There were the three of us, in a wood, and it was getting dark. We were holding carbide lamps, the ones that have acetylene gas on the lower part and water in the upper one. As we had run out of water we stopped at a big pond. Nearby there were some drinking troughs. While we were filling the lamps with water, seven black horses arrived. They pawed the ground but they didn’t make any sound. I didn’t even have the time to tell my friend they were ghosts that they immediately disappeared. But soon they were back again. I started throwing stones at them but they didn’t get hurt at all. So we tore along and reached the manor farm near the wood and told the owner of the place what had happened. He told us that some time ago a man had kidnapped his wife and thrown her in the pond. Since then, the ghost of that woman has appeared several times taking the shape of a dog, or a cat, a horse…what is sure is that she always appears.
Some spirits are unknown. One day while I was working in the fields, a white dog with brown spots drew near me. It looked at me but didn’t come closer. I sent it away but it didn’t move. The dog stayed near me for a while, and then it was gone. A few days later I went there again and gave some taralli to the dog, but it didn’t eat them. I kept working and it left again, leaving no trace. One day it moved close to me and disappeared in front of me.
Some spirits are unknown; they can be alone or with others. The lonely ones can be seen in summer wearing flannel jackets and picking sticks, turning their back to you. The lonely ones can be children who meow. If they are not animals, they can be black shadows walking on walls towards you or waiting for you in a place where you are going. And if they are not shadows you can’t see them, but they talk, talk so much! They talk but you don’t understand them.
Some spirits look like a person, like you, and some spirits become like friends by meeting them so much. One day, while I was walking with my dogs in a desolate area in the middle of the countryside I saw a tall and slim man with a squared shirt. His rifle was one meter taller than him, an old style model, which was used in the past. When he saw me he ran away. Strangely, the dogs that were with me didn’t bark. I started to run after him. I called him but he didn’t answer. There were no footprints on the ground. Mine were there, but not his. When I went back home my mother was there and I told her what had happened. She said: “He’s the soul of Ciccio. Ciccio was a friend of my mother, born in 1915. He was a tall, slim boy. One day in summer, he was working in the fields. Some days before, somebody had cut a big oak tree but they left the work unfinished. Ciccio was hoeing the ground near that tree when a strong wind blew and made the tree fall down on him. He died. Don’t be afraid, he’s Ciccio.”
Many people knew Ciccio and they all knew that it was enough to call him to make him disappear.
Some spirits become like friends by meeting them so much, yet, differently from usual friends, their voice shocks you as if it were the first time you heard them.
One day I went back to that field with a friend of mine, to hunt hedgehogs. We didn’t manage to do it. As soon as we arrived on the hill, we heard a lot of voices talking at the bottom of the valley, so loud that all the area resounded. They talked a lot, but we didn’t understand a thing. They talked so much. They were melodious voices, when they were talking you could feel a deep sense of peace. We were enchanted by listening to them. Some days later, a shepherd told me that there used to be a village down there.
A Iure? Assist aggiust. It really exists.
It always comes at night.
People say it’s like a female cat.
I’ve never seen her , but she used to come to visit me.
She used to come while I was asleep, and lay on my chest and suffocate me, I wanted to wake up but I couldn’t. So, while I was sleeping, I fought with a thing that I couldn’t get hold of. And right when I was about to catch her, I woke up, but she wasn’t there anymore. She had disappeared. Or, if in the morning I woke up with black and blue marks on my arms and legs that I didn’t have the night before, it meant that ‘a iure had come. She also did tricks, to horses, for example, she used to make braids in their manes. Which animal could have done that? There is no animal able to make braids, otherwise we could have a mouse or a weasel make them.
People say she doesn’t go to the houses with crucified Christ s. We had three crucified Christs, but she came all the same.
One day my mother said. “mu ma acchiè a drett pure a chere”, which means: “now we’ll fix her up”.
My mother knew how to send her away. She sat on a chamber pot, and while she defecated she said: “Iura megghie d chese, vine ddò cà t’ha mangie pene i chese”, that is: “Iura of my house, come here, I’ll feed you with bread and cheese.”
“Tuono datti indietro dalla casa di san pietro, san pietro e san pone, la casa di nostro signore”
“Thunder go back to the house of Saint Peter, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, the house of our Lord”
My grandmother taught my mum how to “cut” the weather, and my mum then taught me.
From the beginning of the summer until the grape harvest, if bad weather was arriving, it had to be turned away to save the grapes to be harvested.
