247 – Minturno Festival of the Wheat Harvest and International Folklore Festival

Each summer at the beginning of July  the town of Minturno comes together to celebrate the Festa delle Regne or the Wheat Harvest Festival. This year marked the 63rd edition. The main feast day celebrations are held on the second Sunday of July when thanks are offered to the patron of the town, the Madonna delle Grazie.  Historically monks of the Franciscan order used to bake bread that was then distributed to the poor.

There is a procession throughout the old town where the statue of the Madonna and child is carried on a rustic cart decorated with wheat sheaves, and pulled by a pair of strong oxen.

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There is also a parade of decorated carts and trailers, representing the harvest, that have been submitted by various neighbourhood groups. These are towed up to the main square of Minturno and a prize is generally awarded for the best design. The designs are incredibly intricate and detailed.

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There is a long and colourful parade made up of various groups, these include characters dressed in elegant medieval costumes, sbandieratori or flag throwers and musicians.

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The Associazione Folklorica di Minturno was formed in 1989 to strive to promote and keep alive the town’s popular traditions, culture and musical heritage. From a young age local children are encouraged to learn about their traditional heritage. There are dance classes organised to suit all ages and troupes of dancers are put together.

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Throughout the year the skilled dressmakers of Minturno busy themselves by sewing fine costumes that are typical of this area.

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photo by Melinda Abbott

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photo by Melinda Abbott

The most famous Minturnese costume is called “la Pacchiana”.  This has the characteristic elaborate head-dress made of a starched and folded white linen or muslin cloth, which is edged in lace. There is a white blouse with full puffed sleeves, made of a finely pleated material, which are gathered just above the elbow. The laced bodice is richly embroidered in gold thread, and over this a cream-coloured shawl is worn over the shoulders, once again decorated with gold embroidery.

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The skirt is long and black. At the front a black silk apron is worn, while at the back there is the addition of a special fold of red material known as a “pagnuccia”. The costume wearer is also adorned with abundant gold jewellery and large earrings.  Historically, these ornate costumes would have only been worn on special feast days or at weddings. Often the beautiful treasured costume would be passed down in families from mother to daughter. The men’s clothing typically consists of a black jacket, a white frilled shirt with wide sleeves, knee length trousers, a wide red band tied around the hips, black shoes and bright red stockings.

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At the festival the groups perform numerous traditional dances such as the tarantella and the saltarella.

On the same Sunday evening as the Feast of the Wheat Harvest,  Minturno also hosts an acclaimed International Folklore Festival. This welcomes other dance troupes from around the world to share their cultural heritage and traditions. This year there were colourful performances by groups from Chile, Mexico, Macedonia and Maldova.

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In this cultural exchange dancers, singers and musicians from all around the world can meet up and share their traditional cultural heritage and ethnicity in an atmosphere of warmth, friendship, peace and harmony.

All photos are by me © Louise Shapcott (except those by Melinda Abbott above)

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191 – 2014 Gathering of the “We Love Atina” Group – Visit to the Casa Museo Académie Vitti

Francesco Massa also organised for us to visit a local museum by the name of Casa Museo Académie Vitti.  We did not know of its existence prior to this, and from the outside it just looked like an ordinary house, but once inside what a treasure trove it proved to be.

Museo Académie Vitti Atina Frosinone Italy

The museum is dedicated to the Academie Vitti, a private art school, founded by Cesare Vitti in the Boulevard de Montparnasse, Paris in 1894. During this period the Montparnasse quartier was a centre of art and bohemian culture which attracted artists from all over the world.

Museum of Académie Vitti of Montparnasse Paris

Casa Museo Académie Vitti, Atina *

Museum of Académie Vitti of Montparnasse Paris

There were three beautiful Caira sisters, namely Maria, Anna and Jacinta, who worked as professional models posing for artists, sculptors and photographers. They came from Gallinaro, a small town in the centre of the Val di Comino, quite near to Atina. On display are many nude sketches in pencil, charcoal and chalk and paintings and drawings by Jacinta Caira.

Anna Caira Museum of Académie Vitti of Paris

Anna Caira Casa Museo Académie Vitti

Giacinta Caira Museo Académie Vitti Atina Italy

Giacinta Caira

Museum Museo Académie Vitti Atina Frosinone Italy

There are also many postcards and photographs of models in costume taken by the greatest photographers of the time, such as Nadar and Naudet.

Photos Museum  Académie Vitti Atina Italy

Studio of Académie Vitti in Paris

Photo of Model from Ciociaria  Museo Académie Vitti Atina Italy

Maria Caira married Cesare Vitti.

Maria Caira Museo Académie Vitti Atina Italy

Maria Caira

Photos of Museum Museo Académie Vitti in Atina Italy

Museum Museo Académie Vitti in Atina Italy

Museum Museo Académie Vitti in Atina Italy

Museum Museo Académie Vitti in Atina Italy

The Academie Vitti became one of the most respected schools of Art in Paris and operated without interruption for about 25 years, until the beginning of the First Word War in 1914 when the Vitti’s and Caira’s decided to return to Italy.  They lived in the very same house where the Museum is now situated.

