In Search of our Patron Saint

By Luciano Calabrese


At Torricella Peligna the summer had ended, autumn was here and we feared a harsh winter.

The peasants were tired and discontented; their hard labour in the countryside had not been rewarded by an adequate harvest. Craftsmen and the occasional shopkeepers too were complaining because what little work they did have was "on credit"; the peasants could not pay either with money or in kind (with agricultural produce).

For several years, at the time of the harvest, when the fields were in their full exuberance (of growth), when the sun ought to have ripened the harvests, there had been an outbreak of sudden and violent storms.

Rains, the cold temperatures and hailstorms had destroyed most of the harvest and also the hopes of the poor peasants.

But slowly anger and desperation were placated, giving way again to endurance, to hope, to trust and to faith. And all of Torricella’s inhabitants, after a year of useless toils, returned to work and to praying to their Protector, San Giacomo (Saint James), the Patron Saint of Torricella.

The Torricellans who perhaps believed that in the past they had committed some large sin that had not been sufficiently compensated for by their sufferings, illnesses, and very hard work in the fields, continued to beat their breasts and to pray - and to beg (for help from) their Patron Saint.

Not only that, but on the occasion of the Patron Saint’s feast day they busied themselves preparing great festivities as best they could: offerings, processions, musical groups and fairs. But at the very best of it, even on the feast days, the storms were unleashed against everything, even against the processions.

In some years it happened that their hopes were raised; the sky stayed clear throughout the periods of the ploughing, the sowing and the growth of the wheat. But the prolonged heat and drought brought about the same damage as that due to the storms.

People could not stand it any longer; some began to doubt, some began to think, maybe, "God forgive me, this San Giacomo is no use as a Protective Patron Saint." Others joined in with this judgment and the most decisive of them established that the Torricellans had already expiated any guilt they may have had and therefore the Patron Saint would have to be changed. San Giacomo had made his protected people too discontent.

"Enough, we can’t take it any more!" ….. "Even if he were to get angry with us, he could not cause us greater harm than he has done so far" ….. "This one’s no use" ….. "God (the father) doesn’t listen to him any more" ….. "We need another Patron Saint (protector), a "cooler"[1] Saint.

Thus the people of Torricella found themselves in agreement in deciding to disown San Giacomo as their Patron Saint protector and to choose another Saint, a more valid one, more listened to "on high" and more attentive to the villagers’ problems.

A delegation of old people was nominated, chosen from amongst the wisest people in the village, and from the main districts, to whom the job was given of choosing a new protector, a new Patron Saint from amongst the many, and to see to the purchase of his statue.

This job was not at all easy because no-one amongst the delegates had any ideas as to which Saint they should choose to be their new Patron Saint protector, nor as to where they should go to buy the statue. Help came from the parish priest who said: "Have faith, brothers; go to Naples, my brother in such-and-such a parish will indicate to you from which shop you can make your purchase; as for the name of the Saint and which statue to choose, God will give you inspiration." The delegation from Torricella, worried and upset by the difficulties of the job that had been assigned to them, undertook the journey to Naples riding on donkeys and, maybe (on this point the news is not absolutely certain) in horse-drawn carriages.

The journey was a long and tiring one; some disagreements occurred and some arguments, about the choice to be made and the expense of the purchase.

They reached Naples (that this was the city was told to me by a highly competent person, let’s say knowing the tricks of the trade) wrapped in their cloaks, large hats on their heads and with very muddy boots. Mistrusting, cautiously wary, (even in those days you had to be careful in Naples), they asked to be accompanied first to the parish that their priest from Torricella had suggested and then to the shop suggested by this (local) parish priest. The shop was full of sacred objects: monstrances[2], missals[3], pictures, pyxes[4], stoles[5], candles of all sizes, gospels, crucifixes and many other things that are used in a church.

Seeing them befuddled, amazed and confused, an inquisitive shop assistant approached them and courteously enquired what they might need.

The leader of the delegation took courage and without much preamble, said: "We wish to buy a statue of our Patron Saint, but as yet we don’t know which one he is!"

The shop assistant, certainly an expert, a man gifted with great patience and tact, took the group to the start of a long corridor, saying: "Choose at your leisure, then call me."

The villagers could see hundreds of statues, arranged in many rows, of all sizes and types, from the powerful San Pietro (Saint Peter) to the poor San Francesco (Saint Francis), women, virgins and children, statues of every race and age.

The delegates were overcome by panic: "Now what shall we do?" ….. "Which Saint shall we turn to?"

"He must be an important one," was the judgement of one of the Torricellans. They all slowly advanced up the corridor, looking to the left and looking to the right. "This one’s no good, he’s too old." ….. "This one’s lame." ….. "This one has a squint." ….. "This one’s too big."

Well, their doubts grew and the choice became ever more difficult.

But whilst the group was proceeding down the long, narrow corridor, the cloak of one of the villagers became caught on a little statue, almost as if the tiny hand of this small Saint were trying to stop them. "Stop everyone! A Miracle! This is our Saint; he called to me; it is God’s will!"

They all turned around at this sudden call and could see that the cloak was caught on the hand of the statue of San Marziale, the child Saint.

Confounded and struck dumb, they all stood gazing at the statue of this little Saint of whose name they had never even heard mention.

One of them risked asking: "How can we go back to our village with this "little squirt"[6]? Another added: "The Torricellans want a Saint, not a "snotty-nosed kid"[7]. A third said: "What miracles can a "little kid"[8] do? "What will the people say when we go back?! ….. "It is God’s will," yet another said. "But then this one’s so very small that he costs so little," said the one who had worried about the cost. One of the delegates who was worrying about the long journey back added, "Thinking about it well, we can easily carry this one back without too much effort!"

After a long discussion the delegation finally decided to take back this statue to their village, and that is how San Marziale became the Patron Saint of Torricella Peligna.

I am not certain that the story really went like that. But this is what is told in Torricella.

[1] fregno (dialect) = cool or cooler in the modern-day sense of the word i.e. excellent, marvellous, suave, stylish, attractive, interesting.

[2] monstrances – open or transparent receptacles in which the consecrated host is exposed for veneration.

[3] missals – books of prayer, especially illuminated ones, containing the texts used in the service of the Mass throughout the year. As a liturgical book, the missal appeared in about the 10th Century, combining in one book the devotions that had previously appeared in several.

[4] pyxes – (singular = pyx), vessels with a lid in which the consecrated bread "ostia" or "host" of the Eucharist is kept.

[5] stoles – a vestment worn by a priest during services and ceremonies, made of a strip of material, usually silk, often having small tassels at the two ends, worn around the neck or across the shoulders and then the ends fall in front onto the chest and dangle at waist level or below.

[6] mammoccio (dialect) = a little squirt (an insignificant person).

[7] fraffoso (dialect) = "fraffo" is "snot" so it is like referring to a kid with a snotty nose or runny nose.

[8] quatrale (dialect) = child, baby, little kid, little squirt, too little.

Click here for a photo of Torricella's San Marziale

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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