Regional History Part 2   1275 to 1700 A.D.   

by Thomas Frascella


Installment 4     San Fele History 1597-1700

As we have discussed the sixteenth century saw Europe threatened by the ambition of an expanding Turkish Empire. The expansion brought the Turkish navy into direct conflict with the European fleets commanded by Admiral Andrea Doria. On land the Turkish army pressed expansion north and east into Eastern Europe. For a period of time the Turkish expansion was successfully blocked by the fierce resistance of the Albanian people. However, eventually infighting led to their defeat. Many Albanians, Eastern Catholics by religion, fled deeper into Eastern Europe to escape execution or forced conversion.


     Responding to the plight of thousands of displaced Albanians, King Alfonso of Italy began a program of sanctuary in Southern Italy. Southern Italy had suffered severe depopulation due to war, plague, expulsion of the Jews and massive earthquakes starting in the thirteenth century. As a result there was land and abandoned towns available for the relocation of refugees. The program of relocation extended from the reign of King Alfonso, through the reign of King Charles I. Tens of thousands of Albanian refugees were relocated in Southern Italy and Sicily, many were placed in the earthquake devastated Vulture region.


      This period marks the last major infusion of a new population source into the fabric of Southern Italian life. It also marks a time of reconsolidation of existing populations which to some extent is reflected in the appearance of certain “new” surnames into old established towns. In San Fele names appear that reflect that the origin of the family comes from a different often neighboring community. Although San Fele is not among them, some towns in the Vulture became primarily populated with Albanian refugees. As an example the towns of Atella and Rionero which go back thousands of years have since the sixteenth century had populations that included many ethnic Albanians.


     It is interesting that the introduction of Albanian refugees into the Southern Italian mix also reintroduced the Eastern Catholic Rite into the region as well. The practice of the Eastern Rite was purged from Southern Italy in the Thirteenth Century but reintroduced by the Albanian population as it settled in. Practice of the Eastern Rite was permitted by Rome under condition that the Sothern Italian branch of the Eastern Rite recognize the authority of the Pope. The Albanian refugees have peacefully integrated in to Southern Italian society now for over five hundred years. Many Italian Americans also proudly claim Albanian heritage. Included among these individuals I believe, would be Regis Philbin’s mother, the late actor Robert Crenna and the family of Kara DioGaurdio.


       The beginning of the seventeenth century saw the birth of a number of young men with connection to Southern Italy who would play important roles in the history of later European events. The first that I will mention is Girolamo Grimaldi-Cavaaeroni who was born in 1597 in Genoa, a member of the important Grimaldi family of that city. Although, a Northern Italian, Girolamo was on his maternal side a descendant of the House of the

Baron of San Fele. At an early age he entered the priesthood becoming quickly recognized as a capable negotiator and Vatican diplomat. In 1600 Francisco Antonio Frascella was born in San Fele. In 1622 Francisco entered the religious life as a priest in the Order of St. Francis (O.F.M. conv.). Also in this period,1602, Guilo Mazarino was born in Pescino at the time in the Provence of Napoli. Guilo was raised in central Italy where his father was from but, he also claimed descent from the Southern Italian Hauteville line. He too would enter the priesthood and would also be recognized for his diplomatic skill.


     In 1613 the expanding fortunes of the Doria-Pamphili Princes of the County of Melfi resulted in the peaceful expansion of the county’s land holdings. A number of towns which were in surrounding counties were sold off to the Doria-Pamphili Princes including San Fele. San Fele would remain under Doria family stewardship into the nineteenth century.


      Although there was no nation of Italy, ideas, skills and expertise originating in Italy continued to be exported around the world. One little known example that occurred in 1622 is that the Moghul Emperor of India imported Italian stone inlay masons as master craftsman for the upgrades of what is known in India as the Red Fortress. The skills taught by these Italians were used in turn by local master craftsman in the intricate stone workmanship of the Taj Mahal a decade later. Also in 1622 the Catholic Church created the Office of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, with its headquarters in Paris, and its mission to reform the Church, especially the colonial Church and to direct the Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation.


       In 1627 Fr. Frascella received his first missionary assignment to what today would be Eastern Europe and Western Russia. In all Fr. Frascella would spend seven years preaching the gospel in that part of the world.


        In about 1630 Giovanni Batiste Leone was born in San Fele.


       In 1632 Fr. Grimaldi received his appointment as Papal nuncio to the Court of Ferdinand II of Austria a position he held for four years.


