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            Orazio di Landro                 Saint Ilarione's Day





  A summer climate favoured the progress of the festivities for Saint Ilarione the abbot’s Day; from a   religious point of view they were intense and greatly taken part in and from a civil one the festivities   were well measured and attractive. Undoubtedly, a successful day, well programmed, conducted   with good taste and great balance between religion and politics, as should be in festivities in all parts   of Italy. Before speaking about the festivities, however, I would like to say a few words about the   Saint whose cult has been worshiped for a few centuries.

  Precisely ten years ago, in a Mondadori publisher’s bookshop in Milan, I found an edition of “Vite dei   Santi” (The lives of the saints) by Christine Morhrmann. It included “La vita di Martino, Vita di   Ilarione” and “In memoria di Paola” (respectively, the lives of Martin, Ilarione and In memory of   Paola), with a critique and comment by A.A.R. Bastiaensen and Jan W. Smit, translated by Luca   Canali and Carlo Carena, edited on behalf of the Lorenzo Valla foundation by Arnoldo Mondadori   Editore.

  I immediately bought four copies, giving three to my closest friends, undoubtedly devout followers of   the Saint; the fourth, I couldn’t do otherwise, I gave to Ilarione Roccisano. My purpose was to spread   the truth about the Saint’s life (which the Caulonian popular tradition had a hugely distorted   knowledge of) as recounted by Saint Girolamo.

  From this book I would like to quote the beginning of the second chapter which in my opinion   contains enough information to depict a clear outline of this particular line of Christian faith:
  “Ilarione, born in the village of Tabatha, about five miles south of Gaza, the Palestinian
city, grew,   according to the proverb, like a rose from a thorn, because he was born into a family that worshiped   idols.

  His family sent him to Alexandria where he was placed in the care of a grammarian; here Ilarione, for   his age, gave great proof of his talent; in a brief period of time he became very knowledgeable in   literature and beloved by all. There was, however, a more important detail than these: because he   believed in Our Lord Jesus, his pleasures were not found in the follies of the circus, nor in the blood   of the arena, nor were they found in the dissoluteness of the theatre. They were found exclusively in   the church’s reunions.

  There having heard about the acclaimed name of Anthony, who was being praised by all the   populations of Egypt, he became fired with the desire to see him. Thus he set out and as soon as   he set eyes on him, he changed his former robes and stayed with him…”

  At the time he was fifteen years old

  At the time he was fifteen years old (born in 291A.D.); he lived thus as a hermit, according to the   teachings of Anthony, founder of the oriental monasticism, for the rest of his life (dying at the age of   eighty in 371A.D.).

  As Jesus Christ, he worked many miracles, healing the sick and curing the crippled, restoring sight   to the blind, exorcising the possessed and invoking rain against droughts.

  The miracle of rain worked by Ilarione at Afroditon during his lifetime (according to Girolamo in   chapter 22 of his work) was repeated at Caulonia on the fourteenth of May 1855.

  Because of an exceptional drought, the people wished to implore rain from their Patron Saint, by   carrying their relic in a procession to the hermitage of San Nicola.

  The procession was to take place on the thirteenth of May; on the fourteenth, rain arrived, according   to the testimony of the archpriest Davide Prota, which is recounted on page 254 of his “Ricerche   Storiche su Caulonia (Hstorical Research on Caulonia), edited in Roccella Jonica by the Tipografia   Toscana in 1913.

  The archpriest certainly is a credible witness if one considers the detatchment (to not speak of the   irony) with which he treats all the religious popular demonstrations of Caulonia (including the three   evenings of the Caracolo, as anyone who has read the Appendix O pages 246 to 254 of his book   can confirm).

  From that year onwards, however, Saint Ilarione’s Day, which occurs on the twenty-first of October,   is also repeated on the thirteenth of May.

  Since then many things have changed due to the evolution of the customs and technical progress.

  I will refer to the quoted pages of the archpriest Prota’s work to describe the essential points   regarding the origins of the cult of Saint Ilarione here in Caulonia and of the formation of the traditions   surrounding the festivity.

  The decree for the proclamation as Patron Saint of the city was   issued by the bishop Carlo Pinto on the twenty-second of October   1629, but the tradition of the festivity goes back to the feudal   times, when the marquis, feudatory of Castelvetere (today’s   Caulonia), sent his troops to honour the relic of the Saint (an ulna   set in a silver arm) which was departing for the convent (still   existent today) of Saint Nicholas in the mountains.

  In 1815 a statue was added to the relic, sculpted in wood by a   skilled artist from Serra by the name of Saint Bruno.

  Thus was born among the people the false belief that Saint Bruno and Saint Ilarione were brothers   who chose to do penance along the shores of the Allaro. It was said that the first brother would eat   nothing but a few lupines a day, throwing the shells into the water which would then be gathered up   and eaten by Ilarione downstream. However, we now know that Ilarione lived between the third and   fourth century, while Saint Bruno founded his Carthusian monastery in Calabria in 1091.

  Ilarione lived in Palestine (he is in fact considered the founder of the Palestinian monasticism), in   Syria and in Egypt; he departed from the latter bound for Sicily. In chapter twenty-five of the Life, as   written by Saint Girolamo, it is expressly stated that Ilarione landed in Pachino, a Sicilian   promontory. He then withdrew twenty miles inland to a solitary place where he soon became   renowned for his miracles.

  Joined in Sicily by his disciple Esichio, he let it be known that he was unable to carry on living in   those regions, he wanted to travel to a certain barbaric population where his name and language   would be unknown and where he could, as a consequence, live in solitude.

