Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Cernunnos Monte Bibele


The Horned God



God of Nature, Life, Fertility


A series of photographs I took of wild mountain goats during a recent excursion to Monte Bibele, ancient holy site of the Central European Celts.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Saint Catherine of Bologna; Mystic, Artist, Incorruptible

Saint Catherine of Bologna, Catherina de 'Vigri, was an Italian Poor Clare nun, writer, teacher, mystic, and artist.

Caterina was born in Bologna, on September 8, 1413, she was the daughter of the Ferrarese nobleman Giovanni de'Vigri, professor of law at the University of Bologna. Despite being born into wealth and privilege she preferred to follow a very spiritual path and followed a monastic life of seclusion.


An image of Santa Catherine in life

She was described as being well loved during her life, and with a lively personality. She became interested in art, music, song, dance, painting and literature. There is a viola, some paintings and various writings created by her, including  her book The Seven Spiritual Arms, The Twelve Gardens, the Rosarium, and The Sermons, which has been preserved. 


Artwork by Caterina of Bologna 

Caterina died on 9 March 1463 and was buried, without posessions, in the bare earth. Surprisingly her body after death did not decompose. 

Testimony from 1463:

"When the grave was ready and when they lowered the body, which was not enclosed in a coffin, it emanated a scent of indescribable sweetness, filling the air all around. The two sisters, who had descended into the grave, moved with compassion on His beautiful and radiant face, covered it with a cloth and placed a rough table a few inches above the body, so that the clods of earth would not touch it. Yet they stared at him awkwardly that the face and body were still covered when the pit was filled with earth. The sisters often came to visit the cemetery, cried, prayed and read at the grave, and always noticed the sweet smell that surrounded it. Since there were no flowers, no herbs next to the grave, but only dry land."

And after her exhumation:

 "When we found the body and cleaned our faces, we noticed that it had been crushed and disfigured by the weight of the wooden table that had been placed on it. In addition, by digging, three of the sisters had damaged it with a spade. We placed it in a coffin, and we were about to rebuff her, but a strange impulse prompted us to place it temporarily under the portal. And it was then that the crushed nose and the entire face gradually regained their natural form. The deceased became white, beautiful, intact, as if she were still alive, her nails were not blackened and she smelled delicious. All the sisters were deeply agitated; the scent spread in the church and in the convent, impregnating the hands that had touched it, and there seemed to be no explanation. After she became quite pale, she began to change color, becoming redder, while her body began to emit a pleasantly perfumed sweat. Passing from the pallor to a color of incandescent amber, She exuded an aromatic liquid that at times seemed like limpid water, and sometimes a mixture of water and blood."


From  the circular window of her altar you can see Saint Catherine (my photo) 


Immediately after her death she was hailed as a saint, and on 22 May 1712 she was canonized by Pope Clement XI.



The incorrupt body of Santa Caterina de 'Vigri is preserved in Bologna in a chapel of the Sanctuary of the Corpus Domini monastery in Bologna founded almost 600 years ago.

On a sunny Wednesday morning this April I visited the monastery located on a quiet street in a very non descript neighbourhood of Bologna. The church is very plain from the outside, but beautifully humble and uplifting in the interior. I had been hoping to spend time with the Saint, and although it was not a day the public were normally allowed to be with her, the kind nuns allowed me to spend time alone with Caterina.


My photo.  My reflection in the glass with Saint Catherine.

She is perfectly preserved with the exception of her blackened skin from centuries of candle smoke, and there is a smell of flowers that surrounds her. She sits upon a gold chair with her bible in her hands.

Words cannot truly express the emotion and feelings I had in her presence. I am not Catholic. But I felt joy, and a sense of peace with her. I have visited several chapels and Cathedrals in Italy and I can truly say none has moved me so much as the Sanctuary of the Corpus Domini and Saint Catherine.




