For me Casalvieri is the perfect example of the true spirit of Italy, the real one that we used to read about in books and that can be found only in such small towns.
We were discovering Val Comino when we saw a large building on a hill surrounded by some smaller houses. “It is for grain storage or a church!”, we thought though there were no decorations helping to classify the final purpose of the edifice. Yet, the small bell tower and its position near the top of the hill lent us to conclude that it must be a church.
We decided to have a closer look to resolve our questions. We drove to the town centre and parked at the end of the road just in front of the city hall.
Casalvieri old town is a place that must make the city fathers proud. Walking up to the building through the clean cobble-stoned streets, we met two nuns and just a few people strolling down. Everybody was polite and said ‘Buona sera’ (good evening) smiling, recognizing us as tourists.
On the right we found the building, the church of St John the Baptist – a very impressive church! The façade facing the church square is plain, but with some baroque decoration spread here and there that reveal the age of the building, while the simple bell tower nestles against the apse on the edge of the slope down to the town.
Checking the three doors, we were sad to find this large edifice closed but without shame we asked information to a couple who were chatting about music and a violin concerto. We were delighted when the man offered to open the church for us. We couldn’t believe our luck!
He went to a house near the church, and was given the key of a lateral door so that we were able to enter the holy sanctuary. The church was a magnificent baroque jewel. We couldn’t expect such harmony of the decoration that ends with a wooden carved choir and the decorated organ’s pipes above.
When we asked some information about the organ our host simply started to play the instrument and the sound filled the church and our hearts. Our guide is not just a musician but also the organist of the church. He feels at home in this proud church.
That’s the spirit of Italy, the joy of living and of sharing beauty of life.
Yet there is another story which is just as interesting and quintessentially Italian!
The patron saint of Casalvieri is Saint Onorio, and the arrival of his body in this church occurred in 1746 sometime after the church was completed, and his is a story worthwhile reciting.
In 1746, Father Gianfranco Abati Oliviera, on his way to Montecassino, was a guest of the archpriest who sought means to enhance the glory of the church with the remains of a martyr. A Church with reliquia is more important! The problem was that they had no reliquia of a Saint to protect the town and the original patron St Nicholas of Bari had really too many towns to protect.
Fortunately, Father Oliviera just happened to have a stock of 3 saints in his ‘war-chest’ arising from the will of his uncle. So, on May 27, 1747, with all pomp and ceremony, the body of Saint Onorio arrived in Casalvieri, and was placed on the main altar of the church of St John the Baptist – and there we found it.
Can you imagine something more Italian? Not the type of Italian story related to the Roman Empire or to the Renaissance, but the one related to the story of the church. There are all the ingredients that Martin Luther would love to hear to reinforce his decision. But what Martin Luther couldn’t imagine was the heritage of the church. Not only the magnificent building but the devotion of good people and the feeling of an entire town.
So now we come back to the story of Casalvieri today. Our host lit the lamps of the church and operated a mechanism behind the altar to lift the cover board and display the holy body of Saint Onorio in a glass coffin. We were impressed and felt to be part of something special, important, as are all guests in Italy.
But, what is the importance of St Onorio to this town? His folk, the people of Casalvieri, are devoted to their patron saint and every last Sunday in May and on the preceding days, there are a series of processions by the residents to pay homage. Every 25 years the procession is even greater and the saint is carried through the town.
Casalvieri is a town that lost many of its youth and families to emigration, and its families abroad have maintained strong links to their home town to the extent that the saint is felt to be a protector of emigrants. Many return to celebrate the saint’s day in May. To cater for those who cannot travel at that time a second festival is held in August.
And now, for the final anthem of the day, as we stood making our farewells in front of the church, we were told that this year on May 5, the town of Casalvieri marks its 1000th anniversary, and the celebrations will be on the 6th.
I think that we may just go to the celebrations in Comino Valley.