiatives and groups elsewhere in the neo-Templar world. The Magisterial Council was informed that Fr+ Roman will lead a new group composed of the Priory of Italy (Napolitan branch), the Priory of Croatia and the Priory of Bulgaria, having already been installed as the group’s leader in Zagreb.
The OSMTHU and the Magisterial Council wishes Fr+ Roman Vertovec the best in this new courageous task. God, undoubtably, will bless all those who act with a pure heart.
Luis de Matos
Chancellor and Interim Master
For more information on the OSMTHU, please visit the official site at: templarsosmthu.wordpress.com
In 1087, a joint Pisan and Genoese force attacked the North African town of Mahdia, located in modern-day Tunisia. Christian forces returned to Italy triumphantly and used their spoils of war to construct commemorative churches.
A number of Arabic and Latin sources from the time testify to the events surrounding the raid of Mahdia.
One of the most important Latin sources is the poem Carmen in Victoriam Pisanorum, ‘Song for the Triumph of the Pisans’. The Carmen, written by a Pisan cleric only months after the raid, commemorates the expedition.
It has often been argued that the raid on Mahdia – conducted under the banner of St. Peter against a Muslim ruler – was a direct precursor to the First Crusade which followed eight years later. The Carmen is often viewed as providing context for the development of a crusading ideology in the eleventh century.
A pioneering new study has taken a fresh look at the Carmen. Matt King, a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Minnesota, has been studying the Carmen as a means of understanding Christian perceptions of Islam.
“An examination of this text will allow historians to consider Latin Christian perspectives on Islam and its adherents during the period immediately preceding the First Crusade,” King writes in his article, published in Hortulus, a graduate journal on medieval studies.
It is usually suggested that Pisan interests in North Africa were primarily commercial, with military activities receiving less attention. King argues that there was a certain level of coexistence and cooperation between Pisa and Islamic states, while the Carmen reveals a different side of the story where religiously-charged rhetoric could be applied to justify violent ends.
The Mahdia raid can be located in a wider context of Pisan military activities in North Africa. Pisa had been involved in military actions against Muslims throughout the eleventh century; briefly seizing the city of Bone in 1034 and helping the Norman Robert Guiscard in his conquest of Sicily in 1063.
“The author of the Carmen was thus writing in the midst of conflicts between burgeoning Italian commercial powers and Muslim states in the Mediterranean,” King notes.
Importantly, the Carmen makes frequent Old Testament references in an effort to locate Pisan activity in a Biblical tradition. Within this framework, the inhabitants of Mahdia take the form of Old Testament villains who feel the wrath of God. In contrast, King argues, the Pisans are a Gideon/David/Moses combination who, through the favour of God, are able to defeat their adversary.
“Such a description makes clear the deep religious roots that run throughout this story,” King notes. “In this narrative, it is impossible to separate the sacking of Mahdia or the author’s perception of Islam from this ancient narrative.”
The portrayal of Islam in the Carmen is a multi-faceted one. Pisan attacks are understood as an epic confrontation, similar to the Old Testament and classical tales. Further, the doctrine of the Muslim inhabitants of Mahdia is portrayed as a form of heretical Christianity. Taken together, these depictions of Muslim Africa reveal a medieval Latin understanding of the area as a place and people of the utmost evil.
King notes that the Carmen is, however, a triumphant poem. The author is consciously contextualising the Pisan-Genoese raid in a tradition of God-willed triumph. Simply taking the Carmen’s portrayal of Islam at face value, therefore, may misrepresent the Latin understanding of Islam.
“If we cautiously take the Carmen as indicative of general trends in Pisan perceptions of Islam and Africa,” King concludes, “we thus can see an image of Pisa as a city with some knowledge of medieval Ifriqiya and as one that used this knowledge to nurture some image of righteous war against Muslims.”
For more information: www.hortulus-journal.com
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user: DrFO.Jr.Tn
By: Adam Steedman Thake in newhistorian.com
The grand Roman Colosseum, one of the most iconic remains of Ancient Rome, transformed from being a land that hosted blood and gore shows to being a land that hosted condominiums in the medieval era. According to the latest archaeological investigations made by experts from the Toma Tre University together with students from the American University of Rome, new evidence now shows that the Romans used to live in the Colosseum from the 9th century until the year 1349 when the iconic monument was terribly damaged by a major earthquake.
This fact was uncovered after a 3-week excavation that uncovered a few arched entrances which lead into the arena. Archaeologists discovered the foundations of a 12th century wall that was used to enclose a particular property in the Colesseum, potshards and terracotta sewage pipes. According to Rossella Rea, the Director of the Roman Colosseum, these excavations allowed archaeologists to identify a complete housing lot from the Medieval era. It is believed that this unusual condominium also consisted of workshops and stables and that area within the Colosseum was rented out by friars of the Santa Maria Nova Convent who had control of the monument.
Further research also indicated that all houses opened onto the area where the gladiators once used to fight. Professor Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, teaching medieval archaeology at the Roma Tra University, believes that the area that once hosted glorious gladiator battles was transformed into a common space for the Romans living there in the medieval era. It is believed that this courtyard was buzzing with goods, animals and people. Archaeologists also uncovered cooking pottery along with the figurine of a tiny monkey that was carved from ivory. It is believed that this piece was used as a pawn in a chess set during the medieval era.
