BY TOM FRASCELLA                                                                                                                                         MAY 2011





Day three saw us leave our hotel in Melfi for the final time and travel across Italy on a two hour bus ride to Monte San Angelo.




                                                                        Hotel we stayed at in Melfi



 Monte San Angelo is part of a massive promontory jutting out about seventy miles into the Adriatic Sea at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. It is sometimes referred as the spur of the Italian boot.



                                                                          Photo of Promontory rising up from coastal plane



You approach the town by driving up a very steep and winding roadway with extraordinary views of the town above and the coastline below.



                                                                                    Roadway approaching town





                                                                                            Approach to town
                                                                                              photo by Rich Steo




                                                       Banner announcing arrival at the town of Monte San Angelo
                                                                                                 photo by Rich Steo



It is said that the Arch Angel Michael appeared to a local Bishop around 500 A.D. in a cave at this location and requested that the cave be maintained as a shrine in honor of the angels. The cave has been a shrine and pilgrimage location ever since. Eventually a Church was built above the cave and pilgrims descended down a stairway several hundred feet to the cave floor below. Over a thousand years ago this site became one of the four holiest pilgrim sites in Catholic tradition.

 The four pilgrim sites were Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, St Peter’s in Rome Italy, Monte San Angelo in southern Italy and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The Popes at the time declared these four sites special, granting the faithful who went on Pilgrimage to these sites absolution for their sins. Many early Christian pilgrims would travel to all four sites. However, because Monte San Angelo was dedicated to the arch angel Michael this site held special importance to ancient Kings and their Knights who viewed Michael as the warrior angel closest to God. As a result thousands of Knights made Pilgrimage here and when the Crusades started would stop here on their way to the Holy Land. For the Normans who would eventually control southern Italy there was a direct physical connection in their religious devotion between the Church of  San Michele in Normandy and Monte San Angelo in Italy. The Normans after 1042 AD built a powerful castle to protect the site from Saracen attack and to provide protection to Pilgrims. The fortress remains and was the first structure we saw in Monte San Angelo as we departed the bus.





                                                          View of Norman fortress from parking lot
                                                                                     photo by Pat Frascella





                                                                                      Close up of fortress
                                                                                     photo by Pat Frascella 



The town itself is a well maintained mountainside municipality of about thirty thousand people. We were provided some time to explore the town, visit the shrine and have lunch in the local restaurant of our choosing.






                                                                                  Streets of the town Monte San Angelo






                                                                Exterior of Church built above the cave of the Angels




                                                                                                 Statue of St Michael
                                                                                                    photo by Rich Steo 



                                                                                           Entrance to the Church
                                                                                                  photo by Rich Steo


Unfortunately we were not permitted to photograph the actual cave which we did visit. There appeared to be services being conducted non stop as thousands proceeded through the cave and past the stone alter. For lunch my family and I stopped in a small café which turned out to be carved out of the mountainside and may have started out as a natural cave. The food was very good and the construction made the dining a unique experience.



                                                                          Restaurant where we had lunch 
                                                                                      photo by Pat Frascella



The Promontory has a very ancient history and has frequently been associated with mystic, religious and or supernatural forces dating back to pre historic times. From the literature of ancient Greece this Promontory is believed to be the location described in the Odyssey where the witch Circe’s cave existed.

 In the past fifty years or so, pilgrimages by modern travelers to this region have greatly increased. This is primarily the result of the fact that the area was home to the monastery

 Where the twentieth century monk known as Padre Pio lived, worked and died. Padre Pio died in 1968 and was made a Saint in 2002 by Pope John Paul II. San Pio’s body lies in state in a Church less than a hour ride from Monte san Angelo and is visited by tens of thousands of people daily.

 I should say that our trip and particularly our tour in southern Italy was meant to maximize our contact with the places that are most important to understanding our groups’ cultural, religious, political, social, and artistic heritage and history. As an example, Monte San Angelo was visited by Knights for almost a thousand years and especially by those travelling to and from the Crusades. From the history of San Fele we know that the Baron Tancred de San Fele and his knights went on the third Crusade beginning their journey in 1186 and returning to Italy in 1189. Their safe return was the reason that they commissioned the building of the Church that houses the Ma Donna Di Pierno statue. My understanding is that they began their return home leaving from the Crusader fortress at Tyre which today would be on the coast of Lebanon.

 To put Tancred’s journey in historical context we have to appreciate that Tancred was an Italian/Norman Baron who controlled territory, “San Fele”, that was on the Appian Way/Crusader route to the port of Bari on the East coast of Italy. Bari was the main Italian Crusader port of entry and exit from/ to the Holy Land. In 1189 from the moment Tancred entered the fortress at Tyre in Lebanon he and his knights in a manner of speaking, were “home”. At this point in history Jerusalem was held by the Muslim forces of Saladin but Tyre was controlled by Christian Knights lead by Italian/Norman Barons.

As one of those select few Italian/Norman Barons he would have been related not only by ethnicity but by inter-marriage to some of those commanders.  Tancred would have been recognized as one of them. From Tyre he would have sailed on his return to the port of Bari. From Bari his return route would have taken him to Monte San Angelo across the peninsula to San Gervasio, Venosa, Melfi, Atella and finally San Fele. At each step in the journey he would have been interacting with communities controlled by fellow Italian/Norman barons who shared connected links in the route. Our own trip basically followed Tancred’s route.

 From Monte San Angelo we travelled all the way across the Italian peninsula connecting to a point just south of Sorrento along the Amalfi coast. We arrived in Sorrento at the Bristol hotel where we would spend the next three nights of our trip. Sorrento is a seaside resort on the bay of Naples that sits across the bay from Mt. Vesuvius.




                                                                          Front of the Bristol Hotel-Sorrento





                                                                          View of Mt. Vesuvius from the hotel




                                                                         View of bay of Naples from the hotel






                                                           Group at breakfast in the hotel with view of Bay of Naples.


Our first night in Sorrento we ate in a very nice restaurant in the town, photographs # 20 and #21. Sorrento is a very lovely town, safe, clean with many shops, great night life and beautiful views. It is also a very convenient location to explore this part of Italy.


                                                                                               Views of streets of Sorrento 


The history of this area is amazing. For example, on our second night in Sorrento we ate at a small unassuming local restaurant in the center of town.  When we were seated and looked at the floor beneath our table it was made of Plexiglas. Two feet beneath the floor we were sitting on was a two thousand year old mosaic floor from the Roman villa that had once occupied that very spot. It takes some time to get used to the fact that thousands of years of history in the form of buildings and artifacts are all around you.





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