As the first clouds appeared, or the first thunder could be heard, my grandmother would cover her head with her black scarf, take the knife she used to keep above the door, and go out with a gloomy face, whispering certain words:
“Tuono datti indietro dalla casa di san pietro, san pietro e san pone, la casa di nostro signore” and I saw her climbing on the roof while she kept uttering those words, and once there, those words mixed with others which I could not understand, and then she started yelling. Like a devil, all dressed in black, my grandma yelled at those lightning bolts cutting across the sky.
” ‘a vocia seggue ha ntrunè chiù fort dì trune stess”, (her voice thundered louder than the thunder itself) my mum used to say.
She asked the storm to move in direction of the sea, away from her crops.
My grandma’s screaming would then bring about a rainbow that grew out of and ended in our very field.
She had been taught this formula by one of those monks that roamed the countryside asking for alms, because back then the countryside was full of people that went around begging.
It was harvest time. That morning, the monks arrived on a truck, upon which they had loaded an empty cistern (‘a carrizz). And they were going around asking the farmers to fill it for them.
That day, the monks got wine enough for the whole year, and some poor devil, like my grandmother, learned the words to cut the weather, to always protect the crops.
Apparently that day somebody had not given them any wine, so the monks, while leaving, were repeating all the time some words in a low voice, allegedly they had some clouds full of rain and hail form, which destroyed the crops of those that had given them no wine.
Those who knew how to get rid of them, also knew how to make you catch them.
There was a practice that healed you, it helped cutting the worms you had in your belly. You found out you had worms, because you had terrible abdominal pain all the time.
Some people killed them by rubbing the stomach with garlic and oil.
My father could kill them on you, even from a distance.
I never found out what he would say; all I could hear were the names of saints.
U discev citta citt, he would speak in a very low voice. And he traced the sign of the cross on the nails of his thumbs. One had to be quiet, otherwise he would get confused. If then the stomach ache befell him, too, or if he burped or went to the bathroom, this meant that the person did have worms. And he would get strong abdominal pain that could last for days. He healed the others by taking the suffering upon himself.
How often did the neighbour come over at night to ask him to cut the worms to his newborn son.
My father had learned it from one of his uncles; he didn’t teach me how to do it, he said it was too painful. So, given that you could teach one other person, just one, he taught his nephew how to do it.
And those who knew how to rid you of worms, they could also make you get them.
Once, when my father was young, he was in search of a wife. One night he went to a ball. He went to ask a girl to dance with him, Rosetta was her name, a girl that lived next door; she accepted, but once they were in the middle of the circle, she made a face, turned around and left him standing there, before all the other people. That night, my father went home and started weaving worms into Rosetta’s stomach, from a distance. That same night Rosetta’s mother went to my dad’s home to have him cut her daughter’s worms, as she couldn’t get up from the bed due to the terrible pain. So, my father was forced to cut Rosetta’s worms.
Because those who were able to rid you of worms were also able to get you some.
You realize you’ve got the affascino when you feel weak, too relaxed, with a sort of headache, you don’t feel like doing anything, you are very slow, you feel as if something is holding you back, or you are downhearted.
That means somebody has cast the affascino on you, namely has looked at you with envy. The process of the affascino goes through the eyes. Sometimes this envious look may even be unintentional.
To remove the affascino, I utter certain words nobody must know, I say prayers, and that’s what I do: I take a plate and fill it with water, then I add three pinches of salt and three drops of oil. If the oil spreads, it means that somebody has given you the affascino, if it doesn’t spread, it means there’s no affascino.
When two drops of oil unite, you have got the evil eye.
The evil eye is worse than the affascino. It’s a criticism regarding the person. When you have got the evil eye (malocchio), I do it on you to remove it. On the person.
And then there are those who do the affascino only on you, they trace crosses on your forehead and back. If you’ve got it, the person who is doing them yawns.
To help you get rid of the affascino, there must be three of them doing it. You don’t tell the next person that I already did it for the first time, the second person mustn’t know anything about the first, and the third shouldn’t know about the other two.
Nan già passè u sabet. The Saturday mustn’t pass. If you wait for the Saturday to pass once you’ve got it, it will get worse and more difficult to remove.
Then, there can be times when it’s so strong, that what I do is not enough, then you must go to certain people who know how to do other things to remove it.
Some of these were priests, first they would scold you and then they would secretly do this ritual. I once met one of these priests, but…I can’t tell you.
The chapter was a group of persons acknowledged by the Church and including all the priests present in a certain place (a city, a village, etc.); actually, according to canon law, all the priests had to organize themselves within a legal entity – the chapter – at the head of which stood the Archpriest appointed by the Bishop, who was not always the same person as the parish priest.