The Roman Colosseum dates back to the year AD 72 when it was built by the great emperor Vespasian on the bed of a drained lake. It is considered to be the most popular remains of Ancient Rome. Many might not know this, but the Amphitheatre was actually opened in the year AD 80 by Titus, Vespasian’s son. This amphitheatre was inaugurated with a festival that lasted for 100 days and consisted of naval battles, fights and gladiatorial combats.
Another reason why the Colosseum became so popular over the centuries was the fact that it survived 3 major earthquakes as well as a huge fire. It transformed into a garbage dump after emperor Honorius banned bloody gladiatorial combats as well as a stone quarry for buildings such as the St. Peter’s Basilica. The recent excavations have uncovered yet another piece of history for the Roman Colosseum.
The Roman Colosseum is currently undergoing a $43 million restoration and cleaning project, the cost of which is being sponsored by Tod’s, a popular leather bag company in Italy. According to Rea, the dig should continue in the year 2015 when the second phase of the cleaning and restoration starts. More and more mysteries pertaining to the most visited monument of Italy are expected to be uncovered during the second phase of excavations.
By: Tajirul Haque in newhistorian.com
By JIM YARDLEY
LECCE, Italy — All Luciano Faggiano wanted when he purchased the seemingly unremarkable building at 56 Via Ascanio Grandi was to open a trattoria. The only problem was the toilet.
Sewage kept backing up. So Mr. Faggiano enlisted his two older sons to help him dig a trench and investigate. He predicted the job would take about a week.
“We found underground corridors and other rooms, so we kept digging,” said Mr. Faggiano, 60.
His search for a sewage pipe, which began in 2000, became one family’s tale of obsession and discovery. He found a subterranean world tracing back before the birth of Jesus: a Messapian tomb, a Roman granary, a Franciscan chapel and even etchings from the Knights Templar. His trattoria instead became a museum, where relics still turn up today.
Italy is a slag heap of history, with empires and ancient civilizations built atop one another like layers in a cake. Farmers still unearth Etruscan pottery while plowing their fields. Excavation sites are common in ancient cities such as Rome, where protected underground relics have for years impeded plans to expand the subway system.
Situated in the heel of the Italian boot, Lecce was once a critical crossroads in the Mediterranean, coveted by invaders from Greeks to Romans to Ottomans to Normans to Lombards. For centuries, a marble column bearing a statue of Lecce’s patron saint, Orontius, dominated the city’s central piazza — until historians, in 1901, discovered a Roman amphitheater below, leading to the relocation of the column so that the amphitheater could be excavated.
“The very first layers of Lecce date to the time of Homer, or at least according to legend,” said Mario De Marco, a local historian and author, noting that invaders were enticed by the city’s strategic location and the prospects for looting. “Each one of these populations came and left a trace.”
Severo Martini, a member of the City Council, said archaeological relics turn up on a regular basis — and can present a headache for urban planning. A project to build a shopping mall had to be redesigned after the discovery of an ancient Roman temple beneath the site of a planned parking lot.
“Whenever you dig a hole,” Mr. Martini said, “centuries of history come out.”
Ask the Faggiano family. Mr. Faggiano planned to run the trattoria on the ground floor and live upstairs with his wife and youngest son. Before they started digging, Mr. Faggiano’s oldest son, Marco, was studying film in Rome. His second son, Andrea, had left home to attend college. The building was seemingly modernized, with clean white walls and a new heating system.
“I said, ‘Come, I need your help, and it will only be a week,’ ” Mr. Faggiano recalled.
But one week quickly passed, as father and sons discovered a false floor that led down to another floor of medieval stone, which led to a tomb of the Messapians, who lived in the region centuries before the birth of Jesus. Soon, the family discovered a chamber used to store grain by the ancient Romans, and the basement of a Franciscan convent where nuns had once prepared the bodies of the dead.
If this history only later became clear, what was immediately obvious was that finding the pipe would be a much bigger project than Mr. Faggiano had anticipated. He did not initially tell his wife about the extent of the work, possibly because he was tying a rope around the chest of his youngest son, Davide, then 12, and lowering him to dig in small, darkened openings.
“I made sure to tell him not to tell his mama,” he said.
His wife, Anna Maria Sanò, soon became suspicious. “We had all these dirty clothes, every day,” she said. “I didn’t understand what was going on.”
After watching the Faggiano men haul away debris in the back seat of the family car, neighbors also became suspicious and notified the authorities. Investigators arrived and shut down the excavations, warning Mr. Faggiano against operating an unapproved archaeological work site. Mr. Faggiano responded that he was just looking for a sewage pipe.
A year passed. Finally, Mr. Faggiano was allowed to resume his pursuit of the sewage pipe on condition that heritage officials observed the work. An underground treasure house emerged, as the family uncovered ancient vases, Roman devotional bottles, an ancient ring with Christian symbols, medieval artifacts, hidden frescoes and more.
“The Faggiano house has layers that are representative of almost all of the city’s history, from the Messapians to the Romans, from the medieval to the Byzantine time,” said Giovanni Giangreco, a cultural heritage official, now retired, involved in overseeing the excavation.
City officials, sensing a major find, brought in an archaeologist, even as the Faggianos were left to do the excavation work and bear the costs. Mr. Faggiano also engaged in extensive research into the eras tiered below him. The two older sons, Marco and Andrea, found their lives interrupted by their father’s quest.