Museum Museo Académie Vitti in Atina Italy

Cesare Erario is a direct descendant of the family and decided to open a museum to exhibit the family’s treasured private collection of authentic works and memorabilia.

Cesare Erario Museum Museo Académie Vitti in Atina Italy

Thank you to Cesare and Francesco Massa

for organising this really interesting visit.

* cc photos -Wikipedia

All other photos

© Louise Shapcott 

My Atina Website:  http://atinaitaly.com

#atina #italy #MuseoAcademieVitti #museum #schoolOfArt #MontparnasseParis #ValDiComino

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190 – 2014 Gathering of the “We Love Atina” Group – Visit to the Winery of La Ferriera

Our Visit to the Winery of La Ferraria. 

La Ferriera is an establishment run by a family that has a long tradition in the production of wine, specializing in the production of quality red wines with the designation of origin ‘Atina Cabernet DOC’.  It is located in the Rosanisco district of Atina and is housed in the buildings of an old Iron Foundry.

La Ferraria Old Iron Foundry Atina Italy

La Ferraria Old Iron Foundry Atina Italy

The Iron works were founded by the Bourbon king Ferdinand II  in 1858 to extract iron from the ore mined in the nearby area of Monte Meta.  There have been mines situated here since Samnite / Roman times, and it was this that historically gave Atina much of its wealth and accordingly the name of “Atina Potens”.

The plant had a huge blast furnace with a large air pump or bellows to ventilated it.  Today it is draped with a curtain of vines and creepers.

La Ferraria Winery Old Iron Foundry Atina Italy

La Ferraria Winery Old Iron Foundry Atina Italy

There is a spacious courtyard surrounded with other buildings which were utilised as warehouses in which to store the raw materials, workshops, administrative offices and accommodation for the some of the workers.  Unfortunately the life of the Ironworks was to be short lived as it shut down in 1860 and was left abandoned.

La Ferraria Winery Old Iron Foundry Atina Italy

In the centre of the courtyard stands an ancient poplar tree.

Below – Lucio Mancini giving us the guided tour.

Visit to La Ferraria Winery Old Iron Foundry Atina Italy

Some of the old building are now used for the production of wine. The Cabernet and Syrah varieties of grape are cultivated in the vineyards of the estate of Colle Alto in lower Atina, in the beautiful Val di Comino. 

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Modern equipment has been installed for the production of wine with controlled temperature and inert atmosphere in order to obtain a good extraction.

La Ferraria Winery Atina Italy

The wine is aged in barrels make of French Oak, with maturing on the lees and finally in the bottle. 

Oak Barrels La Ferraria Winery  Atina Italy

La Ferriera specializes in the production of quality red wines with the designation of origin’ Atina Cabernet DOC ‘.

The Realmagona DOC, is produced with Cabernet and Syrah grapes, We also tasted the Dorato derived from Pinot Bianco and Malvasia varieties.

Below Lucio Mancini  overlooking the wine tasting.

Wine Tasting La Ferraria Winery Atina Italy

Lucio Mancini  overlooking the wine tasting

Wine Tasting La Ferraria Winery Atina Italy

On the left – Francesco Massa

We were also kindly invited to taste of some other local delicacies.

Tasting Local Delicacies of Atina Italy

We Love Atina Group Wine Tasting at La Ferraria Winery Atina Italy

Mark and Jan Waldron

We Love Atina Group Wine Tasting at La Ferraria Winery Atina Italy

Brigida Varley and Paul

We Love Atina Group Wine Tasting at La Ferraria Winery Atina Italy

Mary Gilmour, Trevor and Brigida Varley and Paul

 Delicious !!!

Thank you to Lucio Mancini – Sales Executive of La Ferriera and Francesco Massa – Consigliere Comunale of Atina for organising this interesting tour for us.

Thank you very much to Mary (shown on the left)

for treating us to a lovely bottle of

La Ferriera’s Realmagona Atina Cabernet.

So very kind of you !!!

La Ferriera’s Website

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

My Atina Website:  http://atinaitaly.com

#atina #wine #winery #AtinaCabernetDoc #grapes #visocchi #LaFerraria #IronMines #IronFoundry #italy

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189 – September 2014 Gathering of the “We Love Atina” Group – Tour of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

La Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta stands in Piazza Marconi, in the centre of the historic old town.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Piazza Marconi Atina Italy

The Church was decorated in preparation for the up and coming celebrations of the Feast Day of San Marco (1st October), Atina’s patron saint.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Piazza Marconi Atina Italy

We Love Atina Group at Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Some of us chose to attend Mass at the Cathedral.

Me, Louise, lighting a candle for my mother in the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, Atina.

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina ItalyAfter Mass Monsignor Domenico very kindly agreed to give us a guided tour of the Cattedrale.

Guided Tour of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The church was founded in the 11th century on the site of an ancient Roman temple dedicated to the god Saturn.  At this time the church was dedicated to St John The Baptist, you can see a statue of St John on the exterior facade of the church, located in a niche flanked by the bell towers.

