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This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales, to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”.
The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).
This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story.
As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.
Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.
It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.
In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.
There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.
There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.
As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner.
As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300′s. Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.
The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church has some ancient frescoes.
Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated. Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.
Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo. Well done to each and every one who took part.
For more information about the town of Maranola see my website: http://maranola.shapcott-family.com
Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event.
I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!
I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!
For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website: http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com
Saint Constance is the co-patron of the mountain town of San Donato Val Di Comino which sits on the edge of the Parco Nazionale di Abruzzo. Constance was a courageous young Roman girl who was martyred for defending her faith. In 1756, the saint’s remains were brought to San Donato for safe-keeping and housed in the Cathedral of Santa Maria and San Marcello.
Her feast is held annually on the last Sunday of August, and during this ancient festival there is a night vigil and a procession in which the saint’s statue is carried through the streets by 12 young men dressed as pages in colourful 18th century costumes.
Many of the locals also dress up in traditional costumes of the Ciociaria region.
The typical type of footware – the rather strange looking sandals known as “cioce”, from which the region of Ciociaria takes its name.
Santa Costanza is the patron saint of young people and of spinsters, who in the past were traditionally nicknamed as “cipolle”- “onions”. Therefore traditional local dishes are served based on onions such as the “cipollata” made of onions, cheese and eggs.
There is also the Mercatino di Santa Costanza – a traditional market that has been held every year since the 1700’s. The custom was that children were given a clay money box to encourage them to save up their pocket money throughout the year. On the feast day the money boxes were smashed and at the market the children were able to buy whistles, small toys and items made of terracotta, together with new money boxes to save up their coins or “spiccioli” for the next year.
Mothers had the opportunity to buy such things as plaited tresses of garlic or onions, terracotta urns, pots, pans and dishes.
At the market there are also stalls selling local arts and crafts, as well as traditional food products such as the curiously shaped Caciacavallo cheese.
The festivities also include entertainment in the form of comedians, acrobats, popular games, concerts and culminate in an impressive fireworks display.
and the neighbouring towns of the Val di Comino
During August we had the pleasure of having a lovely French family to stay with us. We soon learned that their summer holiday was booked to coincide with a family wedding that was to take place in this beautiful area of South Lazio. The bride’s family originated from the small town of Casalvieri, which is very close to Atina, the birthplace of my Italian grandparents, in the beautiful Val di Comino. The wedding was to be held at the Abbey of Casamari in Frosinone, which is located between the towns of Frosinone and Sora, close to Isola del Liri, with its beautiful waterfall.
We expressed interest about the wedding, and asked if we could tag along to observe the celebrations.
Thus, on the day of the wedding, Paul and I drove to Casamari. We purposely arrived early so that we had plenty of time to explore the ancient abbey, which is still a functioning monastery housing approximately twenty monks.
The Cistercian monastery dates back to the 13th century and is dedicated to Santa Maria, San Giovanni and San Paolo. It is noted as being a fine example of early-Gothic architecture, similar to that found at the Abbey of Fossanova, near Priverno.
The church has an elegant nave with clean simple lines and a vaulted ceiling. Despite its simplicity there are some examples of beautiful intricately carved stonework ….
… and some wonderfully ornate bronze doors.
Interestingly many of the windows, instead of being made of stained glass, are glazed with translucent slices of agate alabaster which give the majestic building a golden amber glow.
The main altar is of an ornate Baroque style, and was beautifully decorated for the wedding with exquisite arrangements of white roses.
We also explored the outside of the Abbey, the courtyard and gardens.
The tranquil Cloister and covered walkway has an ancient well as its centrepiece and the flowerbeds were planted with stunning scarlet salvias.
Before long the wedding guests began to arrive and the ceremony to celebrate the couple’s union got underway.
What a splendid location for a fairy tale wedding.
We wish the radiant couple much love and happiness and many splendid years together.
Our special friends : La Famille Filatriau: Regis, Domenique, Solenn and Tatiana
I (Louie) have been beavering away on the old computer.
Using my own photos I have now put together 2 Video / Slideshows.
Please do take a look ………..
