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 there 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 of St. Michael the Archangel (belltower dated 1209, present main portal constructed in 1253) is worth a look. Repeatedly damaged by earthquakes, it has through several reconstructions maintained a somewhat medieval-appearing exterior.
Photo gallery (four pages; at the first view, for 'Annunciazione' read 'Peccato originale'):
Two notable reliefs on the south wall (Original Sin; Annunciation to the BVM) 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 di Pierno (1189-1197) at San Fele and of the expansion of the church of Santa Maria at Capogiano (inscription not dated), both also in Basilicata's Potenza Province. 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 unsigned and could have been commissioned from someone else. Some views:
The reliefs' position on the cathedral can be seen in one of the views towards the bottom here:
2) Bruno (Boniface) of Querfurt (d. 1009). B. was a canon of the cathedral of Magdeburg and a court chaplain of Otto III who while in Italy in 997 met up with St. Romuald of Ravenna, entered the Order of Saint Benedict, and took the name of Boniface. After Otto's death in 1002 B. returned to Germany and soon undertook missionary activity among the Slavs. In 1004 he received the pallium as a missionary archbishop. In March 1009 he and eighteen companions were martyred by Prussians in today's Poland. B. is the author both of one of the great saint's Lives of the eleventh century, his Vita of St. Adalbert of Prague (BHL 38), and of the semi-autobiographical _Vita quinque fratrum_ dealing with the Camaldolese martyrs of 1003 (BHL 1147). Previously feasted on 19. June, B. is now commemorated in the RM on this day, his _dies natalis_.
3) Frances of Rome (d. 1440). F. (in Italian, Francesca Romana) belonged to the urban nobility of Rome. Married at the age of thirteen, raised three children (of whom at least one died young), tended to the needs of her husband, and managed a largish household in periods of prosperity and near-ruin. While she was doing this she also experienced visions and, together other female members of her extended family, engaged in works of charity. These women formed the core of the community of penitents established by F., oblated to the Olivetans of Rome's Santa Maria Nova, and ultimately known from the site of the community's monastery as the Oblates of the Tor de' Specchi.
F., who after the death of her husband had resided with her fellow Oblates, died on this day at the family's home in Trastevere. She was laid to rest in Santa Maria Nova, since known after her as Santa Francesca Romana (al Foro Romano). F.'s community of mostly aristocratic women, together with her confessor, fostered her cult. Canonization testimony was taken in 1451 and in 1490 the Senate of Rome decreed today a holiday. F. was canonized in 1608. She is a co-patron of the city of Rome and, since 1951, the patron saint of automobile drivers.
Illustrated Italian-language and English-language pages on Rome's chiesa di Santa Francesca Romana (al Foro Romano) are here:
Apse decor (originally twelfth-century):
And here's F. in the crypt:
A page of F.'s Vita by her confessor, Giovanni Mattiotti (also Matteotti):
Three illustrated, English-language pages on F. and on her confessor (here called Mariotti) begin here:
The illustrations on the latter set of pages come from the monastery's two fifteenth-century fresco cycles of scenes from F.'s life (one cycle by Antoniazzo Romano and assistants). Julia Bolton Holloway has excellent reproductions of them at:
See also Alessandra Bartolomei Romagnoli, ed., _Santa Francesca Romana: Edizione Critica dei Trattati Latini di Giovanni Mattiotti_ (Cittą del Vaticano Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1994).
A survivor (now in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art) from a slightly earlier series of panel paintings in the same theme is shown and discussed here:
Here's a set of street views of the monastery (the top one with a view of a familiar modern building as well):
A view of one of the medieval houses incorporated into the complex:
The Monastic Matrix page on the convent is informative:
4) 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:
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:
(last year's post lightly revised)
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