medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
Today (9. March) is the feast day of:
1) Vitalis of Castronuovo (d. 893). A wandering Italo-Greek ascetic, today's less well known saint from the Regno is documented by a Vita (BHL 8697) translated in 1194 from a now lost Greek original thought to be of the very late ninth or early tenth century. According to this, V. was born at Castronuovo in western Sicily, entered religion at the monastery of Saint Philip of Agira at Agira near Enna, travelled after five years to Rome on pilgrimage, stopped off in Calabria for two years of eremitical solitude on his way back, and then returned to Agira or its environs where he spent the next twelve years in a monastery near that of St. Philip. The ongoing Muslim conquest of Sicily then caused him to return to Calabria, whence later he moved on to northern Basilicata. After spending time at the monastery of St. Elias at Carbone, V. retreated to a cave near Armento where he founded a community of his own.
Still according to the Vita. V. later traveled to Bari, where he was received by the katepan; returning to Basilicata, he founded another monastery, was captured by Muslim raiders, and was treated badly before being released. V.'s last foundation was a monastery near Rapolla (PZ) on mount Vulture (near Melfi); having chosen and instructed his successor, he died here at a very advanced age.
One of V.'s foundations was that of Sant'Angelo in Monte Raparo in the upper Agri valley. As its name indicates, this was a Michaelsmount; like its more famous namesake on the Gargano, it too began as a rupestrian settlement. In the earlier twentieth century its church (with an interesting cupola) and some other buildings still survived, albeit in ruinous condition. Earthquakes have since reduced these to rubble, but three largish photographs of the place -- including one of the cave that according to the Vita constituted the initial monastery -- can be viewed in the Italian-language article reproduced here (caution: the dates in this piece are not always reliable):
V.'s final foundation, the one near Rapolla, was similarly located on a mountainside near the headwaters of a little stream. Abandoned in 1306 but later reoccupied by Benedictines, it too is now rubble. While we're here, though, Rapolla's originally perhaps twelfth-century cathedral (belltower dated 1209, present main portal constructed in 1253) is worth a look. Repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, it has through several reconstructions maintained a medieval-appearing exterior.
Photo gallery (several pages):
Two reliefs on the south wall (Original Sin; Annunciation to the BVM) are especially notable. The reliefs are conventionally attributed to Sarolo of Muro Lucano, the architect whose construction of the belltower is recorded in an inscription now located beneath the Annunciation relief. Sarolo is also recorded as the architect of the Benedictine convent church of Santa Maria at Pierno (1189-1197) and of the expansion of the church of Santa Maria at Capogiano (inscription not dated). Despite frequent references in survey literature to sculptors of "the school of Sarolo di Muro Lucano" it is not clear that S. was a sculptor; the reliefs at Rapolla are themselves unsigned and could have been commissioned from someone else. Some views:
Relief (Original Sin):
2) Catherine of Bologna (d. 1463). C. (Caterina Vigri) was born in Bologna, where her mother belonged to the city nobility, but spent most of her life at Ferrara, where her father was an agent of the Este court. Educated along with Margherita d'Este, whom she served as an attendant in the 1420s, C. received instruction in Latin, in music, and in manuscript painting. In the later 1420s she left the court to join an already existing community of pious women; when that broke apart after its founder's death, C. established (in 1431) a convent of Poor Clares. C. served at this house as mistress of novices and in that capacity wrote her best known work, _Le sette armi spirituali_ ('The Seven Spiritual Weapons').
In 1455/56 C. founded in Bologna another convent of Poor Clares and served as its abbess until her death. C. was a mystic and visionary, a prolific writer, and an at least occasional painter. Miracles began to be attributed to her after her death and when, not long afterward, her body was exhumed it was found to be incorrupt. C. was canonized in 1712.
C. has been proclaimed patron saint of artists. Here's a specimen of her work:
And her she is in a painting, dated 1470-1480, by the Master of the Baroncelli Portraits:
Between 1477 and 1480 C.'s convent of Corpus Domini in Bologna erected a new church. Renovated within in the late seventeenth century, it preserves its original facade
and is known popularly as the Chiesa della Santa because C. may be seen in an adjoining cell, fully dressed and sitting upright on an ornate chair. An English-language description of this arrangment is here:
and views of C. herself are at:
Not exactly poikilothron' athanat' Aphrodita [Sappho, fragment 1].
Also preserved at Corpus Domini is C.'s breviary, written and illuminated by her. An announcement of its recent scholarly edition by Vera Fortunati and Claudio Leonardi (Bologna: Compositori, 2004) is here:
(Vitalis of Castronuovo lightly revised from an earlier post)
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