TEN DAYS OF TOURING ITALY 2011
BY TOM FRASCELLA MAY 2011
DAY TWO: SAN FELE
Day two, Wednesday, brought with it the part of the trip that most of us had looked forward to the most, the short bus ride from Melfi to San Fele. As was the case during our first two days the weather was overcast and about 60 degrees but, as we loaded the bus that morning our anticipation of a great day could not be dampened. I should say that this was my third trip to San Fele since 1995 but the first time I arrived after what had been a prolonged rainy season. The region looks very different when it is covered in lush green vegetation, clouds drift down and surround the mountain peaks like crowns and everywhere small waterfalls erupt along the mountain sides.
San Fele photo shows neighboring peak surrounded by clouds
Taken from Pierno looking back toward San Fele and Monte Castello
Taken from rear side of Monte Castello down toward the valley below
Photograph of picture
board in San Fele Town Hall of
some of the nature scenes around the commune
The town of San Fele sits among and around three mountain peaks about 2,500 feet above the valley floor. Ascent to the town is only possible by a steep narrow roadway cut into and along the Cliffside. The bus can only reach the beginning of the edge of the lowest part of the town. From there we had to walk about three hundred yards to the area where Town Hall and Palazzo Frascella are located. These structures are located about 100 yards below the summit of Monte Castello in the oldest section of the town. While three hundred yards may not seem like much of a distance it should be appreciated that the degree of incline increases quite sharply and the roadway surface becomes made of natural rock as you move upward. In the final third of the walk you are climbing stairs cut into the natural rock at varying angles and steepness.
Each time I have visited since 1995 I have noted a great many civic improvements to the town. The area that has changed the most is the lowest portion. In 1995 I was told that this is the area that suffered the greatest damage in the earthquake of 1980. In that earthquake a portion of the mountainside immediately above this area let loose and crushed many of the homes and businesses along the roadway immediately below. I was also informed told six people lost their lives in the town during the quake. As this is the only entry to the town the crushing damage suffered required that this area be completely rebuilt. The people of the town should be commended for remaining true to the traditional architecture while recreating a more functional modern area. The houses and shops were very inviting and warm, and the roadway’s incline was the most manageable in this area.
Members of our group starting their walk to the top
Stopping to admire the natural plantings
We were escorted to Town Hall where we met the Mayor and a number of townspeople who all greeted us warmly. San Fele Mayor Fassanello greeted us and introduced us to Professor Stia who has been doing research and has written a book on the impact of emigration on the Town. The professor had a wealth of knowledge about the families and history of the town and spent the better part of the day answering questions and showing us around.
Photo of me shaking hands with Mayor Fassenello in the Mayor’s office
From Town Hall we were taken to the community center a short distance 250 feet away. These buildings are all on the upper level of the mountain. What may be mistaken for stairways in some of the photographs are in point of fact, the way the street is constructed in this part of the town.
Doorway to the Community Center, the two men closest to the doorway were local townspeople helping to show us in. They are standing in the street, no reason to worry about cars at this level of the town. Heart attack on the other hand is an entirely different issue.
Picture of the inside of the Community Center. Please note the far wall hanging with the map of Italy and Australia displayed. Since World War II most emigration from San Fele has been to Australia.
Plaque on the wall inside the Community Center indicates that the funds for the Center came from a donation by Michele (Michael) LaRossa and Angela Maria LaRossa who emigrated from San Fele to New York I believe in the 1920’s.
Our group gathered on the plaza outside the Community Center which is a good location to take photographs of the valley below
Picture of group
member from the Community Center plaza which
Town of San Fele
also shows part of the town and steeple of the Church of Maria of Picture by Rich Steo
the Oaks in the center of the town.
From the community Center the group was able to wander the streets of the upper level of the town. I have included a few photographs which give a feel for the way it is constructed.
Group being lead by
View of town and rear veiw of Church of Maria of the Oaks
in the Upper town area. Picture by Rich Steo
Archway connected to Palazzo Frascella above lower courtyard which sits in front of the home where General Stia lived in the late 19th century.
Picture taken from above of group in the courtyard in front of General’s Stia’s house.