        In 1634 Fr. Marazino was appointed Papal nuncio to the Court of Louis XIII. In that same year Fr. Frascella was appointed Administrator/Coordinator of Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries in what today would be Romania.


        In 1636 Pope Urban VIII believing that Fr. Marazino had become to close to French interest relieved him of his Papal Nuncio appointment and Fr. Marazino returned to Italy. Shortly thereafter Marazino was offered service in the administration of France’s first Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu and became his protégé.


          In 1637 Fr. Frascella was relieved of his Administrative post in Romania and summoned to the Offices of the Propagation in Paris. There he is offered the position of   Papal Apostolic Vicar appointed through the Propagation to oversee Colonial Church

reform at a Continental level. This was the first appointment of this type in Church history and  marked a turning point in the Church response that would come to be called the Counter Reformation. Fr. Frascella accepted the challenge and was appointed Apostolic Vicar to Asia. The appointment carried with it, elevation to the title of Archbishop of the Church.


          In 1638 Fr. Frascella and Mathew De Castro travel to Rome to be installed by Pope Urban VIII as Archbishop Apostolic Vicar to Asia and Bishop Apostolic Vicar to the Portuguese colony of Goa respectively, appoints were firsts of their type.. After installation Archbishop Frascella travelled briefly to San Fele for what would be the last visit home in his lifetime. Later that year both Frascella and De Castro set sail on a mission to the politically unstable nation of Japan.


           !639 Frascella and De Castro arrived in China where they discovered they were unable to gain access to Japan. The Shogun of Japan in response to Western influences and conflict had expelled all Western visitors under penalty of death and Japan began what would be two hundred years of isolation which went unbroken until the American fleet entered Tokyo harbor in the mid 1800’s. Unable to address Church affairs directly in Japan the two men travelled next to their primary missions in India. Archbishop Frascella would spend the next fifteen years of his life in missionary service in Moghul India and Southeast Asia. The period of his ministry corresponds roughly to the period of the Moghul Emperor Shah Jehan’s building of the Taj Mahal.


           1640 Fr. Grimaldi was appointed Archbishop of Selucia, the following year he is appointed Papal Nuncio to France and the Court of King Louis XIII. In 1642 Cardinal Richelieu died. His protégé Marazino, who had become a naturalized citizen of France replaced Richelieu and was installed as Cardinal Bishop. Marazino became known by the French version of his name Jules Marazin. His installation was officiated by the Papal Nuncio Archbishop Grimaldi. Archbishop Grimaldi was elevated to Cardinal Archbishop of Aix France in 1643. Shortly thereafter King Louis XIII died leaving a four year old son King Louis XIV as his heir. Marazin and Grimaldi as the two ranking religious leaders and two of the most politically powerful men in France mentored and supported the young King. Cardinal Marazin and the Queen Mother are said to have co-ruled France during this period.


            !649 Henri Tonti is born in Gaeta Italy. Due to changing political fortunes the Tonti’s fled to France where young Henri was raised. Also about this time Giovanni Leone of San Fele entered the Order of St Francis.


             Archbishop Frascella passed away in 1653, following his death his contributions to the effort to reform colonial abuses in the Church and his efforts with regard to the Counter Reformation resulted in his beatification.


            Cardinal Marazin died Prime Minister of France in 1661. After his death and largely due to the solid mentoring of Marazin, King Louis XIV went on to lead France to a golden era of expansion. Part of that expansion included the colonization that flowed

from the North American explorations of La Salle whose second in command was Henri Tonti.


             Cardinal Grimaldi remained Archbishop of Aix until his death in 1685.


             In 1691 Pope Innocent the XII recognized the great spirituality and intellect of the Franciscan priest Giovanni Leone from San Fele by appointing him his personal council. Fr. Leone remained personal council to Pope Innocent until the Pope’s death in 1700.


            I have included the above to demonstrate that many individuals from southern Italy or with familial connection to the region reached great heights and achievements during this period yet their names and accomplishments are often not acknowledged. Those that I have mentioned are only a few of the many and I have barely scratched the surface of their contributions.


         I should also point out that during this time the region continued to suffer great natural disasters. Looking back as an example at the major earthquake dates the year 1694 marked a major quake that centered near the Vulture. San Fele’s neighbor Muro Lucano suffered great destruction during this quake. The upper portion of the town’s fortress collapsed cascading downward on the village and some 600 people were killed. The earthquake also destroyed the town’s cathedral and ancient monastery of the Poor Clares. Among those who died was the region’s Bishop who was crushed in the collapsing sanctuary.



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