“We were kind of forced to do it,” said Andrea, now 34, laughing. “I was going to university, but then I would go home to excavate. Marco as well.”
Mr. Faggiano still dreamed of a trattoria, even if the project had become his white whale. He supported his family with rent from an upstairs floor in the building and income on other properties.
“I was still digging to find my pipe,” he said. “Every day we would find new artifacts.”
Years passed. His sons managed to escape, with Andrea moving to London. City archaeologists pushed Mr. Faggiano to keep going. His own architect advised that digging deeper would help clear out sludge below the planned bathroom, should he still hope to open his trattoria. He admits he also became obsessed.
“At one point, I couldn’t take it anymore,” he recalled. “I bought cinder blocks and was going to cover it up and pretend it had never happened.
“I don’t wish it on anyone.”
Today, the building is Museum Faggiano, an independent archaeological museum authorized by the Lecce government. Spiral metal stairwells allow visitors to descend through the underground chambers, while sections of glass flooring underscore the building’s historical layers.
His docent, Rosa Anna Romano, is the widow of an amateur speleologist who helped discover the Grotto of Cervi, a cave on the coastline near Lecce that is decorated in Neolithic pictographs. While taking an outdoor bathroom break, the husband had noticed holes in the ground that led to the underground grotto.
“We were brought together by sewage systems,” Mr. Faggiano joked.
Mr. Faggiano is now satisfied with his museum, but he has not forgotten about the trattoria. A few years into his excavation, he finally found his sewage pipe. It was, indeed, broken. He has since bought another building and is again planning for a trattoria, assuming it does not need any renovations. He has no plans to lift a shovel.
“I still want it,” he said of the trattoria. “I’m very stubborn.”
in New York Times
Pope Benedict XVI confirmed his intention to visit the Shroud of Turin when it goes on public display in Turin’s cathedral April 10-May 23, 2010.
Cardinal Severino Poletto of Turin, papal custodian of the Shroud of Turin, visited the pope July 26 in Les Combes, Italy, where the pope was spending part of his vacation. The Alpine village is about 85 miles from Turin.
The cardinal gave the pope the latest news concerning preparations for next year’s public exposition of the shroud and the pope “confirmed his intention to go to Turin for the occasion,” said the Vatican spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, in a written statement July 27.
The specific date of the papal visit has yet to be determined, the priest added.
The last time the Shroud of Turin was displayed to the public was in 2000 for the jubilee year. The shroud is removed from a specially designed protective case only for very special spiritual occasions, and its removal for study or display to the public must be approved by the pope.
The shroud underwent major cleaning and restoration in 2002.
According to tradition, the 14-foot-by-4-foot linen cloth is the burial shroud of Jesus. The shroud has a full-length photonegative image of a man, front and back, bearing signs of wounds that correspond to the Gospel accounts of the torture Jesus endured in his passion and death.
The church has never officially ruled on the shroud’s authenticity, saying judgments about its age and origin belonged to scientific investigation. Scientists have debated its authenticity for decades, and studies have led to conflicting results.
A recent study by French scientist Thierry Castex has revealed that on the shroud are traces of words in Aramaic spelled with Hebrew letters.
A Vatican researcher, Barbara Frale, told Vatican Radio July 26 that her own studies suggest the letters on the shroud were written more than 1,800 years ago.
She said that in 1978 a Latin professor in Milan noticed Aramaic writing on the shroud and in 1989 scholars discovered Hebrew characters that probably were portions of the phrase “The king of the Jews.”
Castex’s recent discovery of the word “found” with another word next to it, which still has to be deciphered, “together may mean ‘because found’ or ‘we found,’“ she said.
What is interesting, she said, is that it recalls a passage in the Gospel of St. Luke, “We found this man misleading our people,” which was what several Jewish leaders told Pontius Pilate when they asked him to condemn Jesus.
She said it would not be unusual for something to be written on a burial cloth in order to indicate the identity of the deceased.
Frale, who is a researcher at the Vatican Secret Archives, has written a new book on the shroud and the Knights Templar, the medieval crusading order which, she says, may have held secret custody of the Shroud of Turin during the 13th and 14th centuries.
She told Vatican Radio that she has studied the writings on the shroud in an effort to find out if the Knights had written them.
“When I analyzed these writings, I saw that they had nothing to do with the Templars because they were written at least 1,000 years before the Order of the Temple was founded” in the 12th century, she said.
By Carol Glatz
Catholic News Service
Although L’Aquila is in a captivating setting, it has never been a priority for tourists. It is a discreet, traditional and very provincial Italian city between Rome and the Adriatic sea about an hour’s drive east of the capital.
A city rich in history, art and culture. It is built on the same plan and layout as Jerusalem. Both are on a hill, both are located at the same height above sea level and there are many other similarities. When walking around L’Aquila and looking into open doorways, one would discover beautiful hidden renaissance courtyards.
The majority of these courtyards have been destroyed by the earthquake.
In the Middle Ages L’Aquila was on the road between two extremely powerful, important trading towns, Naples and Florence. It was famous for its rich fair where sheep, wool, milk, cheese, cattle, leather, cloth, almonds and saffron were traded. Later important noble families from Tuscany came to Abruzzo to take advantage of its produce and so it became the rich hinterland of Tuscany.
