Showing posts with label Puglia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Puglia. Show all posts

17 June 2019

Saint Joseph of Copertino

Flying friar now protects aviators

Painter Ludovico Mazzanti's 18th century  depiction of Saint Joseph levitating
Painter Ludovico Mazzanti's 18th century
depiction of Saint Joseph levitating
Saint Joseph, a Franciscan friar who became famous for his miraculous levitation, was born Giuseppe Maria Desa on this day in 1603 in Copertino, a village in Puglia that was then part of the Kingdom of Naples.

Joseph was canonised in 1767, more than 100 years after his death, by Pope Clement XIII and he is now the patron saint for astronauts and aviation.

Joseph’s father, Felice Desa, had died before his birth leaving large debts. After the family home was seized to settle what was owed, his mother, Francesca Panara, was forced to give birth to him in a stable.

Joseph experienced ecstatic visions as a child at school. When he was scorned by other children he had outbursts of anger.

He was apprenticed to a shoemaker but when he applied to join the Franciscan friars he was rejected because of his lack of education.

He was accepted in 1620 as a lay brother by the Capuchin friars only to be dismissed because his constant ecstasies made him unfit to carry out his required duties.

Forced to return home he pleaded with the Franciscan friars near Copertino to be allowed to work in their stables.  After several years he was admitted to the Order and he was ordained a priest in 1628.

The Basilica of San Giuseppe da Copertino in Piazza Gallo was dedicated to St Joseph
The Basilica of San Giuseppe da Copertino
in Piazza Gallo was dedicated to St Joseph
He began to experience more ecstasies and it was claimed he began to levitate while participating in Mass, remaining suspended in the air for some time. He gained a reputation for holiness among ordinary people but was considered disruptive by the Church authorities, who found that even piercing his flesh or burning him with candles would have no effect on him while he was levitating. He was eventually confined to a small cell and forbidden to join in any public gatherings.

Joseph was denounced to the Inquisition because flying and levitation were then considered to be a type of witchcraft.

On the Inquisition’s orders, he was transferred from one friary to another to be kept under observation. He lived under a strict regime, eating solid food only twice a week.

In 1657 he was at last allowed to return to live in a religious community and was sent to a friary in Osimo in Le Marche, then part of the Papal States, where he died six years later at the age of 60.

Joseph was beatified in 1753 and made a Saint in 1767.

People sceptical about the reports of Saint Joseph’s levitating or seeming to become airborne have suggested he was either a very agile man who leapt into the air or was perhaps suffering convulsions as a result of consuming bread made from infected grain, which was common centuries ago.

Nevertheless, many pilgrims now visit Joseph’s tomb to pay their respects at the Basilica of Saint Joseph of Copertino in Piazza Gallo in Osimo.

Copertino Castle, built in 1540, has tapered ramparts in each of its four corners
Copertino Castle, built in 1540, has tapered ramparts in
each of its four corners 
Travel tip: 

Copertino, where Saint Joseph was born, is a town in the province of Lecce in the Puglia region of south east Italy. Red and rosé DOC wines are made in the area around the town. Copertino Castle, built in 1540 on the site of an older fortress, is one of the biggest fortifications in the entire region. It has a distinctive design, built on a quadrangle plan with a tapered rampart at each of the four corners. There is also a sanctuary dedicated to Saint Joseph in the town.

The main square in Osimo, the town in Le Marche where Saint Joseph died in 1663
The main square in Osimo, the town in Le Marche where
Saint Joseph died in 1663
Travel tip:

One of the main sights in Osimo, where Saint Joseph died, is the Basilica of San Giuseppe da Copertino, which was founded as a church dedicated to Saint Francis but was later rededicated and refurbished to house Saint Joseph’s relics.  There is also a restored Romanesque-Gothic church has a portal with sculptures of the 13th century. A town of more than 35,000 inhabitants, Osimo is located approximately 15km (9 miles) south of the port city of Ancona and the Adriatic Sea.

Also on this day:

1691: The birth of painter Giovanni Paolo Panini

1952: The birth of Sergio Marchionne, businessman 

1964: The birth of racing driver Rinaldo 'Dindo' Capello


9 February 2017

Vito Antuofermo - world champion boxer

Farmer's son from deep south who won title in Monaco

Vito Antuofermo won the European light-middleweight title in 1976 and became world middleweight champion in 1979
Vito Antuofermo won the European light-middleweight title
in 1976 and became world middleweight champion in 1979
Vito Antuofermo, who went from working in the fields as a boy to becoming a world champion in the boxing ring, was born on this day in 1953 in Palo del Colle, a small town in Apulia, about 15km (9 miles) inland from the port of Bari.

He took up boxing after his family emigrated to the United States in the mid-1960s.  After turning professional in 1971, he lost only one of his first 36 fights before becoming European light-middleweight champion in January 1976.

In his 49th fight, in June 1979, he beat Argentina's Hugo Corro in Monaco to become the undisputed world champion in the middleweight division.

Antuofermo's success in the ring, where he won 50 of his 59 fights before retiring in 1985, opened the door to a number of opportunities in film and television and he was able to settle in the upper middle-class neighbourhood of Howard Beach in New York, just along the coast from John F Kennedy Airport.  He and his wife Joan have four children - Lauren, Vito Junior, Pasquale and Anthony.

