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  • Bonefro by Egidio Cicoria

Bonefro is a medieval village in Molise created around a monastery on a hill below Monte Rucolo and near the Gola del Varco, a stream that joins Fortore shortly after the town. A territory with unspoiled nature and a profile characterized by the powerful image of the castle and the church of Santa Maria delle Rose.

The territory of the valley is crossed by the sheep path that connects Celano and Foggia, i.e. the mountain with the plain and the Adriatic Sea, an ancient route traveled for millennia for the transit of flocks of sheep during seasonal migration. The first remains of tools for processing milk date back to the third century BC.

From the few remains found over the years by farmers who cultivated the fields, traces have been found that the whole area was inhabited since the Samnite period.

These were replaced by the Romans who built villas, that is agricultural settlements dedicated to the cultivation of fields and the transformation of the products of the earth, and an ancient sepulchral stone was found. During Imperial Rome, Benafro was part of the Regio IV Samnium.

The Romans were replaced first by the Byzantines of the Holy Roman Empire of the East and then by the Lombards. People sought protection from the barbarians by taking refuge on the heights and the Lombards built a tower which was then the first nucleus of the current castle.

In fact, the current medieval village was formed around a fortified watchtower.

A legend tells us that Bonefro owes its name and its birth to a bloody episode. A group of pilgrims who left from Venafro to go to the Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo, rested in these lands. The group was attacked by shepherds (or by the castle guardians depending on the version) who kidnapped the women. The group remained on the site and gave birth to a new village which they named Venifro in honour of the place of origin. The place of the kidnapping, however, is still called the ‘crying of women’ today.

Among these were three young couples and the men, left there alone, who turned into large rocks due to the pain while the tears of the women gave rise to the source of Chiaj. Legend has it that God’s mercy turned the women into white doves and three doves can still be seen today resting on the three rocks of Paschepelombe in the evening.

Next to the new Lombard government of the Duchy of Benevento, a group of monks was consolidated and the first document that mentions ‘Binifro’ dates back to 1049 and is a donation from the monastery of Sant ‘Eustasio that the count of Adelferio gave to the monastery of Montecassino.

Shortly after the year 1000, the whole of southern Italy was conquered by the Normans, allied with the papacy to oppose the Orthodox church of the Byzantines and cancel their rites. With them the feudal system of territorial government was consolidated in all respects.

The Normans and southern Italy were then conquered by Frederick II of Swabia, strongly opposed to the papacy and they ruled for a short period limiting the power of the feudal lords and giving a great cultural impulse to this kingdom.

During this Swabian period a new tower was built on the castle which was then destroyed.

Once again the church asked outside help and called the Angevins to counter power of the Emperor Frederick II. Charles of Anjou defeated the sons of Frederick II and undertook to pay large taxes to the church to have dominion over southern Italy. This increased the power of the local lords who in turn had to finance the king.

Not much is known of the feudal families except in 1405, the king of Naples Ladislao d’Angiò-Durazzo granted it to the Boccapianola family, then it came to the Castelletti and from the seventeenth century the feudal lords were the same as those of Montorio nei Fretani.

Around 1400, the Aragonese (heirs of the Swabian dynasty of Frederick II) conquered the Kingdom of Naples starting from Sicily and also conquered Molise. They began to govern by restoring some attention to the people and the wool industry with the arrangement of the sheep paths but the great earthquake of 1456 destroyed the territory and brought poverty everywhere, they had to sell common lands and conflicts began between the church, agricultural universities and local lords.

The arrangement of the Aragonese Castle of Bonefro, which was then part of the County of Larino in Puglia, and the transformation of a part of it into the baronial palace date from this period. The urban centre was instead enclosed in a walled circle and the 4 access doors to the village can still be recognized.

The eighteenth century was a century of urban transformations, thanks to the Bourbon government, and the square was also created that ideally connects the medieval area with the later construction.

In 1731 Monsignor Tria rearranged the church of Santa Maria delle Rose, which expanded and came to include the bell tower, and other religious structures such as the Church of San Nicola, the protector of the town. The construction of the Fontana della Terra dates back to 1771 and that of the Fontana dei Cechi to 1816 with which water was distributed throughout the city center.

The Bourbon period was interrupted by the arrival of Napoleon’s French who remained until the Congress of Vienna when the Bourbons returned.

In 1805 a new terrible earthquake struck the area and in 1807, Bonefro was aggregated to the Molise county. In 1817, King Ferdinand I built a palace used as a barracks, magistrate’s office, prison and school.

During the nineteenth century, episodes of banditry occurred and after the unification of Italy the episodes took on a character of general aversion to the new order.

Bonefro has witnessed many people leaving who went north or abroad in search of fortune, especially to the United States.


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