This main road connecting south and central Italy, called Via degli Abruzzi, was the safest road between Tuscany and the powerful kingdom of Naples and Sicily. The only other route was through the Vatican States, where dangerous outlaws populated the roads.
From at least 300 BC the open space on the hill where the basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio would be built was the meeting point for the annual transumanza, the long trek of tens of thousands of sheep and hundreds of shepherds from the hot plains in the south to the high plain of Abruzzo and back. In those days sheep, with their by-products of cheese, milk and wool, were of utmost importance for survival.
When the summer heat started on the bare plains of southern Italy, the transumanza would begin – sheep, dogs, shepherds and butteri, the only men on horseback. These were the men who would milk the sheep early in the morning and make the cheese that would be sold along the way. Together they would make their long 15-day walk across the mountains and hills up to the cool plain in Abruzzo, to Campo Imperatore 1,900 m above sea level, one of the largest plains in Europe, where the aquile (eagles) fly high. They were allowed on the plain after 5 June and had to be gone by 15 September each year. These regulations were established in Roman times.
The shepherds were given a flask of olive oil before they left and a loaf of bread every day but they were not allowed to indulge in fresh sheep’s milk or cheese along the journey. They were paid according to the number of sheep they had been assigned before setting off and the number they delivered alive.
The outstanding beauty of the basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio. It was built in 1287 by Pietro da Morrone, a hermit living in the Morrone mountains in Abruzzo in the days when the region was known for its hermits and witches. Originally on a hill to the southwest of L’Aquila, but now in the centre of the city, it is a masterpiece of Abruzzo Romanesque, with a pink and white façade and 14th-century frescos. It has a most beautifully sculptured rose window above its main entrance and a majestic pure Gothic interior. A Holy Door, similar to the one in St Peter’s in Rome, was added to the church at the beginning of the 14th century.
Only the façade and side walls stand today as they were protected by scaffolding being used for restoration. The Holy Door was not touched and is still standing.
The Templars, known for their white flag with a red cross, started off as guards who escorted and protected pilgrims to the Holy Land. They financed the building of the basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio, supplying Pietro da Morrone with a team of expert artisans and architectural plans, which meant that the basilica was built in record time.
Pietro da Morrone, later Pope Celestine V. Pietro da Morrone was crowned pope on 29 August 1294 in the basilica he built. They say 200,000 people attended his coronation, a very large number for those days. One hundred and seven days later he resigned and went back to being a hermit in the mountains. He was eventually arrested by his successor and long-time opponent, Pope Boniface VIII, and imprisoned near Anagni, south of Rome. He died there nine months later, possibly murdered. Pietro da Morrone was canonised in 1313 and several years later his body was transferred to the church he built in L’Aquila.
His body was not destroyed by the earthquake and is in safekeeping in the basilica of S. Maria di Collemaggio.
Perdonanza Celestiniana. This is a historical pageant evoking the extraordinary indulgence declared by Celestine V in L’Aquila on the night of his coronation as pope, which established that: “Whoever entered the basilica sincerely repentant and confessed one’s sins between the nights of 28-29 August would be absolved of all sins since baptism.” This ceremony has been repeated in the basilica of Collemaggio for 714 years.
Work has already started to restore the church so that the feast of Celestine’s indulgence can be repeated in August 2009. This objective will be achieved . . .
by Fabrizio G. Scalabrino
La Sábana Santa de Turín, mejor conocida como Síndone, es una de las dos piezas o reliquias de las que se cree contienen imágenes formadas de manera milagrosa de N.S. Jesucristo.
La Sábana Santa de Turín, mejor conocida como Síndone, es una de las dos piezas o reliquias de las que se cree contienen imágenes formadas de manera milagrosa de N.S. Jesucristo. La otra pieza es el Sudario de Oviedo.
Cuando en la primera de ellas se descubrió impresa la figura de una persona, se suscitaron una serie de investigaciones muy serias y rigurosas por parte de prestigiosos científicos, tanto como teólogos y filósofos. Han aparecido numerosas sociedades dedicadas únicamente al estudio del tema, que organizan simposios y congresos con regularidad. Pero, ¿qué hay detrás de todo ello? ¿Cómo fue que se dio tal fenómeno? A través de esta serie de artículos nos dedicaremos a recorrer el fascinante camino que se ha seguido durante varias décadas de indagaciones sobre la Síndone.
La Síndone es una sábana de lino de 4.36 metros de largo por 1.10 metros de ancho, tejida con espina de pescado. Sobre ella se ven las huellas de una imagen –frontal y dorsal– de un hombre muerto por crucifixión, y se observan dos líneas oscuras y dos triángulos blancos, vestigios de quemaduras causadas durante un incendio en 1532.
Una de las primeras pistas históricas señala que la sábana –más probablemente el sudario– es llevada a Edessa (la actual Urfa, al este de Turquía), donde se usa para la conversión de Abgar V, rey de Edessa (reina del 13 al 50), al cristianismo. Poco después de que su hijo volviera al paganismo se le pierde la pista. En el año 216 Edessa es anexada al imperio romano, año en que probablemente el manto regresa a la ciudad, aunque no parece ser exhibido de manera alguna, sino hasta que aparece, en el año 525, en uno de los nichos encima de una de las puertas de la ciudad.