Where there were a lot of parish churches (cities with a population of more than 30,000 people) the Chapter was the legal body that included all the priests in town.
The Locorotondo parish was an ”Arcipretura Curata”, namely a parish where the Archpriest was at the same time the Curate of the Parish, that is to say, the parish priest.
Thus, the parish of Locorotondo was taken care of by the Parish Priest and usually two Priests called vice-parish priests.
THE CHAPTER’S CROSS
In the past, a sort of “tax” had to be paid to celebrate a funeral, so it happened that the social class the departed had belonged to could be inferred from the pomp of the ceremony. The chapter’s cross was the cross that opened the procession of priests, namely the chapter, and was made of silver with exquisite engravings; when the whole chapter attended the funeral, it meant that the dead person belonged to one of the higher social classes.
Humbler burials – which did not require any form of payment – included the participation of a single priest accompanied by an altar boy, or by the sacristan, and a plain wooden cross was carried along, with a metal crucifix and the “bucket” for the holy water.
The “castellana” was a structure set up in the middle of the Church during funerals, on the “settimo” (the seventh day after the funeral) and the “trigesimo” (a month after the funeral); in few cases it was also erected on the annual anniversary, but not for the celebration of the “terzo” (third day after the funeral).
It is not sure where this name comes from, it might be associated with the height of the structure, that made it look like a castle. It was made of wood and placed at the centre of the Church, and could be of varying size, depending on the amount of money paid for the funeral.
The “castellana” of the poorer people was made up of a mere table with a black cloth on it, on which the coffin was placed and 4 candles were lit; climbing up the social ladder the “castellana” could reach up to three levels, the last of which – for the most affluent – reached a height equal to that of the candelabra currently to be seen inside then Mother Church.
Obviously, as the Castellana “grew”, also the number of candles grew, reaching a total of as many as 300/400. This difference among the classes was mainly due to the fact that in those days parishes did not receive any kind of funding, there were no wages for priests and sacristans, the only income came from the celebrations. So, the possibility of having those who could afford it pay more was the only way to offer services for free to those who could not afford them.
THE THREE KEYS
The altar now located near the door to the sacristy used to be the main altar – that of the Assunta, the Assumption – of the sixteenth-century church. On the altar there’s a small wooden door (reconstructed on the same frame that once held the original one decorated with a silver sheet, which unfortunately was stolen); it is locked and would once hold the relic of Saint George. There were three keys entrusted to the highest local authorities: the Archbishop, the Mayor, and the Magistrate. The Mayor and the Magistrate would meet on the day of the “dono”, the Gift, on the eve of Saint George’s Day, and hand the keys to the Archpriest who then took out the relic and placed it on display on the altar, where it was left also during the following day. On the day after the holiday, it was put back in the cabinet behind the door, and the keys were returned to the dignitaries.
THE CHIESA GRECA
As far as its structure is concerned, this Church has remained unchanged, but what is different now is the context; in fact, the Chiesa Greca was once considered to be a Church situated “out of town”, as attested by some drawings made by tourists of the 1700s. At a certain point in its history, the area around the Chiesa Greca was used as a graveyard, then, in the sixties of the nineteenth century, when cholera ravaged the town, the corpses were put inside the Church, without any burial, and all the openings were sealed up. When the Brotherhood of San Rocco was established, the parish priest assigned them the Chiesa Greca, so that the community could keep using the Chiesa di San Rocco instead. So, the brothers had to disinfest the Church, they buried the corpses and opened the few doors and windows once more, among them the rose window, and that was probably the time when the finely carved rose window disappeared. The “missing” rose window, very similar to the one now to be seen on the façade of the Church, was apparently identical with that of the Co-Cathedral of Sant’Eustachio in Acquaviva delle Fonti.
Brotherhoods (called Confraternite) were for men only, women were not admitted, however there were sisters who did not take part in the liturgies and did not wear special clothing, but who could enjoy the benefits of the Brotherhoods as well: Mass during the funeral service, the burial (in fact, the brotherhoods owned separate chapels), and a Mass on the anniversary. In Locorotondo there were the following brotherhoods: Addolorata, Annunziata, Sacramento, Purgatorio and San Rocco (the latter being the most recent one). That of San Giorgio did not exist, because the Chapter itself was in charge of the devotional activities associated with this saint.
The brotherhoods, which were legally recognized entities, also managed considerable sums of money from donations and inheritances. They could serve devotional or charitable purposes: the former aimed at promoting the worship of the Saints the devotion was addressed to, the latter stated charity goals and tasks, for example the Confraternita del Purgatorio was committed to ensuring burial to the poor.