Like many towns of our Italian peninsula, Torre Cajetani has its own legends and traditions. One of the most fascinating legends that gives prestige to our town is that linked to Saint Benedict in Torre Cajetani, a legend that also has a “historical” testimony.
The tradition in fact attests the existence of the Castrum of Torre Cajetani as early as the VI century AD thanks to the story of the journey that St. Benedict did in 529 from Subiaco to Montecassino, where he founded the monastery and ultimately died there.
The Chronicon Sublacense, written by Cherubino Mirzio, tells us that on a cold January day Saint Benedict stopped at Torre Cajetani to rest and from his travel stick, he planted in the ground a real holm oak tree, which for centuries testified to that extraordinary fact. The marvel was supported by the different type and time of flowering compared to other holm oaks that grow in the area.
To preserve the memory of the famous wanderer and the miracle that he created, a small church was built with an annexed monastery for the nuns, which took the name Saint Benedict in honour of he who became the Patron of Europe.
The monastery was built at an unspecified time on the side of the mountain about 750 metres from the town. It was mentioned for the first time in a document dated 1243, published by Toti in his transcription of 248 parchments from the Archives of the Cathedral of Alatri.
In 1328 a certain Giovanni Cortese was the procurator of the monastery, and the monastery was obliged to pay rates of 34 coins and 3 denari. This information can be found in the Rationes Decimarum of the dioceses of Lazio, compiled between the 13th and 14th centuries. These lists also indicate the name of the religious sisters residing in the monastery of Saint Benedict of Torre Cajetani.
For example: in 1331 the oblate Maria Cortese paid the sum of 11 coins and 3 denari for the first instalment of the two yearly rates while the second instalment of the tenth biennial 1331-1333 was paid by Nicola di Giovanni di Gregorio di Alatri. Maria Cortese and two other oblates, Francesca and Guisula, led contemplative lives, and it is these two religious women who paid the first instalment of the tenth biennial 1333-1335.
During his brief pontificate Celestino V issued a bull on 16 September 1294 with which he decreed the annexation of the monastery of ‘S. Benedetto de Turre’ to the monastery of San Matteo di Ferentino, an originally Benedictine monastery, subsequently passed to the Clarisse nuns.
This aggregation is attested in the Rubrichella Comunale di Ferentino, a list compiled in 1869 of the documents kept in the municipal archives of this small town of Ciociaria. Unfortunately, this bull has been lost but the news of the aggregation of the two Benedictine monasteries, under instructions of the pontiff, is recorded in the Catasto of the Monastery of Santa Chiara di Ferentino, compiled in 1684.
Nevertheless, we retain evidence of this annexation: the list of tithes, already mentioned above. In the list of the tenth annual of 1328 relating to the diocese of Ferentino, the monastery of San Matteo di Ferentino in the first instalment (15 August 1328) paid 10 coins at the hands of the Blessed Mary and 10 coins in the second instalment (March 1329) by hand by Pietro Vita, abbot of S. Maria dei Cavalieri Gaudenti.
The compiler of the list of the second instalment added a very important notation in the margin: the monastery of S. Benedetto di Torre, by the hand of Giovanni Cortese, paid out 11 coins for two instalments of the tithe. This annotation confirms that the two Ciociarian monasteries were united. The news is all the morevalidated the more one thinks that only one collector was commissioned to collect tithes for the diocese of Ferentino and Alatri.
After century XIV, the monastery’s historical memory is lost. What’s left today? A very remodelled monastic building that is a private home with a church by its side.
Over the years the tradition of celebrating Mass continued on March 21st at the chapel involving the children and all the inhabitants of the village. For the occasion, donuts (ciambelle), sweets and cakes are offered for the occasion. Precisely to celebrate the arrival of spring in the second half of the 1900s an oven was built by the last custodian (Paolo Ascani) in front of the small church for the cooking of the donuts.
I could add much more but no addition or conclusion could ever live up to the words of Maestro Giulio Cesare Gerlini (to whom much is owed for both the historical and photographic news of the town) who described it in one of his many writings dedicated to Torre Cajetani:
“To the visitor who goes down to the junction of Torre Cajetani, a block of flats immediately appears, almost leaning against the slope of the rocky mountain. A small bell tower on the roof could make one think of a church … in truth it is a tenement used as a family home where you can still see today a tiny chapel.
Immediately striking the eye is a large canvas representing St. Benedict, which occupies almost the entire side … above a small slender and aesthetic altar, gift of the Franchi di Trivigliano (today the painting no longer exists).
The small and silent chapel in its simplicity makes an excellent impression and suddenly transports the visitor’s soul into a world of recollection where every noise is made silent and all is peace. We know that every year on March 21, the day of the feast of the Patron Saint, the priests of Torre Cajetani and Trivigliano celebrate in the said chapel.
Immediately adjacent you can still see a tall plant … I am not so naive enough to say that this plant is still the one that tradition says miraculously blossomed from the stick left by the saint, but nothing prevents us believing that it is one of the scraps come out of roots of that first oak.
The construction of a church dedicated to St. Benedict and the constant tradition of the miracle handed down to us is a fact that no argument of historical criticism can annul. “