En el 943, un ejército enviado por el emperador bizantino Romano, llega a la todavía musulmana Edessa. El general promete no invadir la ciudad, además de pagar una cierta cantidad de dinero y la libertad de 200 prisioneros musulmanes, a cambio del manto con la imagen de Jesús. Después de muchas negociaciones, se llega a un acuerdo y la sábana es llevada a Constantinopla, donde el 15 de agosto de 944 se recibe con grandes celebraciones y se le instala en la capilla Pharos del palacio imperial de Constantinopla, depósito de muchas otras reliquias sagradas.
En 1204 la Cuarta Cruzada toma Constantinopla y la ciudad es saqueada; en la confusión el manto desaparece y durante un siglo nada se sabe, excepto por documentos de la Orden de Caballeros Templarios. En 1306 se halla una pintura en una de las casas de los Templarios en Templecomb, Inglaterra, de la que se sugiere que representa el rostro del hombre de la Síndone. El 13 de octubre de 1307 los Templarios son arrestados por orden del rey Felipe el Hermoso, acusados de herejía e idolatría. Sus altos dignatarios Jaques de Molay y Geoffrey de Charny son quemados en la hoguera el 19 de marzo de 1314, mientras la Síndone sigue desaparecida.
Según el Memorando de D’Arcys, en 1355 se tienen la primeras ostensiones de la Síndone en la capilla de Lirey, cerca de Troyes. Su propietario era un caballero del lugar llamado Geoffrey I de Charny, quien muere el 19 de septiembre de 1356 en la batalla de Poitiers. La Síndone pasa al poder de su viuda Jeanne de Vergy y, más tarde, se entregó a Margarita de Charny, hermana de Geoffrey II de Charny. Pasó el tiempo y, en 1418, a raíz de las guerras con Inglaterra, la Síndone se traslada de Lirey al castillo de Montfort, por razones de seguridad, y luego a St. Hippolyte sur Doubs, en Alsace-Lorraine, cerca de Suiza. El 22 de marzo de 1453, Margarita, ya anciana y sin hijos, recibe de regalo un castillo y un estado de parte del Duque Luis de Saboya, a cambio de “valiosos servicios”, los cuales son interpretados como la entrega de la Síndone a la familia Saboya, quienes serán sus propietarios durante cinco siglos.
En 1578 la Síndone se traslada a la catedral de Turín, lugar que será su residencia permanente, excepto en tiempos de guerra, y se le instala en el altar, en un lugar construido especialmente, de donde se cambiará en 1694 a la capilla real para depositarse en una urna especial, lugar en que permanece por tres siglos.
Antonio Lara Barragán Gómez OFS
Puglia is the stiletto at the heel of Italy. It is a long, thin region that jabs out into the Mediterranean at the far south-east of mainland Italy, and shares land borders with Basilicata and Molise. Medieval watchtowers still dot the coastline, reminding Puglians of the near-constant threat of invasion over the centuries. The Greeks had settled here long before the Romans ventured south but most of Ancient Rome’s successors have either been on their way to Rome or on their way to Greece and the Mediterranean using Puglia as a stop-over. Crusaders and traders alike were no exception. But, like Sicily, it became a crossroads of cultures. It’s now worth crusading from Puglian spur to Puglian heel.
HOT, HOT, HOT?
Depending on where you draw the boundary, Puglia is arguably Western Europe’s most easterly region, but because of the angle at which Italy is tilted it is not as far south as you may think, sitting along the same latitude as Naples. There’s a very stiff wind coming up the Adriatic most of the year but June, July and September make for fairly reliable weather. On a clear day from the seaside town of Otranto you can even see Albania across the Adriatic.
WHERE DO I START?
Most people begin with a flight to either Bari or Brindisi. Both cities are linked with Stansted by Ryanair; Bari is also linked with Gatwick by British Airways.
To make the whole journey by rail, the usual approach is via Paris, Milan and Rome. This can be achieved in a little over 24 hours (including a night in the train between France and Italy) but it would be more fun to stop along the way. Brindisi is a working port with frequent ferry links to Greece. Bari, the regional capital, is a lot more fun. It has a deliciously difficult-to-navigate old town with a fine church, the Basilica di San Nicola. It was built by the Normans, who took this part of Puglia shortly after conquering England. Here, the relics are revered both by the citizens – and by the Russians, whose patron saint he is.
After the Venetians brought the relics of St Mark to Venice, they had their eyes on a saint born in present-day Turkey. But sailors from Bari got there first and brought St Nicholas’s relics to their home port, where a great church was created for their adopted saint.
Calming storms and saving children from being sold by pirates to foreign kings was all in a day’s work for a man who became known as the protector of children. Soon enough the image of a white-bearded old man, with a red bishop’s mantle, was adopted by mostly northern cultures as the bearer of gifts to children on his saint’s day in December – now better known as Santa Claus.
MORE NORMAN WISDOM?
The Norman imprint continues at nearby Trani, a coastal town north-west of Bari. whose imposing cathedral church and tall campanile dominate. Tantalising sea views appear through the low arches below the refined beauty of immaculately carved reliefs and geometric patterns – all contending for space over the cool limestone.