One is dedicated to :
The second is about this interesting region of South Lazio
that we are so lucky to now live in :
I hope this will give you an idea
of what beauty surrounds us here at
For more details about our 2 Farmhouse Holiday Apartments
and other local Holiday Villas available to rent,
please go to our Website at :
A cheery “Ciao” to you, one and all,
hoping each and everyone is keeping well
and getting into the swing of this year’s seasonal festivities.
I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas, since at the age of 9 or 10 I became very disillusioned on abruptly discovering that Father Christmas was in fact not real. I was absolutely devastated. How I had been duped !!!
My dear mother, Tina, always loved Christmas. She seemed to forever see Christmas through the eyes of an innocent child. When I was young she used to delight in taking me on trips to London to visit the large department stores with their glittering, alluring window displays. Here I would be enticed to visit dear Olde Santa in his magical twinkling grotto. However, so fervent was her passion, that in the period leading up to Christmas I was taken to visit Santa in several different stores. Even at the age of 4 or 5 I must have had quite an enquiring mind, as I soon began to deduce that each of the Santas somehow looked subtly different, ie the colour of their gloves, boots and belts etc !!!
In Italy festivities begin on the 6th December with the Festa di San Nicola, followed by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, which is marked by a Public Holiday. The 13th December is the feast of Santa Lucia also known as “The Festival of Lights”. It seems that no expense is spared as each Comune stings up its extravagant sparkling, displays of Christmas street illuminations, on entering or each town one is greeted with the cheery message Buona Festa.
Outside their premises some shop keepers lay out cheery red or green felt on the pavements, and display Christmas trees decorated with ribbons and bows, and assorted dangling pasta shapes that have been gilded with gold spray paint, creating a jolly festive atmosphere.
One thing that it is not easy to find in Italy is Christmas cards. Occasionally they are sold individually, and then choice is very limited, the quality very poor, and they very over-priced. Last year the only place we were able to find packs of Christmas cards was in IKEA in Naples. It seems that greetings cards in general have not really caught on in Italy. The staff at our local Post Office often comment on how many letters are cards we receive, particularly around Christmastime. I think that next year I will have to get busy and make my own greetings cards, perhaps this could be a new little cottage industry for me.
In Italy, in the weeks leading up to Christmas traditionally shepherd pipers, known as pifferai and zampognari, come down from the mountainous regions of the Abruzzi to herald the pending birth of the Christ child, by playing their traditional festive music. The ciaramella is a wooden flute, and the zambogna is a type of reed bag-pipe, the air sacks of which are traditionally made of goat or sheep skin and the flutes are commonly carved of olive wood. They musicians sport an unusual type of foot ware, known as the ciocia, which is said to date back to Etruscan times. This consists of a rudimentary leather sole which towards the toe curves upwards. This is held in place by long straps which are tightly bound around the foot and calf. This type of foot-ware is part of the local costume of the people of Ciociaria, who take their name from this unique type of shoe. My mother’s family originated from this region.
Each church erects a special Nativity tableau, called a presepe, many of the figurines that been hand crafted by traditional artisans. In certain towns it is possible to see a “living” Nativity scene, with real people and children dressed in costumes, acting out the traditional story. I am told such an event takes place annually in the medieval hill towns of Maranola and Minturno and we are hoping to go and take a look this Christmas.
In their own homes families also strive to recreate their own nativity scenes, some more elaborate than others, and encourage their children to play their part in the family’s preparations for Christmas. Shops sell many of the essential crèche components to create a fanciful display. These can range from the basics such as: cork, moss, bark and straw, to more extravagant additions such as snow capped mountains, caves, stables, bridges, lights and electrically driven streams and water-wheels. Also there is a wide range of figurines on offer, Mary and St Joseph, glittering winged angels, lowly farmyard animals, traditional shepherds playing their pipes, people representing other common professions, and of course il bambino Gesù, to be laid in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve. The exotic Magi are added to the display on the day of the Epiphany. These figures range from decidedly tacky, mass produced, plastic specimens, to more tasteful, hand crafted statuettes. Sometimes such nativity scenes are handed down through the family, from one generation to another.