Thursday, 12 April 2018

Witches, Feminism, and a 15th century Bolognese Countess


From high atop the Sasso Marconi mountainside one can view the Palazzo Sanuti-Bevilacqua a 15th century villa, and home to a most remarkable medieval woman, and early Italian feminist. 

While I was hiking through this stunning and atmospheric area I was amazed to learn about Nicolosa Sanuti.


Nicolosa Sanuti was the daughter of Antonio Castellani, a notary, and Margherita Franchini. After her marriage to the Count Nicolò Sanuti, she became the owner of a vast lands in the province of Bologna. Along the bank of Reno River, the Sanuti family built the villa that was their residence and still bears their name, Palazzo Sanuti. From the beautiful fountains located inside the property the adjacent hamlet took its name, Fontana. 


Madonna and child






Inner courtyard including a photograph below from the turn of the last century depicting the fountain from which the hamlet took its name.


The Palazzo Sanuti Bevilacqua Degli Ariosti is currently in use as a private residence and office, but the influence of the original Countess is still very much felt and remembered. 


The historic plaque above recalls Nicolosa's fight against draconian laws which dictated what women could and could not wear in public.  In 1453 Roman Catholic Cardinal Basilios Bessarion of Bologna enacted his own particularly restrictive sumptuary laws, especially with regard to women.

In response, Nicolosa Sanuti wrote to the cardinal (in perfect Latin) arguing against his politics, in which she underlined the injustice of having to oblige women to adopt different and more modest customs than those of all the other Europeans. She also pointed out that fashion was viewed as symbol of femininity, and that women were already prevented from wearing the clothes of magistrates, militia and priests. She accused him of not wanting to take into account the greatness of women who all descend from Sappho, Artemisia, and Cornelia.

Not only was her letter one of the precious few in that time period to be written and conceived by a woman, but she was the only one who contested the theoretical assumptions underlying the sumptuary laws.

The reaction from the government of Bologna was negative. Cardinal Bessarion left her letter unanswered. And the canon Matteo Bosso publicly questioned the identity of the author considering a woman incapable of writing with such eloquence, and in Latin.

Countess Sanuti was a contemporary of Ginevra Sforza the wife and counselor of Giovanni II Bentivoglio, Lord of Bologna, and Gentile Budrioli, wife of the notary Alessandro Cimieri and student at the University of Bologna, who was accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake in 1498.

All three of these women were unpopular with the Church and State, the Countess for challenging the sumptuary laws, Ginevra for having the ear and influence over her powerful husband, and Gentile for her skills as a healer and astrologer. While the first two women had powerful stations within society, Gentile did not and she may have paid a price for the sins of her feminist counterparts with her brutal execution in the main square of Bologna.

Nicolosa Sanuti died in 1505 in Bologna.

During the same year and due to several conspiracies the Pope ordered the Bentivoglios including Ginevra to leave the city, their properties in Bologna were looted and the Palazzo Bentivoglio was razed. Ginevra was excommunicated by the Church and she died on the 16th of May 1507. Her body was buried in a common grave.



The Palazzo Sanuti-Bevilacqua is located in an area where I have been studying local folklore. La Rupe of Sasso Marconi is geologically significant and has a rich history. In 1283 it was chosen as a site to build a shrine and sanctuary to the Venerated Virgin of Sasso. Over the years the rock mountain had been excavated, and there are a series of tunnels still visible, where in centuries past poor people lived like cavemen. On the night of June 23rd 1892 the side of the cliff facing the river crashed down and crushed the houses below it. 14 people died that night and many others were injured.




Following the tragic event stories of black magic, witchcraft, and strange mystery lights have plagued the area. Before hiking through the area I had not heard of the feminist Countess Sanuti before. And after researching more about her and her contemporaries Ginevra and Gentile, I now wonder if the accusations of witchery in the area and black magic somehow link back to the courageous Nicolosa Sanuti?

All of the photographs above with the exception of those from the historical archive were taken by me in March 2018.