Another reason for stopping in Trani is for an al fresco fish lunch at the Corte in Fiore at Via Ognisanti 18 (00 39 0883 508402; www. corteinfiore.it). You could stay in a converted convent, the four-star Hotel San Paolo al Convento at Via Statuti Marittimi 111, which overlooks the old port (00 39 0883 482949; http://www.sanpaolo-alconvento.traniweb.it). Double port-facing rooms cost €150 (£125) including breakfast.
The Knights Templar also erected a church in Trani in the old port whose restoration is nearly complete. Indeed, many “pay-as-you-go” ships would take Crusaders from Trani eastwards to save their souls and expunge the Turk for the glory of God.
The effects of the glittering court of the Normans can be seen all over Puglia through their churches and castles. The most celebrated of their monuments is the mysterious Castel Del Monte south-west of Trani (00 39 0883 569 997; http://www.castello delmonte.it). The precise purpose of this octagonal castle, perched on a hill with Romanesque and Gothic detailing, is uncertain.
The design was too impractical to be lived in, though it may have been used as a hunting lodge. The absence of a moat (the Norman norm) suggests it had no real defensive progress. We do know that Frederick II had it built in about 1240; very much a Da Vinci of his day, Frederick installed loos. At the time this was the norm in the Arab world but rarer in the West.
At the very least the castle was a symbol of Norman power, and also has the interesting property of being exactly midway between the Pyramids at Giza in Egypt and the Cathedral at Chartres in France – offering the prospect of a Da Vinci Code-style novel.
A COASTAL DRIVE?
A heavy air pervades fortified Otranto. In 1480 the Turks got to Puglia and slaughtered the town’s inhabitants. The 800 who survived would not renounce their faith and they too were slaughtered. An imposing castle was built thereafter whose courtyard and walls can be visited.
A 12th-century mosaic covers the entire nave floor at the town’s cathedral and is the largest Norman mosaic of its kind.
Stay at Palazzo de Mori (00 39 0836 801088; http://www.palazzodemori.it). It is a bed and breakfast built into the bastions of the town itself, brushed down with completely white-washed interiors and once the home of a local nobleman who fell at the hands of the invading Turks in 1480. Doubles from €75 (£65), or €150 (£130) for superior double room in July and August, including breakfast.
Take the drive south along the Adriatic coastal road, noting with relief that local motorists tend to be better behaved than on the near-death driving experience of the Amalfi coast on the opposite shore of Italy. Meander through prickly-pear covered rocky crags which hang over dozens of deep grottos at the water line. Continue south, passing through chirpy Santa Cesarea Terme with its faux Saracenic architecture and tired spas but handy for that ice-cream pit stop.
Further south is the Grotta Zinzulusa (Open daily 9am-5.30pm; call 00 39 08 36 94312 for a guide), a marine cavern clustered with stalactites and stalagmites which careful study has suggested that the Balkans were once joined to Puglia.
Soon enough you will end up at Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy’s “Land’s End” – where the heel reaches its tip. There’s decent bathing here on either side of the little port.
Driving back north, unassuming Galatina contains a frescoed treasure chest – or at least gives the sense of what one might look like from the inside. The Basilica of Santa Caterina D’Alessandria, erected in the 14th century, has an interior completely frescoed with over 150 scenes painted in the style of Giotto, with more than a nod to the more famous frescoes in Assisi in Umbria.
TAKE ME TO THE BEACH
Two-thirds of the region is coastal, but most of the best beaches are in the south: in the Salento peninsula and on the eastern Ionian coast.
Torre Lapillo, near Porto Cesareo – due south of Brindisi – has clear-as-a-bell water and soft, flat sandy beaches. Further south is the busy summer resort of Gallipoli, which shares with its better-known Turkish namesake a name derived from the Greek for “Beautiful City”. Gallipoli has plenty of sandy beaches. Beyond the beach, you could head out to the three fauna-covered Tremiti Islands replete with requisite white-washed fishing villages.
Take the 45-minute journey on a catamaran from Rodi Garganico (daily from June to September; http://www.navlib.it for schedules) north some 22km for around €12 (£10).
The smaller San Nicola Island is known for its rock caves with excellent coastal diving available from the largest island, San Domino (00 39 337 648917; http://www.tremitidivingcenter.com); without equipment the first dive of the day costs €60 (£50), and thereafter it is €35 (£23).
CAN I GET DEEPLY INTO PUGLIA?
The ultimate day out with the children is at Italy’s greatest underground cavern: at Castellana, south of Bari on the edge of the Valle D’Itria. The 1.5km walk to the end of the cavern complex at Grotta Bianca is rewarded with some of the most beautiful crystalline and coloured stone formations in the world. In addition there are spectral views of alabaster, stalagmite and stalactite natural rock sculptures. Admission is €15 (£12.40). An English-language two-hour guided tour covering 3km through to the Grotta Bianca starts on the hour between 11am and 4pm.
You may have heard Lecce described as the “Florence of the south”. Now, the Renaissance just about passed Puglia by but the region has an urban gem in the form of Lecce: honey-toned baroque magnificence. The city seems locked in the 17th century with baroque Rome very much influencing the spatial plan of this immaculately clean little town.
Richly carved busy church façades such as Santa Croce, Sant’Irene and the Gesu confront you at nearly every square or corner.
Where there isn’t a richly carved church there’s a richly carved colour co-ordinated house draped in warm local sandstone.