I recall one year, many years ago, my aunt once sent over a parcel containing a basic crib, with an integral musical box. It played the tune to the well loved Italian Christmas carol: “Tu scendi dalle stelle, O re del Cielo, E vieni in una grotta, Al freddo e al gelo.” As a child I was transfixed by the enchanting scene and the delightful rhythmical tune.
My mother used to describe to us how my grandfather, or Nonno in Italian, used to create their special Nativity scene. Being a skilled carpenter he constructed a splendid wooden crib and would work for many hours, painstakingly creating the display, with mountains made of cardboard and a night sky illuminated by tiny bulbs which ran off a battery. He would use earth for the ground, and flour for the snow. Then he would lovingly position the plaster statuettes of Our Lady, Joseph, the shepherds, kings, angels and animals to complete the scene. Unfortunately one Christmas the poor family cat got somewhat confused and did a “whoopsie” in the middle of the scene !!! I am sure he would have paid for his error! After this Nonno vowed never again to use real soil in the display.
Paul and I will be spending Christmas in Italy this year.
We would like to wish …..
Peace and goodwill to all men ( women and dogs !!!)
We hope that this year the true spirit of Christmas will enrich your lives.
We wish you health, happiness and harmony for the coming New Year
Louise and Paul
and of course the “Woof-Gang”
Very recently we welcomed a trio from America, Patrick, Kathy and Rita, who came to this area searching for more information on a particular time in their family’s history.
Patrick and Kathy were trying to retrace their father’s journey through Italy as a soldier in the US 88th “Blue Devil” Division.
Patrick is currently writing a book about his father’s experiences during this period. His father sent home many descriptive letters to his new bride, who he had only married the day before his departure from America.
Charles Logan was just 22 years old when he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in Italy along the infamous GUSTAV Line. His Division disembarked at Naples and was then transported to the town of Piedimonte d’Alife (now known as Piedimonte Matesse) for combat training.
The 88th was then sent to the GUSTAV Line, on the western flank of the main Fifth Army, to relieve the 5th British Division in the Minturno area in Operation Diadem. The 88th “Blue Devils”, encountering stiff German resistance, took part in a particularly bitter and bloody battle, which lasted almost 3 days, to seize the village of Santa Maria Infante.
The capture of this position on the 14th May 1944, proved to be a defining moment, finally breaking through the GUSTAV line and forcing a German retreat.
The French Expeditionary Corps of Morrocan Goumiers*, who were skilled in mountain warfare, continued to make their way forward over the seemingly impassable terrain of the Aurunci Mountains, while the 88th surged ahead, taking the seaward facing villages of Spigno Saturnia, Castellonorato, Trivio, Maranola, then on through Formia, Itri, Fondi, Monte San Biagio to Roccagorga.
Continuing northward some of the 88th Divison made contact with Allied units breaking out of the Anzio beach-head on 29th May and they were the first to enter Rome on the 4 June 1944.
We had the great pleasure of acting as Patrick’s guide and driver during their stay, and we visited Cassino and Montecassino and many of the above mentioned towns and villages, travelling some 500 miles during the week.
We learned so much about the historical significance of these places through this traumatic period of the Second World War. From the picturesque little villages that we see today, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like for the local people and the opposing Allied forces during this terrible time.
The Italians had suffered greatly under German occupation, having to endure persecution, reprisals and famine. Prior to their liberation these villages also had endured heavy land and naval bombardments by the Allied forces which resulted in catastrophic damage, and hundreds of innocent civilian deaths and casualties.
* Yet there was more suffering to come – The French General Alphonse Juin, before the final battles to the breach the German GUSTAV line, he was said to have promised the Morrocan Goumier troops the following:
“For 50 hours you will be the absolute masters of what you will find beyond the enemy. Nobody will punish you for what you will do, nobody will ask you about what you will get up to.”
When the Goumiers swarmed over the mountain villages they subjected thousands of Italian women and even young girls to merciless violence and rape, and reportedly any men who fought to save their wives and daughters from harm were ruthlessly murdered.
A novel, “La Ciociara”, was penned, based on this subject of mass rape, by the author Alberto Moravia. This was subsequently made into a film also called “La Ciociara” or ”Two Women”, directed by Vittorio de Sica, and starred Sophia Loren. In 1960, for this role, she was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actress.
