This post is also available in: Italian

In 1495 Pope Alexander VI Borgia decreed that the “Terra di Magliano“, judged “populous and smart enough“, became the seat of the “Diocese of Sabina”. The church of San Liberatore, patron of the city, was elevated to a cathedral.

At the end of the 16th century, the saint’s relics were stolen and, failing to find them, others from Montefiascone were accepted.

With a small, but perhaps not negligible difference, that the bones of the arm were of San Liberato and not of San Liberatore. This is how a bizarre diatribe began, which – in some ways – has not yet ended even today.

Magliano Sabina - Cattedrale San Liberato by Maurizio Mola

Front of the Church [1]

“DIVI LIBERAT (or) I (s) AEDES”, thus wrote the stonecutter on the three lintels of the respective doors of the Cathedral of the Sabines [photo n. 1].

Magliano Sabina - Cattedrale San Liberato by Maurizio Mola

Cathedral, central entrance [2]

One cannot escape looking above the central door [photo n. 2], the evident asymmetry in the spaces between the last four letters LIBERAT (or) I (s) [photo n. 3], indicating a subsequent intervention to correct the original writing of the word.

Magliano Sabina - Cattedrale San Liberato by Maurizio Mola

Detail of the central door [3]

Had the stone mason made a mistake and corrected it later?

At first it would seem so, but when you enter the church it is possible to read on the porphyry of the high altar that the temple was consecrated to the honour and glory of San Liberato.

The plaque, in this case, “speaks” without leaving doubts, but the doubt instead creeps into the mind of those who would like to know if the sumptuous temple had really been dedicated to San Liberatore, bishop and martyr, or to San Liberato.

The oldest documents testify that the church was always dedicated to San Liberatore.

In 1582 an incredible event occurred: all the relics of the Holy Liberator were stolen! Yet, by whom, nobody ever knew, and the crime went unpunished for all these centuries, without solution.

Unless … suspicions do not fall on the inhabitants of the nearest towns who had digested poorly the move of the seat of the Diocese of Sabina from Vescovio to Magliano in Sabina.

Beyond that dispute, certainly the Maglianesi could not bear to remain devoid of their protector’s relics, without them the divine defence of the city was lacking.

So where to go to get more if not in Arria, near Ariano Irpino, the town of origin of the saint? Unnecessarily, however, because from Arria, for reasons whose memory has been lost, no other relics were ever sent, and those are kept in the church of Benevento (church of Santa Sofia).

What to do? Somehow they had to make up for so much deficiency.

Thus the Bishop, the Canons and the Augustinians of the convent of Magliano turned to the Augustinian monks of Montefiascone, who without delay sent a whole arm, accompanied by documents to demonstrate authenticity (as was customary).

Magliano Sabina - Cattedrale San Liberato by Maurizio Mola

The altar inside of the Cathedral

Except that the arm was not that of San Liberatore, but of San Liberato.

For this replacement of relics, from the end of the 1500s, in the official pontifical documents, the Cathedral of the Sabines thus became San Liberato and no longer San Liberatore.

Things remained so until a luminary in the liturgical field, the Bishop of Sabina, Cardinal Nicola Ludovisi Albergati (1677-1681), raised the question before the Sacred Congregation of Rites. This, unexpectedly, in 1679 decreed that the sometimes dubious title was awarded to San Liberato, for good peace of the conservative faction.

But the losers did not give up, and returned to the job. The cardinal was then forced to even ask Pope Innocent IX for help. The pope, on the advice of Cardinal Girolamo Casanate (1620-1700), on September 30, 1679 issued a brief with which he imposed to venerate as the owner of the church and as patron of the city San Liberato.

The supporters of “Liberatore” still did not give up the game.

Indeed, they began to work ‘underground’ with greater effort with memorials, supplications and other writings in order to bring the matter before the Sacred Congregation of Rites. Finally in 1735, thanks to Cardinal Antonio Felice Zondadari senior (1665-1737), it declared that the worship of the martyr and bishop had to be restored … San Liberatore … and not to San Liberato completely unknown », totally unknown, that is, non-existent! San Liberato, who was he? Never existed.

It is curious to think that for about 150 years an unknown saint had been able to usurp a title of another Saint, who had the name of Liberatore, when, with this name he must be identified as San Eleuterio or Liberatore, Bishop of Illyria, revered in many towns and cities of southern and central Italy.

Magliano Sabina - Cattedrale San Liberato by Maurizio Mola

Inscription on the main altar of the Cathedral [4]

Here, then, is the contradiction of finding still written on the porphyry stone of the high altar is explained [photo n. 4] the dedication to San Liberato, and on the lintel of the central door, insert with undoubted skill the letters 0 – R – S, to return the temple to the rightful owner, that is San Liberatore.

But if you ask a Maglianese today who is the prime protector of Magliano (then he will correct himself), and will answer you Salliberatu, or San Liberato!

Guido Poeta

ITA Studioso, gran ricercatore e appassionato locale. Autore di diversi libri sul territorio e sulle tradizioni di Magliano Sabina, responsabile dell’archivio storico e memoria vivente del paese. Amato da tutti! ENG Scholar, great researcher and local enthusiast. Author of several books on the territory and traditions of Magliano Sabina, responsible for the historical archive and living memory of the country. Loved by all!