Syrbar at via Libertini 67 (00 39 0832 2471 65, http://www.syrbar.it) is the right place for after-dinner cocktails to gaze at the beautifully lit Piazza del Duomo completely surrounded by grand buildings and the city’s cathedral.
After all the baroque splendour, stay somewhere with minimalist décor: the new five-star design Risorgimento Resort, Via Augusto Imperatore, 19 (00 39 08 32 24 6311; http://www.vestas-hotels-lecce.com). It is well located, too, in Piazza Sant’Oronzo – right opposite Lecce’s very own Roman amphitheatre. Superior double rooms start at €145 (£123), including breakfast.
The one place to dine is Picton at Via Idomeneo 14 (00 39 0832 332383), where the local great and good sign their linen napkins. It is closed on Mondays.
WHERE IS THE HEART OF PUGLIA?
Arguably the Valle D’Itria, slightly inland and equidistant between Bari and Brindisi. In what looks like a Greek version of Tolkien’s “Middle Earth”, low dry-stone walls look jagged but nonetheless beautifully proportioned as they cut a patchwork of smallholdings smothered over ruby-red iron-rich soil.
Single-tiered vines and Greek or Arab cubic houses sit comfortably in the middle of each smallholding bolted on to or detached from the trulli houses.
These are strange circular dwellings with conical roofs. They are built from dry stone with little or no mortar, and resolutely white-washed sometimes twice a year.
Some of the cones are painted with bizarre ancient symbols. The windows, if any, are very small. Many have been restored to a comfortable level.
Alberobello is to trulli what New York is to skyscrapers. There more than 1,000 in this protected national monument and Unesco site. They crawl up a gentle hill looking like an oncoming army of Persians in large Phrygian caps.
This is also the only town in Puglia where you’ll actually see a constant flow of tour buses and there is an impressive array of tourist trinkets on show.
One guidebook sniffily says “Most trulli are souvenir shops”, but you can even stay in one: Valle dei Trulli (00 39 080 431 0098; http://www.valledeitrulli.it) has a number on offer, sleeping up to 12 people. A typical weekly rental costs around €200 (£167) per person, depending on the season.
A more conventional base from which to explore the Valle D’Itria is the five-star Hotel Masseria del Cardinale (00 39 080 489 0335; http://www.relaisdelcardinale.com).
It’s a large converted olive farm with soldier-like olive trees as wide as an average family car filling the large estate at the foot of the Murge near Fasano. A double classic room with terrace costs between €250-€350 per night (£200-£300) including breakfast; you can also help yourself to the contents of the minibar.
The hotel has the largest swimming pool in Puglia, a stable, beauty centre and bikes for exploring the estate.
CAN I ESCAPE THE CROWDS?
Yes. Nearby Locorotondo stands proud on a hill and is a completely white-washed circular town with impressive views over the trulli-filled valley as far as Martina Franca. Grab a window table at L’Affresco at Via Nardelli 24 (00 39 080 431 6848). This is a small family-run restaurant with a fine frescoed ceiling and some of the best Puglian cuisine around. There is a jaw-dropping valley view to boot.
On the west side of valley, the baroque grabs hold of Martina Franca. There is a decent baroque town hall attributed to Bernini. The Valle D’Itria Music Festival has always been held in Bernini’s Palazzo Ducale in Martina Franca. This year’s festival runs from 17 July to 6 August; see http://www.festivaldellavalleditria.it. An antiques fair fills the town’s piazzas on the third Sunday of each month.
Ostuni is known as the “White City”. Its Spanish-inspired cathedral stands proud in the old part of the town. But on your way out, make a quick stop at the church of the Annunziata to peek at The Deposition by the 16th-century painter Paolo Veronese. With the many trade links between Puglia and Venice it’s no wonder there are a few Venetian paintings dotted around Puglia. This one was stolen 30 years but found soon after; unsurprisingly it’s well and truly locked up now behind a thick glass frame. A quiet word with the church custodian will reward the curious with a special viewing.
HOW DO I GET AROUND?
The rail network (www.trenitalia.it) is fine for travelling between the main towns of Foggia, Bari, Brindisi and Lecce, with extensions from Bari and Brindisi to Taranto.
Buses (00 39 04 362 280 481; http://www.sitabus.it) fill in some of the gaps.
Most visitors, though, will rent a car. Puglia has a very significant road running across it: the consular “mother road” – the Appian Way. This was where the young Ottavian, later to become Emperor, landed at Brindisi after the murder of his great uncle Julius Caesar, and began the march towards Rome. This ancient superhighway has now been supplanted by fast roads linking the main towns and cities, with lovely lanes extending into the country.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE?
As with other parts of Italy, the tourist information provision is fragmented. The main regional website is http://www.viaggiareinpuglia.it, but for specific provincial information you can also call the local tourist offices. Bari: 00 39 080 524 2244; Brindisi 00 39 083 156 2126; Lecce 00 39 0832 314 117.
Additional research by Laura Jones
Puglia has one of Italy’s newest national parks. The Gargano peninsula has its own mountain, Monte Calvo at 1,055m, with the plateau-like spread densely covered in valuable oak.
The nearby town of Monte Sant’Angelo (pictured) offers amazing views over the bay below and has a fine sanctuary dedicated to the archangel Michael, with 11th-century bronze doors cast in Constantinople. In addition, there is an unfinished Norman castle. You can skip through the olive groves in fine scenery at the Rifugio Foresta Umbra.