We would just like to wish Patrick Logan good luck with the writing of his book about his father’s war time experiences, and we very much look forward to the book’s publication.
We would be interested to hear from anyone else who had family members who fought in Italy during World War II, along this area of the German GUSTAV Line.
For more information about some of the towns and villages in SOUTH LAZIO that were positioned along the GUSTAV Line, please click on the following links:
On the 1st October we decided to take a trip to Atina, which is about an hour’s drive from us at “Tre Cancelle”. This was the Feast Day of Atina’s Patron Saint, San Marco Galileo.
Saint Mark was a disciple of Saint Peter the apostle and whilst on his way to Rome Saint Peter is said to have ordained him as the first Bishop of Atina in 45 AD. San Marco was martyred in approximately 96 AD and a church was built on the site of his burial.
His statue resides in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, and his feast day is celebrated in Atina each year with a formal religious procession, brass band concerts are held in the square in front of the cathedral and the celebrations culminate in a grand firework display. For the occasion, at night the town is beautiful illuminated with impressive displays of fairy lights.
There is also a procession on San Marco’s official feast day which falls on the 28th April.
Visit our Website about
Atina, the Val di Comino and Ciociaria
Over the past couple of years we have had the pleasure of meeting a number of visitors who have come to this area of Italy to try and trace their Italian ancestry, some with relatives who came from the Val di Comino area.
My own maternal grandparents originated from the beautiful mountain community of Atina, Frosinone, overlooking the River Melfa and the Meta and Mainarde mountains.
In Italy, in the latter half of the 1800’s and during the early 1900’s, times were very hard, many people toiled in miserable conditions and experienced severe hardship and poverty due to poor wages and food shortages. Thus my grandfather Benedetto felt restless, as many Italian families departed for distant lands: to America, France, Belgium, Scotland, and England. His elder brother and sister had already moved to live in London, and Benedetto, longing for adventure was also enticed by the prospect of emigration to a new land of opportunity.
Thus in the Summer of 1911 my Italian grandparents first set foot on English soil, and made their way to the city of London, to the district of Clerkenwell, the Italian quarter know as “Little Italy”. They rented a dilapidated house close to St Peter’s Italian Church, which was to be their home for many years to come. Here my mother was born and she was brought up in the Italian community. My grandmother Maria Grazia always pined for her home town of Atina and never managed to learn to speak English.
I was born nearby in the heart of London, “within the sound of Bow Bells”, so I suppose I could be considered to be an “Italian Cockney”. I have always had a true passion for Italy and all things Italian, and felt a real need to see for myself “the land of my forefathers”, visit Atina and walk in the footsteps of my grandparents.
15 years ago my husband and I spent a memorable fortnight staying with some of my Italian cousins, in Atina. It was our first meeting but we were so warmly welcomed and received into the family fold and Atina transpired to be even more charming than I could ever have imagined.
Thus began our irresistible love affair with “La Bella Italia”, and of course the very special town of Atina, which finally inspired us to risk everything, sell up lock, stock and barrel and entirely transform our lifestyle by moving to Italy.
Since then we have got to know several people who have family who originated from the Atina area, and since the creation of my Atina / Val di Comino website we have received many enquiries from people with ancestors from this beautiful area and share my passion for it.
Aldo De Angelis and his wife June from Scotland are tracing his family roots in Atina and Belmonte Castello – family surnames: De Angelis, Delicata, Ianetta, Notarangelo.
Whilst in Atina recently we asked at the Comune and at the local library whether there was a list of the graves in Atina Cemetery, but nobody there seemed to know. The main cemetery is located near the ruined church of San Marco and the church of San Pietro.
So, Paul and I have spent many hours browsing around and looking for the graves of my relatives. Some of the graves have some wonderful statues.
If anyone wants us to go and look for graves of family members who have passed away, and who may have been laid to rest in Atina Cemetery, we are happy to go and look for them whilst we are visiting our family in the area.
Common surnames of Atina include:
Amata / Amato, Bastianelli, Bove, Caira, Coppola, Di Angelis, De Luca Delicata, Di Duca, Di Paolo, Fortunata, Mancini, Marini, Nardelli, Rossi, Sabatini, Tamburrini, Tortolani, Visocchi , Volante.
