It is time to celebrate one of the favourite patron saints. Saint Onorio, in Casalvieri, one of the magical towns of Val Comino whose patron saint is celebrated just a short while after the celebration of the founding of the town, just over 1000 years ago.

Casalvieri is a town reknowned as a creator, manufacturer and worldwide exporter of balloons for every party you can think of, but it wasn’t always so, and its Patron saint has protected it for over 370 years. To find this Patron, you need to come up the hill into the old town square and then  stroll up the cobble-stone street to the church on the hill, that of St John the Baptist. On the right you will find a wide staircase  leading to the facade and entrance to the church, stairs that are also used as seats for the audience for occasional musical performances, but not just now.

The last week of May is the week of the Festival of Saint Onorio to whom the religious ceremonies and civil celerations are directed.

A little about how Saint Onorio came to rest in Casalvieri. The resting place of the saint is a glass coffin under the altar in the fine baroque  church. Its interest is not just the patron but includes an organ with decorated pipes, that every visitor should hear. The music rising from those pipes fills the church and the listeners’ hearts with joy.

The arrival of Saint Onorio in this church occurred sometime after the church was completed in 1746, and this is his story, one that we enjoy retelling.

In 1746, Father Gianfranco Abati Oliviera, on his way to Montecassino, was a guest of the archpriest in Casalvieri who was wishing to enhance the glory of the church, preferably 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 store 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 under the main altar of the church of St John the Baptist – and there you can find it. On Saturday, 26 May, at 2000 the glass coffin will be opened for the viewing of the sacred remains of the saint.

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.

The patron saint is an essential element in the life-force of the small towns in Lazio. Many of its youth and families emigrated as a result of war and dispute, yet 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 people return to celebrate the saint’s day in late May. At this time there is also a remembrance service for those lost in war.

But this is not just a religious ceremony though the worship of the Patron is earnest.  In true Italian tradition, the celebrations include a festival with fireworks on each night of the weekend, accompanied by bands and entertainment for all. For those who can come to Casalvieri the city fathers and Saint Onorio give a heartfelt welcome ‘home’.

Gavin Tulloch

Scienziato e poeta. Ama la chimica, il vino, le donne e l’opera, ma non sappiamo in quale ordine