The Amphitheatre in Larinum, now partially restored, was the site of untold martyrdoms
In Larino you will find many men named after San Pardo. There's another name that is heard less frequently. It is Primiano. There's a story behind that legacy.
In the years 303-311 AD a persecution of all Christians in the empire was ordered by Massimiano and Galerio. Primiano, Firmiano, and Casto were three young noblemen of Larinum.
Rome kept a tight grip on all of its "allies". This mosaic is currently in the Museum in the Palazzo Ducale. It depicts Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf. This symbol of Empire was in an ancient Larino home when the community was, in effect, a colony of Rome.
It was well known in the community that the brothers practiced the new faith. They made no secret of the fact. Still, they were taken for a brutal interrogation at the amphitheatre.
Primiano and Firmiano, the older brothers, were subjected to torture. But they refused to renounce their faith. Eventually they were taken to the Temple of Mars at the east side of Larinum and they were killed as their young brother was forced to watch their dying agonies.
The next day a Roman official, wanting to save Casto the anguish of a lengthy period of torture, tried to persuade him to recant, "You will die in the flower of your years. Simply promise to serve your gods and your country. Abandon faith in this Christ. If you do not relent you will die in the amphitheatre where you will be mauled by lions who have been starved for days."
Casto bravely faced his own death, anxious to join his brothers in an afterlife. He was martyred on May 16, 303 AD.
The amphitheatre, of course, still exists. Once it was in ruins, but archeologists have painstakingly excavated the site so that now it is possible to envision what it would have been like in the first century AD. Few people realize that Larino's amphitheatre is roughly the same age as the colisseum in Rome.
The excavation of the amphitheatre is now almost complete. When you stand here, you are standing on hallowed ground. Presumably (according to Australian writer, Coleen McCullough), Spartacus fought here. And this is where the three young men - Primiano, Firmiano, and Casto - died for their faith. That sacrifice is celebrated in Larino to this day. There is a legend that says that when a citizen of Larino dies Primiano appears to show the soul the way into the next life.
The people of Larino have a saying which suggests that in Larino "outsiders are given greater prominence than the native born". That comes from the fact that the patron saint of the town is San Pardo (a Greek) while the three martyrs who were actually born in Larinum have much less prominence. But there is a reason for that situation - a reason which is outlined in a study by Giuseppe Mammarella titled, Larino Sacra.
If you visit the cemetary on the outskirts of the new town (Larino: Piano San Leonardo) you will find a tiny church dedicated to San Primiano. The church is about three kilometres from the amphitheatre. During an excavation some foundations were discovered and it is thought that the stonework indicates the remains of an early Christian church that may have been dedicated to the three martyrs, Primiano, Firmiano, and Casto.
When Larino was destroyed in 842 AD the community could not defend itself. The people of Lesina and Lucera had heard of the prodigies carried out in the name of the saints and they came to Larino and took the relics of the saints from the church. Strangely, only two of the saints were named the patrons of Lesina: Primiano and Firmiano.
In the second half of the sixteenth century Lesina was much damaged by the rough seas and the relics were given, for safekeeping, to authorities in Naples.
The mortal remains of Primiano and Firmiano came to light in the second of March, 1598. They were enclosed in a marble casket and placed under the central altar of the Church of S. Annunziata di Napoli. In January of 1757 the church was destroyed in a terrible fire. Only the sacristy and the Treasury were saved. The church was rebuilt and a marble plaque mentions, in Latin, that the remains of San Primiano and San Firmiano rest within the structure. The relics of the saints were eventually placed in bronze and silver busts which are naturalistic in appearance.
In 1943 the church was damaged by a bomb. Further destruction was caused by an earthquake in 1980. It was only reopened in 1995.
It must be remembered, however, that the theft of the Christian martyrs was echoed when the Larinese took the remains of San Pardo from Lucera and brought them to Larino. Perhaps, though, some day the relics of Primiano, Firmiano, and Casto will be able to return to the land where they were born more than 1600 years ago.
(The author thanks Signor Giuseppe Mammarella who wrote the material on which this excerpt is based.)