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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  February 2005

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION February 2005

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Subject:

Re: saints of the day 3. February (2 of 2)

From:

John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 7 Feb 2005 23:33:34 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Dear Jim,

Much of Italy has large amounts of soft stone, chiefly tufa.  In many
places naturally formed underground hollows exist in such deposits and
many of these have been worked and further excavated by humans for
habitations since prehistoric times.  The most famous examples are in
the south, but there are cave villages of great antiquity in Tuscany as
well (if you guessed that these are in some of the same areas excavated
by Etruscans for their chamber tombs, you guessed correctly).  Some of
the latter were occupied at least intermittently by rustics right up to
the end of the eighteenth century.

In the south, the area of greatest concentration is Puglia south of the
Capitanata plus adjacent areas of Basilicata.  Most of Puglia is a
limestone plateau raised up towards the end of the formation of the
Appennines (or perhaps even later -- it's been a while since I did any
reading in the geology of the area and I'm going on memory here).
Intermixed in the harder calcareous deposits are softer layers of tufa,
etc.; these are readily accessible west of the Murge where the
topography is largely karstic, at the edges of the uplands themselves,
and (as that photo of the exterior of the Cripta di S. Biagio outside of
San Vito dei Normanni showed) even in the coastal plains and adjacent
rolling hills where the territory is gouged by the beds of ancient
rivers that have long since run dry.  The number of known once-inhabited
caves and grottoes in today's Puglia alone is close to 400; the generic
term used for them is "insediamenti rupestri" ("rupestrian settlements").

Some of these, especially in the mountain gorges of the west, were towns
and villages of very ancient origin and lasting well into the early
modern period; the most famous, the "Sassi" of Matera (in an area of
Baslicata that geologically is part of Puglia and was not transferred to
the adjoining region until the seventeenth century), remained occupied
until after World War II and is now being reoccupied as a living museum
and World Heritage site.  Constant re-use has obliterated most traces of
their past in the Roman and Byzantine periods.

Elsewhere, these served mostly as single-family homes for farmers.  This
seems to have been an accepted housing form in the area until the advent
of modern plumbing raised people's domestic standards.  Larger ones
sometimes had their own chapels; some of these still have frescos from
the Byzantine period while many others are later but have decor that
represents a continuation thereof.  Additionally, Greek monasticism led
to the creation of lots of single-hermit cells or small lavras: S.
Biagio near San Vito dei Normanni appears to have been one of the latter
and S. Biagio at Ostuni could originally have been of the same sort.
Large-scale monastic communities on the order of the famous monastic
"cities" of Cappadocia did not exist here.

Another area with a concentration of cave settlements and cave churches
is the Monti Iblei in the hinterlands of Syracuse in SE Sicily.  Other
concentrations occur in parts of Calabria.  The mountainous border area
of Calabria and Basilicata/Lucania that in the tenth and eleventh
centuries was known as the Merkourion will also have had its share, but
I don't think that many cave-churches have been found here.

The literature on these settlements is huge but it is also mostly in
Italian.  A relatively recent bibliography for Puglia alone is:
Demetrio Di Benedetto, Antonino Greco e Francesco Del Vecchio, _Guida
bibliografica di cripte, ipogei e insediamenti rupestri della Puglia_
(Bari: Levante, 1990).

The best subject term to use when searching WorldCat would probably be
"cave-churches"; couple that with "Italy" in a subject search and you
should find much of the book production.  But not all: mainland southern
Italy and Sicily have been and are comparatively little studied in North
America and the holdings of even major libraries are correspondingly
thin and spotty.

Hope this helps,
John Dillon


----- Original Message -----
From: Jim Bugslag <[log in to unmask]>
Date: Monday, February 7, 2005 7:57 pm
Subject: Re: saints of the day 3. February (2 of 2)

> medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and
> culture
> >  subterranean churches in the region
>
> Dear John,
> This is fascinating.  I am familiar with the "rupestrian
> settlements" in Cappadocia,
> but it's news to me that they were also established in southern
> Italy.  Can you tell us
> more about this rather unusual and seemingly Byzantine-inspired
> phenomenon?Thanks in advance,
> Jim Bugslag

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