Yes we are sad family history “anoraks” !!!
Sadly we got addicted years ago, and there’s little hope for us now.
We already belong to the Guild of One Name Studies and are carrying out a “one name study” of the surname Shapcott and its variant spellings.
Also I have been considering making an application for my Italian citizenship through what is known as “jure sanguine”.
As both of my grandparents were both born and married in Atina, and they did not became naturalised British citizens during their life-time I should be entitled to Italian citizenship. Amongst the documentation required to obtain this is my grandparents’ marriage certificate and their birth certificates.
I know that they were both born in Atina and even have details of their parents and grandparents, as I have seen their families listed on the “Stato di Famiglia” held by the Comune of Atina. So recently we visited the townhall to ask for copies of the above certificates. Sadly, the staff there were not exactly welcoming and accommodating. They said they would take the information and that we would have to come back another day. I recently heard from my cousin in Atina that the Comune had failed to find the requested documents, so I am somewhat down-hearted.
But … I will persevere !!!
This is Italy !!! Nothing is simple, especially regarding bureaucracy. I have tried to organise an opportunity to look through some of Atina’s church registers, but to no avail, it seems that they are guarded with a rod of iron by the Parish Priest.
As yet Italians just don’t seem to “get” family history, indeed it is far from the popular pass-time in the UK where within County Halls and libraries there are departments dedicated to giving the public access to the Saint Catherine’s Index of Births, Deaths and Marriages, numerous Censuses, Church Registers, old newspapers etc. etc.
Italians still fail to realise how important it is for people to be able trace one’s family roots and learn so much about local social and cultural history. If you ask Italians about their ancestors, they sometimes get quite nervous and seem guarded, perhaps suspicious that some stranger may be after some money or trying to claim back some old derelict house of piece of family land !!! There are so many family disputes regarding ownership of land in Italy.
Anyway, I will keep you posted on our progress with my goal of obtaining my Italian Citizenship.
Anyone with ancestors from the Atina / Val di Comino area –
We’d love to hear from you !!!
Having enjoyed it so much last year, on the first Sunday of August we eagerly returned to Atina to watch the Gran Premio Dell’Arco, the Go Kart racing competition. This year we took lots of photos of the event.
Just like last year, the designs of the carts were many and varied, the common theme being all “wheels” are made from “Ball Bearing Races” kindly donated by the manufacturer SKF of nearby Cassino.
Whilst not fully up to pace with all the design regulations, its seems carts can have three or four bearings and these can be either large or small, or indeed a combination of both. For months in advance the carts are lovingly crafted and tinkered with in the cellars and garages around the town, it has to be said some a little more seriously than others.
There are three driver age groups, the youngest driver age band being the Teenagers, then the 18 to 50 year olds, and finally the Seniors or over 50’s. Time trials are carried out throughout the morning of the event. Each driver gets a lone run which is meticulously timed and determines their actual starting position on the grid. Then in the afternoon, after a good plate of pasta of course, the main races follow !!!
This year in addition to the normal fixed point cameras along the course, the events were recorded by an “eye in the sky” in the form of a helicopter camera man, and the event was recorded by a local radio station c.A.c. A c.a.S.
The course runs for a length of approximately 2.5 kilometres, starting from the main archway at the entrance of the old Centro Storico in Atina Superiore, and winds its way down to Atina Inferiore / Ponte Melfa on the valley floor below.
3 members of our family were to take part: Cousin Mario and his two sons Giuseppe and Simone.
Each race began with the sound system playing a loud rousing fan-fare to fully set the scene. The commentator then began the final countdown, and soon the competitors went careering off down the hill, fronted by a squad of motor bikes noisily beeping their horns. In the square a large TV screen had been set up for the spectators to watch the rest of the race on the long winding road down to the finishing line.
Finally the ceremonial presentations of the trophies to the victors are held in the early evening. This year was more special for our family because we had a podium finish. Cousin Mario achieved second place in the over 50’s section, setting the standard for next year for his two sons to endeavour to supersede.
Bravo Mario !!!
Also this year was special because in the middle category there was a lady driver on the podium for the first time ever.