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Magliano Sabina firstly played a strategic role in the life of Rome and then the papacy for its port on the Tiber and the possibility of to cross the river. For this reason everyone wanted to ingratiate themselves with the benevolence of the village and its inhabitants, traders and soldiers.

But the incredible story that we tell here is about a church and the relics it held, it concerns the story of San Liberatore that was replaced by San Liberato and vice versa.

For many centuries during the Middle Ages to have a relic meant to increase the prestige of the church and to advance it in the hierarchy of importance and in its role in the district. The more important the relic saint was, the more the church could aspire to become

The church of San Liberatore was near the entrance to the town and in 1459 Pope Pius II Piccolomini declared it a collegiate church, that is, governed by a college of priests, and also entrusted to it the assets of two other disgraced churches.

In 1495 Pope Alexander VI Borgia appointed Magliano Sabina a bishop’s seat to allow a simpler passage of his army and that of his son Cesare Borgia, known as il Valentino, so the church of San Liberatore became a cathedral.

Previously the bishop’s seat was located in Vescovio, which is described by Pope Borgia as a ‘country place’. But the inhabitants of Vescovio loyal to the Orsini family did not accept this downgrading and saved all the treasures of their church. Especially the relics that were brought to San Polo.

But there could not be a cathedral without relics and the pressure began to move them to Magliano Sabina! In 1505, the Madonna appeared at San Polo and it was decided to leave the relics where they were.

At the death of Pope Alexander VI Borgia there was a bit of turmoil especially when in 1521 Cardinal Carvajal asked to bring the cathedral back to Vescovio, which in the meantime had been reorganized and embellished.

Pope Leo X looked for a way to make both towns happy and nominated Vescovio as “Antiqua Cathedralis Sabinorum” and San Liberatore di Magliano as “Nova Cathedralis”. But this angered Magliano who had to return some privileges and was forced to put taxes on the bridge in order to finish the facade of San Liberatore that had, in the meantime, found the relics of its saint, and to finish the bishop’s palace.

The new bishops had to choose where to reside and whichever was chosen, Vescovio or Magliano, would make sure that someone would be offended.

In 1576 Ponte Felice was finally built on the Tiber, and named after the Pope, even if the river did not decide to pass under its arches and for years continued to change course. But the real tragedy occurs in 1582 when they stole the relics of San Liberatore leaving the Cathedral without relics!

The Augustinian friars of Montefiascone, however, have a relic of their saint, San Liberato di Africa, that was taken to the Cathedral of San Liberatore and began to be celebrated on May 15, the same day as San Liberatore.

San Liberato vs San Liberatore

A little because the Augustinians were not much loved, and a little ‘because the Maglianesi had become attached to their saint, for a century and a half the citizens of Magliano divided themselves among devotees to San Liberato (who was a simple friar) and devotees to San Liberatore (who had been a bishop).

In the meantime, the Council of Trent had overcome the need for relics to be required for the title of Cathedral and Magliano was definitively strengthened as a bishopric. At this point they could get rid of San Liberato and the Augustinians.

For sure in 1670 the Augustinians left Magliano but certainly not in harmony and with a certain discontent that was still felt among the population. Some of them wanted to drive out from the village the saint of the Augustinians and in 1679 Pope Innocent XI forbade the worship of San Liberato in Magliano.

Despite the pope’s pronouncement, the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1679 pronounced itself in a contrasting manner and declared that the name of the Cathedral is that of San Liberato. Also, because Liberatore did not appear in the list of martyrs.

Now, a strange situation developed in which two popes of the past (Pope Pius II and Pope Alexander VI) are disavowed by the judgment of the Congregation of Rites which is an organ at the service of the Pope and is not superior to him.

This question was raised and Pope Innocent XI decided to get help from Cardinal Casanate who concluded that San Liberatore had never existed and in 1679 the Pope issued a ‘brief’ in which the worship of San Liberatore was forbidden.

On the façade of the cathedral the name of San Liberato was written and a sculpture of him was carved.

San Liberatore wins?

After the Council of Trent the church went through a phase of exasperated juridical transformation and the supporters of San Liberatore decided to try again to bring back the worship of their saint.

First of all, in 1727 they had brought from the church of Santa Sofia of Benevento the relics of a San Liberatore bishop and martyr authenticated by Pope Benedict XIII.

How could there be so many martyrs? Simple, for a time all those buried in the catacombs were considered martyrs and many of them could not reconstruct the name and were given their symbolic names. Thanks to these names, a sort of ‘catalog of saints and martyrs’ was written.

So in a catalogue of 1613 a San Liberatore had been listed, even if the author of the catalogue had inserted it after having learned oral news from Benevento, Magliano Sabina and Sulmona where he assumes San Liberatore was bishop.

The Maglianesi begin then to propose again the existence of a San Liberatore as bishop and martyr and they reappeared in Rome. Finally, in 1735 they obtained a new sentence of the Sacred Congregation of Rites totally opposed to the previous one. Now it was declared that San Liberato is an obscure saint and that the worship must return to San Liberatore.

Perhaps this San Liberatore di Benevento was different from that of a few centuries before but nobody wanted to investigate too much and the writings on the façade of the church were rearranged but not on the altar and among the common people. In other words, many citizens of Magliano were called Liberato and their name was not changed to Liberatore. And even today we do not use the name of Liberatore as it ‘is not a good omen’.

On the façade one can see the transformation of the written LIBERATI into LIBERAToris. And the statue of San Liberato is modified by extending the miter and adding nailed tablets.

Today in the church there are no longer any relics of the saints and the feast of May 15 is dedicated in practice to both of them and the worship of the Holy Cross is never repudiated by any pope.

A dispute between saints that lasted many centuries still arouses emotions.

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Claudia Bettiol

IT Ingegnere, futurista e fondatrice di Discoverplaces. Consulente per lo Sviluppo Turistico dei Territori, specializzato nella sostenibilità e nella promozione culturale dei piccoli territori e delle piccole imprese. Ama i cavalli ENG Engineeer, futurist, joint founder of Energitismo and founder of Discoverplaces. Consultant for the development and promotion of the Touristic Development of Territories specialising in sustainability and in cultural promotion of small places and small enterprises. She loves horses