This is the image that many expatriates will take away from Larino. There with its tower is the cathedral. The pinkish building is the old monastery, now being renovated. To the left is the Ducal Palazzo. To the right scores of homes many of the deserted.
Perhaps, as is so often the case, a photo from the Pilone archives says more than words can possibly promise. Here we see a Larino family surrounding a young boy on his way to the greater world complete with his belongings in a small suitcase. He symbolizes all the young people who left Larino in their thousands following the Second World War. Peculiarly, perhaps, the image is not one of sadness but of hope. The children of Larino did their part to change the world for the better and any country who could attract them was the better for it. No group of individuals have made a greater contribution to their adopted communities than the Larinese.
The true centre of Larino is this portal. There's a bar directly across the piazza and often friends will sit on chairs, sharing a drink or a gelato, and as they talk they will gaze at this splendid monument. It has watched over Larino for seven centuries.
Long before the New World was thought of. Long before Shakespeare or many of the events that have shaped our culture.
Everything about the cattedrale is a touch mysterious. Why does the rosone have thirteen sections? For what possible reason does the facade of the church seem askew in relation to the piazza? Why do the little windows to either side of the rosone seem to stare, for no particular reason, at the sky?
The workers who carved these marvels remain anonymous. They travelled from community to community plying their craft. Working with stone which likely was mined from pagan sites. In case this seems like an idle thought, take a close look at the arch of the cathedral and you will see the comedic and tragic masks of classical theatre along with garlands and inscriptions in Latin.
The pagan and the sacred remain side by side. Each the work of unknown artists whose work has survived the ravages of centuries.
The townspeople often seem to take no notice of this marvel. After all, they see it every single day. This winged griffin represents one of the writers of the New Testament.
The stone has been weathered by a thousand storms, great plagues, and innumerable earthquakes, and yet it still stands.
In this detail of the rosone you can see the lace-like intricacy of the stone work. Each segment is slightly different, reflecting the hours of labour that would produce something that would seem light and airy and yet would last for hundreds of years
Inside the cathedral, place in the walls there are unusual carvings. The heads at the top are putti. To the side of the bronze figure are angels. But each piece seems to come from a different time. The stone work is relatively primitive; the bronze seems almost modern.
Under the plaster of the walls were found these intriguing frescos. They must have been created in the very earliest days of the cathedral, and yet there is a disonance between the skill expressed in the stonework, and the almost child-like imagery that decorated the walls. Perhaps they existed when San Pardo's spirit is said to have saved the church from the ravages of Hungarian warriors. When the Hungarians attempted to despoil the treasury, the voice of San Pardo was heard. A great booming voice cried out: "Who would dare destroy my house?" And the soldiers, panic stricken, ran from the church. There are those (and I count myself among them) who think that San Pardo continues to protect the town from disaster. During the second world war Larino could easily have been destroyed by bombardment. Thirty thousand Allied troops passed nearby on their way to Ancona which was all but obliterated.
(To my horror I was told that when the cathedral was being re-structured (fairly recently) workmen started to smash the frescos with a hammer. You can see these punctures to the plaster clearly in the image above. A townsman just happened to enter the church in time to stop this particular sacrilige. The frescoes, after all, likely date from the early fourteenth century.)
The church has a spartan feel. Recently considerable restoration has taken place. When the pavement was removed the workers unearthed skeletons. No one knows the identity of the remains, or even when and how they died. The structure is huge and imposing. The accoustics are magnificent. This particular song has been sung for decade upon decade: "E di Larino il popolo/Un di si mosse armato,/ E presso di Lucera/ Quel corpo venerato/Rapi devoto e pio:/E per voler di Dio/Fu nostro protettor;/A Lui e dovuto il cantico/Del grato nostro cor".
Some citizens bemoan the loss of the more baroque features of the church before the restoration. This carved angel on the Bishop's Throne (now in the sacristy) gives you some idea of the elements which were emoved.
San Pardo was a Greek priest who came to this part of Italy to win converts to the new Faith. When he died, he was actually entombed in Lucera, a nearbye community. The Larinesi, having lost the relics of Primiano, Firmiano, and Casto, travelled to Lucera and brought San Pardo's remains to Larino. There is a legend, though, that as San Pardo passed through Larino on his pilgirimage he stopped after a hazardous journey. At that precise point a spring of fresh water suddenly appeared. A fountain still exists on the spot where it is thought that he found some rest.
Sometimes the cathedral stands in silence, almost deserted. Sometimes it is the focal point of a sea of humanity. There are many churches in Larino. None has the power of the Cattedrale.
On virtually every weekend there is a wedding in the church. Each young couple is following a hallowed tradition. Few of them realize that literally thousands of men and women have walked to the portal of the church surrounded by friends and curious onlookers. Once again, the Pilone photographic archive captures this moment in an old image that is repeated and repeated and the years go by.
At all times of the day the sounds of the cathedral bells resound over the beautiful countryside surrounding the community. In older times they summoned the workers home from the fields. Now, in times of greater prosperity, they remind every citizen of Larino of the passage of time and the fragility of life.
In this midst of the marching bands (which almost unfailing play Radetzky's March), the incredible fireworks which light up the night sky, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is an urban world. Nothing could be further from the truth. This scene of great joy is no more than one minute from some of the most beautiful contryside you can imagine. Travellers have often said that the rolling countryside in this part of Italy is very much like Scotland. If that is so, Scotland must be very beautiful indeed.
This image is a five minute walk from the centre of the old city. The countryside, carefully irrigated and kept like some gigantic garden, is very productive. Those who own land have become prosperous. In the old days the Larinesi dreamt of travelling to the New World. Now they are more apt to say, America is here!"
The man who infused the Cathedral with life and vibrancy was another dear friend, Don Luigi, the Priest for the Duomo. He was a brilliant man: a gifted musician; one of the greatest speakers I had ever heard; and an individual who was totally dedicated to his vocation. He died in August of 2007 after a courageous struggle with cancer. It is difficult to imagine Larino without him.
Larino, the Miracle of the Molise
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