medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
On Saturday, June 24, 2006, at 8:16 pm, Phyllis wrote:
> Today (25. June) is the feast day of:
> William of Vercelli (d. 1142)
> Eventually W. settled on Monte Vergiliano (near Naples), where he
> formed a community; since their church was dedicated to the Virgin
> Mary, the mountain's name was changed to Montevergine.
Well, that's what John of Nusco tells us in his Life of W., using a
Latin form (Italian 'Vergiliano' is not attested this early, at least
not for the present toponym). And that may very well be true. But
whatever the educated John may have thought, it's unlikely that locals
conceived of the former name as having anything to do with the pagan
poet Vergil. It's more probable that the mountain had been named for
the BVM all along and that 'Vergilianus' (vel sim.) was originally
'Verginianus', much as the town of Mercogliano below the monastery seems
to derive its name from a late antique 'Mercurianum'. Domenico
Comparetti, the late nineteenth-century student of the medieval
reception of Vergil, went into the matter in his _Virgilio nel Medioevo_
(1895; frequently reprinted; Engl. tr., _Vergil in the Middle Ages_,
Princeton U. P., 1996). For those who read Italian, there's an online
(to find the passage, left-click on '53').
The modern name of this elevation is Monte Partenio. When it acquired
this designation and what connection that may have with Greek 'parthenos'
('virgin') are unclear to me.
> W. went on to found a number of other monasteries.
Mostly in Irpinia (approximately today's Avellino Province), of which he
is now the principal patron saint. He has a modern statue in the facade
of the cathedral at Avellino. But W. did get down into Basilicata as
well, where he founded the church at Monte Pierno near San Fele (PZ).
This received a double monastery that became a dependency of that of the
Goleto (see next paragraph). Today it is the heart of the Sanctuary of
the Blessed Virgin of Pierno, honoring a wooden statue of the BVM that
W. is said to have miraculously found here. The church, rebuilt in the
late twelfth century by master Sarolus of Muro Lucano (famous for his
work on the cathedral of Rapolla) under the Goleto's then abbess Agnes,
is one of Basilicata's few notable specimens of "romanesque" architecture.
Exterior views (expandable):
Interior views (expandable):
W. died at the double monastery of the Goleto (near Sant'Angelo dei
Lombardi in southern Campania). Another of his foundations, this was
essentially a house for women with a small attached community of males
who were there to perform sacraments and to provide spiritual direction.
Dedicated to the Holy Savior ("the Goleto" is a toponym), the monastery
flourished until the middle of the fourteenth century and was closed in
the early sixteenth (the last abbess died in 1515). Whereupon the
property reverted to Montevergine, which promptly reopened it as a
small, male institution. Late in the same century the monastery began
to grow again. Over the next two hundred years it enjoyed considerable
prosperity. In the secularization of the abbeys in 1807 its property
was divided among the neighboring communities and the buildings quickly
fell into disrepair. In 1973 a monk of Montevergine obtained permission
to live on the site and began a process of restoration which now, than
ks in large part to infusions of public monies, has achieved some
Some views of the abbey (now called that of St. William, after its
founder) before and after restoration are here:
More are included in the virtual tour accessible here:
(Click on "visita l'abbazia").
The Chapel of St. Luke was the upper part of the abbey's church in the
later Middle Ages. Two interior views are here:
The church's lower part was originally the funerary chapel of the
"romanesque" basilica of the Holy Savior. William remained here until
1807, when he was removed to Montevergine. His relics now reside in the
crypt of that abbey's new church (opened 1961).
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