Statue of St John the Baptist Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The remains of the martyr San Marco were deposited there.  In 1280 the church was enlarged  In 1349 the town of Atina and the church were destroyed in a devastating earthquake.  In 1405 a bell tower with four bells was erected. By the 16th century it had three chapels dedicated to SS Rosario, St John the Baptist and St Joseph and later more were added to SS Crocifisso and the Madonna of Loreto.

In 1743 the remains of the martyr San Fortunato were deposited there and in 1725 it was decided to totally renovate and expand the the structure including the construction of the dome,  the renovation works took approximately 20 years.  1746 the new church was reconsecrated and dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and given her name, In 1798 the church was further adorned with the noble facade with two bell towers and in the first half of the 19th century the artist Teodoro Mancini of Atina painted the interior of the dome and the vault of the central nave. In 1873 the building was struck once again by an earthquake which caused the need for major reparations and further enhancements to the structure were included and then on the 3 May 1878 it was deemed to grant the church the higher status of a cathedral.

Since then the Cathedral has withstood the further serious earthquakes of 1915 and 1984.

The church we see today is decorated in an ornate Baroque style.  Monsignor Domenico Simeone showed us the beautiful altar intricately inlaid with multi-coloured pieces of marble in the Napolitan style, similar to work in the Abbey of Montecassino.

Altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Marble Altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Inlaid Marble in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Marble Altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Inlaid Marble Altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The main Altar of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta.

Altar of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The painting of the Assumption above the main altar

Painting of the Assumption in  Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The beautifully carved wooden Choir Stalls

Choir Stalls of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Carved Choir Stalls of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The Statue of Atina’s main patron saint, San Marco, and the Altar of the Cattedrale

San Marco in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The Pulpit and the Confessional

Pulpit of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The Baptismal Font –

Many of our Atina ancestors may well have been baptised here.

Font of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Some of the beautiful side Altars and Chapels

Chapel of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Side Chapel of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Side Chapel of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Painting of the Last Supper

Side Chapel of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

I would just like to add that it was here in this chapel in October 2005 that my parents, Tina and Hugh, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows.  It was a very touching experience and a very special occasion.

Renewal of Wedding Vows in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Sadly they have  since both passed away.  How I miss them so.

Renewal of Wedding Vows in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Returning to the Cathedral – The ornate gilded dome and ceiling.

Ceiling of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Ceiling of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Looking towards the rear of the church and the organ.

Ceiling and Pipe Organ of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

A Fresco of St John the Baptist.

Fresco of St John the Baptist in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Ornate Baroque Plasterwork and Gold Leaf.

Baroque Plasterwork in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

The organ which was built in 1737 by the Catarinozzi family.

Pipe Organ of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

An ornate sarcophagus.

Sarcophagus in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Painting in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Statue in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Statue in the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

During WWII and the heavy bombing of Atina by the Allies in 1943, the Cathedral was seriously damaged, the dome was destroyed and several works of art were also lost. In addition, sadly some paintings by the artist Luigi Velpi were stolen from the Cathedral in recent years.

Guided tour of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

Priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta Atina Italy

A big thank you to Monsignor Domenico Simeone who gave us a wonderful tour of the beautiful Cathedral, in perfect English.

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

My Atina Website:  http://atinaitaly.com

#cathedral #cattedrale #church #SantaMariaAssunta #atina #italy

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

188 – 2014 Gathering of the “We Love Atina” Group – A Walk Around The Cemetery

The Church of Santa Maria – the first church was built in 1044 on the site of the Roman temple of Saturn.  This was destroyed in the earthquake of 1231, however was soon rebuilt and was enlarged over the years. In November 1943 it was destroyed during the bombing of Atina.  This is the entrance to the Cemetery.

Ruined Church Near the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Atina’s Cemetery – The Visocchi Chapel

Vissochi Chapel in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Vissochi Chapel in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Vissochi Chapel in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Stained Glass Window in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Gravestone in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Grave in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Grave in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Vissochi Grave in  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

Looking down at the lower section of  Cemetery at the church of San Pietro and in the distance the district known as “Il Colle” and the small octagonal church of Santa Croce.

Church of Santa Croce Il Colle in Atina in Frosinone Italy

From Atina’s Cemetery

A view of the Val di Comino and the mountains beyond.

Val di Comino from  the Cemetery of Atina in Frosinone Italy

A section of ancient Cyclopean wall dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries BC, situated near the Cemetery.

Cyclopean wall in Atina Frosinone Italy

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

My Atina Website:   http://atinaitaly.com

#WeLoveAtina #Cemetery #Atina #frosinone #italy #church #churches

 

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137 – Il Presepio Vivo di Maranola

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

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The tiny town of Campodimele, near Itri, also put on a “Living Nativity” this Christmas. 

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

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

113 – The Feast of Santa Costanza in San Donato Val Di Comino

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.

Click Here For more information about San Donato

and the neighbouring towns of the Val di Comino

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

108 – Fairytale Wedding At Casamari Abbey

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

Also take a look at our Blog Entry regarding Fossanova Abbey

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy

 

à


84 – Buon Natale 2009

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”

All photos by me © Louise Shapcott

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Tre Cancelle Farmhouse Apartments Near Sperlonga Beaches and Historic Itri, South Lazio, Italy