Where there are pirates there are treasure islands and where there are bandits there are treasure caves.
So also in Abruzzo in Sante Marie there are legends concerning some hidden treasure at the time of the robbers who roamed the rugged mountains full of caves and sinkholes.
The most intriguing is that of the Peschio Rosso that Luigi Archinti, a writer and painter, had reported in his short story almost two centuries ago.
Let’s start from the place: Sante Marie is a small town near Tagliacozzo that was on the border between the Papal States and the Kingdom of the two Sicilies. As always, the border areas are areas loved by smugglers and bandits. If you are chasing in one state you can go to take refuge in the other, steal on one side and hide in the other.
The mountains are rocky and majestic, so much so that they are called the Abruzzese Dolomites, and a dark rock wall leans into the valley as if to create a dam, a barrier. This is Peschio Rossi, a step that brought the two states into communication and a den of bandits.
Even the soldiers who knew the customs of the bandits were trying to patrol the area and one day at dawn, one of them with a patrol of 25 riflemen found a fairly large and sheltered cave where surely someone took refuge. The cave was warm and the rocks seemed solid so there would be no fear of collapses.
The commander sent in the riflemen, leaving three of them on guard outside, waiting to see who frequented this shelter. A shepherdess came with her herd to graze in a nearby meadow and the commander who knew her went out to ask for information.
The woman became frightened and began to tell about the cave and the spirits that lived there.
The cave housed a treasure trove of 4 gold-filled chests that had been found a hundred years earlier by some shepherds. The shepherds were unable to get out of the cave with the spoils, they were beaten and forced to put the treasure back in the coffers.
They returned to the village and told what had happened, so others tried to venture in search of gold but each time they came back bashed and beaten. Without knowing who it was that had reduced them to that state.
But at night they seemed to hear complaints coming out of the cave right in the heart of the mountain.
At one point, a gentleman came up with the idea of entering the cave and exchanging a ‘credit note’ (a sort of promissory note or promise of payment) with the equivalent in gold. So he entered the cave, placed his 400 ducats credit note on a treasure chest and took the gold equivalent.
It went well!
But when others tried to bring fake credit notes, they were still beaten. A parish priest also tried and he too was taken for granted.
Then the parish priest began to study old books and found a legend that told of a fierce local battle between the French and the Germans that had been fought nearby. The treasure had been placed by a German notable and his squire who were fleeing from Scurcola Marsicana.
The two took refuge in the cave and the notable killed the young squire, buried him at the entrance of the cave and launched a curse: “his soul would find peace only when another much loved soul would take his place”.
The priest began to reflect on the curse until he had an idea thinking about the shepherdess and her beloved white goat. The priest killed the goat and buried it at the entrance of the Peschio Rossi cave. Digging the pit he found the soldier’s bones and launched a blessing to dissolve the evil spell.
The priest took all the gold and made the Counts of Lottecli family a fortune. Even though, on his death bed, the goat’s soul still hovered above his bed.
In the meantime, the soldiers in the cave saw the image of a goat and started chasing it to get some of its milk … and the peasant began to recite a prayer.
This story was told by Luigi Archinti, but there are many other legends about the various caves and sinkholes of the Way of the Brigands. A 7-day itinerary between Lazio and Abruzzo passes between the villages of Sante Marie, Santo Stefano di Sessanio, Pescorocchiano, Borgorose, Magliano de ’Marsi, Tagliacozzo, Torano Nuovo.
Try it to discover new treasures, but remember to bring a goat with you. You never know!