  Esichio therefor led him through the Adriatic sea to Epidauro, to a Dalmatian city.


  He freed the country from its terrible dragon

  Even this far away Ilarione was unable to remain hidden because he was yet again called upon to   work miracles.

  He freed the country from a terrible dragon which destroyed crops and livestock when it wasn’t   devouring farmers and shepherds. Then he was called upon to stop a tidal wave which he did by   drawing three crosses in the sand (the tidal wave, preceded by an earthquake, along the Dalmatian   coasts is historically documented and dates back to the year 366). Yet another time, with only a   gesture of his hand he forced three pirate ships, who were a threat to the population,  to rebound   from the coast instead of landing.

  It is said that the pirates were bewildered by the fact that against their will they were sailing away   from the coast; the more they rowed towards the shore, the further away from it they got.

  After this, Ilarione left Dalmatia in search of a more solitary place.

  Saint Girolamo recounts that after a long journey he disembarked on the island of Cyprus from   where he wished to return to Egypt, precicely to a place known as “Bucolica” because in that region   there were no christians, only a ferocious and barbaric population. Esichio managed to convince him   to stay in Cyprus and to retire to a better hidden place found at about twelve miles from the sea.

  When he reached the place Ilarione looked upon it with wonder, it was terribly remote and awful, cut   off on all sides by trees, it even had a small source of water running down from the side of a hill, a   very meagre vegetable plot and many fruit trees from which he never eat any fruit.

  This is how Saint Girolamo, in chapter thirty, describes the place Ilarione chose as his last home,   he died in Cyprus at the age of eighty.

  We Caulonian people find the position of this last place surprisingly similar to the place where the   convent on the Allaro, between San Nicola and Calatria, is found and to where the Saint’s relic is   taken twice a year.

  About ten months following the death of Ilarione, Esichio was able to smuggle the corpse to   Maiuma, in Palestine, giving it proper burial in the ancient monastery found there.

  A relic of the Saint (the bone of an arm) is still worshiped today in Caulonia; precisely how it reached   us is still unknown and the history of its conveyance is inextricably tangled up with the legend.

  When oriental monasticism, by now definitively regulated and ordered by Saint Basilio di Cesarea,   became widespread even in the west, following the escape of Greek monks being attacked by the   Persians and the Arabs because of the battle of religious images, decreed by the Emperor Leone III   Isaurico (717-714), many relics of different Saints were brought to our lands and offered to the people   to adore; others still were brought back by the Crusaders returning from the Holy Land.

  Many legends arose in Caulonia surrounding the relic of Saint Ilarione and regarding its   thaumaturgical powers; ever since I was a child, I heard stories about the great misadventure of a   Caulonian marquis who had cast doubts on the authenticity of the relic (the bone of an arm).   Apparently he was immediately paralysed, so he implored the Saintto cure him with prayers and   promised to provide an adequate reliquary.

  The healing was prompt, so the marquis commissioned the sculpture of the silver arm which even   today conserves the Saint’s relic.

  The miracle of the storm

  Many Caulonian emigrates to America or Australia swore that they had seen their ship upheld by a   little old man in Oceanic storms whom they didn’t hesitate to recognise as their Patron Saint; during   the war it was said that saint Ilario had covered the village with thick clouds to avoid it being   bombarded.

  For all these graces and miracles the Caulonians honoured the Saint by improvising new strophes   for the anonymous songs which have been sung for centuries during the processions.

  One of these songs, forgotten for many years, I find pleasure in remembering, was discovered by   chance by my father about thirty years ago, while he was rummaging through some old papers kept   behind the glass of an old grandfather clock.

  Leafing through them with interest one by one his eye fell on these verses: “Volgi benigno il ciglio,   gran Santo Ilario, a noi, che in questo esilio, abbiamo fiducia in te” (Look kindly upon us, great Saint   Ilario, on us, who in this exile, have faith in you), of which there are another three if I remember   correctly.

  Fired with enthusiasm he immediately took the verses to Peppino Racco (happy memory!) who   forthwith sat down and improvised on the organ a melody to put to the words. He didn’t worry about   whether the melody which came from his heart was authentic or similar to some “aria” learnt a long   time ago and then forgotten in the alleys of his memory.

  The result was well liked, however, and to this day it is the one that is most happily listened to   during the festivities in October and May.

  These festivities were then celebrated (and it was a sign of the times) with much pomp and   circumstance. The population began the preparations many months beforehand.

  The tailors had to finish clothes ordered from them four or five months earlier in time for Saint   Ilarione’s Day (the Caulonians frequently called their Saint “Ilario”); even the shoemakers had to   meet this deadline seeing as then they not only repaired shoes but also made new ones. As the   festivities drew near, also the carpenters’ and the blacksmiths’ workload increased.

  On the novenae days, men and women would come down from the mountain villages of S. Todaro,   Cassari, Ragonà, Gozza and Nardo di Pace bearing sacks of nuts and chestnuts, or crates of   mushrooms and strawberries on their shoulders; at the time there were no roads and the journey   had to be made on foot. These people would sit along the steps of  “piazza Mese” before the holy   mass began and sell what they had brought or exchange it for a few bottles of oil.

  The strongest and more valiant of the village’s young men would begin, around this time, to prepare   for the competitions which always took place during the festivities.


Part II >>  


La festa di Sant'Ilarione by Orazio di Landro
Corriere di Caulonia - Novembre 1987
Translated by A. C. R. Mazza

Thanks to Luigi Briglia
for his splendid photography


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