The Gargano area happens to be awash with cash: one of the largest-ever Italian state lottery wins kissed the twee fishing village of Peschici a few years ago. Better known, however, is one of the biggest pilgrim cash-machines in Christendom: San Giovanni Rotondo. The pious, controversial and recently canonised Capuchin San Padre Pio da Pietrelcina spent most of his life in the city. A one-man miracle factory, he was censored a dozen times by the Vatican, received the stigmata, was seen in two places at once and spent some time in the back of a fighter plane cockpit during the Second World War, even though he never left his monastic cell in San Giovanni Rotondo during his adult life.
Some 40 years after his death, the saint still knows how to pull in the crowds and all during this summer he’s on public view (covered with a wax effigy) in front of the great new church built by superstar architect Renzo Piano.
in The Independent
“I myself like easy books that put me to sleep immediately. But the normal reader who does not spend his day fighting with Kant or Hegel feels respected if there is a jujitsu with a novel, a resistance, a seduction. If the book says yes immediately, it is a whore.”
University of Turin; turned from law to medieval philosophy and literature, writing his thesis on Thomas Aquinas.
Editor, cultural commentator (his subjects have included Disney, the James Bond phenomenon and Chinese revolutionary comic books). His primary career was as an academic, working in aesthetics, literary criticism and – most famously – semiotics, a term coined by John Locke in 1690 (“the doctrine of signs; the most usual whereof being words, it is aptly enough termed also Logike, logic: the business whereof is to consider the nature of signs, the mind makes use of for the understanding of things, or conveying its knowledge to others”). Eco defines it as “a scientific attitude, a critical way of looking at the objects of other sciences”.
Did you know?
He first attempted fiction with The Name of the Rose, begun in 1978, purely because “I felt like poisoning a monk.
A unique phenomenon – a bestselling professor – Eco is one of the few writers genuinely interested in both popular culture and high art, excelling at making the arcane accessible. The Island of the Day Before was his most experimental novel, suggesting that he no longer needs to sugar his historical encyclopaedias with thriller structures; Baudolino is a more accessible return to medieval legends and Byzantine complexity.
Foucault’s Pendulum, one of those wonderfully annoying books which finally reveals the great truth that there is no Great Truth, is both more compelling than Name of the Rose and more human, drawing on Eco’s own childhood.
Though Eco usually finds his inspiration in philosophy and history – Aristotle, the Templars – Name of the Rose’s monkish detective hero owes a lot to Sherlock Holmes. His obsession with libraries, mazes and hidden ivory towers also echoes Borges.
Now read on
Other ultra-literary thrillers to savour include The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte, An Instance of the Fingerpost by Ian Pears and – for the seriously erudite – Lemprière’s Dictionary by Lawrence Norfolk.
The Name of the Rose translated surprisingly well to screen in 1986, with a masterclass in laconic understatement from Sean Connery, an early appearance from US bad boy Christian Slater and a convincingly medieval setting.
Reading Eco, ed Rocco Capozzi
Useful links and work online
· Official site
A luxurious ancient pagan tomb located in a necropolis under St Peter’s Basilica has been reopened to the public after a year of restoration.
Catholic News Service reports the Vatican has completed the restoration of the largest and most luxurious mausoleum in the vast necropolis under St. Peter’s Basilica.
The Mausoleum of the Valerii displays some of the most ornate decoration among the 22 family mausoleums in the ancient underground cemetery.
“We had wanted to restore it for a long time, but we didn’t have the money. Now we’re extremely happy” the funding came through and the year long restoration has been completed, said Maria Cristina Stella, an official at the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for the basilica’s upkeep.
The $300,000 project was funded by the Rome based Foundation for Music and Sacred Art, the Italian branch of Mercedes-Benz, and other sponsors.
The Vatican necropolis includes the burial grounds where St Peter’s tomb has been venerated since early Christian times.
The Valerii mausoleum was built sometime after 160 by Gaius Valerius Herma – a wealthy, highly educated Roman slave who had bought his freedom. He built the site for his family and his freed slaves and their descendents.
Like many other pagan tombs in the necropolis, the sarcophagi were later “recycled” by Christians who buried their loved ones and added inscriptions referring to Christ.
The cemetery had been used until the fourth century when the emperor Constantine had workmen fill in the open-air necropolis with dirt in order to lay the foundation for building a basilica above St. Peter’s tomb. The airless, lightless atmosphere actually had helped preserve much of the artwork and statuary.
Restorers for the Valerii mausoleum used hand held lasers, tiny drills, scalpels, sponges and plain water to remove mineral salts, other encrustations and dirt, and they injected special glues to reinforce crumbling plaster walls.
They pieced together broken plaster or marble fragments back onto statuary tucked into niches lining the mausoleum walls.
The second century subterranean burial ground is two levels below the basilica floor, and St. Peter’s tomb is directly under the basilica’s main altar.
The cemetery was excavated for the first time in the 1930’s and 40’s, revealing a double row of mausoleums and niches decorated with paintings, stucco and mosaics, along with a section of simpler graves.
The Vatican has spent the past decade repairing and restoring the tombs, labyrinthine lanes and funerary artwork using state-of-the-art techniques, as well as setting up a complete conservation system that controls the climate of the necropolis.