Picture at ground level of the courtyard. Picture includes a member of our group ( center) who is a Stia and Professor Stia in the white jacket talking to our guide and translator.
Part of the fun of the trip, is getting to connect to the places where family once lived.
My son who was part of our tour heading “up” the street to Palazzo Frascella.
Our group’s Tomasulos standing in front of casa Tomasulo.
At one point we walked to the rear of Monte Castello where a small park like area exists.
Rear of Monte Castello
From there we walked to the edge of the town.The edge or end of town in San Fele is a very serious matter and should not be taken lightly as it is about a 2,000 foot drop from here to the valley floor below. We were also able to enter the main Church in town the Church of Maria of the Oak. The Church has been renovated since the 1980 earthquake and some of the art work of the Church was lost at that time. I took several pictures of side alters in this Church which I am including in this writing and will supplement these with others I receive from the group as I get them. I also have a photograph of the interior of the Church pre-earthquake which I will include in the history section at the appropriate time.
Edge of the town
Side Alter which
houses the relic of St. Jacobus
Statue of St. Justin Jacobus
Picture by Rich Steo
Statue of St Nicholas
Statue of St Jacobus
Picture by Rich Steo
Picture by Rich Steo
Side Alter dedicated to St. Sebastian
Interior of Church
Picture by Rich Steo
Side Alter immediate right upon entering the Church
While we were there we requested a visit to the town cemetery. The cemetery is above the roadway just before the entrance area to the town. As the crypts are built on solid rock the burials were mostly above ground. There were many structures, but generally of two types. Some appeared as small stone buildings of various sizes.
Small stone buildings of various sizes
In these the individual vaults were inside. However the majority of burials were in many large structures were the vaults were open to the outside. We understand from speaking to the people there that it is possible to purchase a “perpetual” vault, or purchase a vault for use until the body decays. I believe it is customary in Italy to “recycle” the vaults in this fashion. I did not personally observe any vaults in the San Fele cemetery that had very old markings. I saw a few inscriptions indicating that the occupant’s death occurred in the early 1800’s but most were more recent. As we expected all of our family names were reflected on the various graves. I took some random photographs in which many family names are visible and many of the recent burials had photographs of the deceased. I am not including those photographs here, respecting family privacy, but I do intend to make a hard copy available at our gatherings in the future should our members wish to look through the photographs. We did observe in the south of Italy that several towns would post a bulletin board near the local church with pictures and obits of those from the town that died recently.
Vaults were open to the outside
"Monument to WWI dead located in
the San Fele cemetery.
Monument donated by San Felesi of New York City in 1930's"
Picture by Rich Steo
After our visit to the town of San Fele we drove to the small hamlet of Pierno. Pierno sits on the valley floor at the northern edge of the commune of San Fele. The commune of San Fele encompasses about 30 to 40 square miles which includes the valley area which is farmed and the surrounding mountains on either side. There are a number of small hamlet towns that are located in the commune of San Fele. While you can see the town of San Fele sitting up on the mountain from Pierno which is in the valley they are about ten miles apart. During the Middle Ages when traffic from pilgrimages to Monte San Angelo, the Crusades and the spice trade would bring travelers through Pierno, and the abbey attached would provide the travelers with food and lodging. On our last two visits our group ate at the restaurant in Pierno which is owned by the Sperduto family. I think that all would agree that the meal we had at the restaurant was among the best we had on our entire trip. I also think that the local wine served was the best wine we had. While we were eating we met several other U.S. San Felesi who were also visiting. At the restaurant we also enjoyed the local cheese, and ham provided as an appetizer by a young local resident, who by profession is a surgeon in northern Italy who stayed over when she heard our group was coming. Her mother was raised in Newark before returning to Italy. As I said in starting we were very warmly received and they couldn’t have made us feel more welcome.
Picture by Rich Steo
Group eating at restaurant in Pierno.
In talking to the group our visit to San Fele was certainly the highlight of our trip, and we each left with a sense that we had to some extent touched our heritage. I have not included the photographs taken in the Church of the Ma Donna Di Pierno as they are already on our site from previous visits and can be viewed there.
© San Felese Society of New Jersey
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