He grew up in rather less comfort. The second child of Gaetano and Lauretta Antuofermo, who were poor tenant farmers, he was working in the fields from as young as seven years old.

Antuofermo (left) in action against Britain's Alan Minter
Antuofermo (left) in action against Britain's Alan Minter
Often travelling two hours even before starting work, young Vito would help to harvest grapes, olives and almonds, sometimes trudging along behind a mule-drawn plough attempting to break up sun-baked earth to prepare for planting crops.

It was physically hard work from which it was difficult for his family to make a living and after a series of severe droughts in southern Italy, they decided to move to the United States, where Lauretta had an uncle living in Brooklyn, New York.  Leaving Gaetano to follow later, she took her two oldest boys, hoping they would find opportunities for a better life. For Vito, one came along - although not in a way he had planned.

Picked up by the police with two other young men after a fight in the street, he was lucky that his arresting officer was a boxing fan and a friend of Joe LaGuardia, the ex-boxer in charge of the gym at the Police Athletic League. Instead of taking the three into the police station, the officer took them to the gym, instructing LaGuardia to “see if you can do something with them."

Vito Antuofermo in 2006 after his induction to the Boxing Hall of Fame
Vito Antuofermo in 2006 after his
induction to the Boxing Hall of Fame
LaGuardia saw potential in Antuofermo, who lacked physical strength but packed a good punch and never backed off his opponent.  He inspired him by talking about Rocky Marciano, another son of southern Italian immigrants, who was world heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1956, and Antuofermo became fixated with the idea of becoming world champion too.

As an amateur, he won the New York Golden Gloves championship in 1970, turning professional the following year after it became clear his status would not allow him to compete for Italy or the United States in the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

He began to rack up wins and good purses as a professional, even winning the approval of his father, who had initially opposed his ambitions to box.

Victories over former world champions Denny Moyer and Emile Griffith in November 1974 confirmed Antuofermo's potential, and he claimed his first major title by defeating Germany's Eckhard Dagge on his home soil in Berlin to become European champion in January 1976.

His reign was short-lived, the British fighter Maurice Hope taking the crown from him nine months later.  It was another British boxer, Alan Minter, who deprived him of his world title in March 1980, again after only nine months, although Antuofermo did have the satisfaction of making one successful defence, against America's Marvin Hagler, who would go on to beat Minter for the title in 1980 and hold on to it for seven years.

Antuofermo quit the ring after losing to Hagler in 1981 but make a comeback in 1984, winning four more bouts before defeat to Canada's Matthew Hilton in Quebec in October 1985 prompted him to retire for good.

Antuofermo played a bodyguard in The Godfather Part III
Antuofermo played a bodyguard
in The Godfather Part III
After retirement, Antuofermo enjoyed success as an actor. He was picked for a small role in The Godfather Part III as the chief bodyguard of gangster Joey Zasa and was a mobster in the hit television show The Sopranos.  After Godfather star Al Pacino persuaded him to take acting lessons, he also landed a series of parts in theatre plays.

Never afraid of hard work, he was employed by the Port Authority of New York as a crane operator for a sizeable part of his fight career, while his business pursuits included stints working in marketing for Coca-Cola and for an Italian beer company, and running a landscaping company in Long Island.

Travel tip:

Often overlooked in favour of Lecce and Brindisi when tourists venture towards the heel of Italy, Bari is the second largest urban area after Naples in the south of the country. It has a busy port and some expansive industrial areas but plenty of history, too, especially in the old city - Bari Vecchia - which sits on a headland between two harbours.  Fanning out around two Romanesque churches, the Cattedrale di San Sebino and the Basilica of St Nicholas, the area is a maze of medieval streets with many historical buildings and plenty of bars and restaurants.  There is also a castle, the Castello Svevo.

Find a hotel in Bari with

Bari's San Sebino cathedral by night
Bari's San Sebino cathedral by night
Travel tip:

Bari's more modern centre is known as the Centro Murattiano, or the Murat quarter, in that it was built during the period in the early 19th century in which Joachim Murat, for a long time Napoleon's most trusted military strategist, ruled the Kingdom of Naples, of which Bari was a part.  Set out in a grid plan between Bari's main railway station and the sea, the area is the commercial heart of the city and the home of the most prestigious shops, but also of a vibrant night life in a city with a large student population.

More reading:

Angelo Siciliano - the Brooklyn Italian who became Charles Atlas

How Bruno Sammartini dodged wolves and Nazis in Abruzzo before finding fame in the wrestling ring

Why charismatic Joachim Murat's life was ended by a firing squad

Also on this day:

1621: Alessandro Ludovisi becomes Pope Gregory XV

1770: The birth of classical guitar composer Ferdinando Carulli

6 May 2016

Rudolph Valentino - star of silent films

Heart-throb actor who died tragically young

Photo of Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino in a publicity shot for his
hit movie The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
The man who would become Rudolph Valentino was born on this day in 1895 in Castellaneta, a small town in a rocky region of Puglia notable for steep ravines.

Born the second youngest of four children by the French wife of an Italian veterinary surgeon, he was christened Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla.

When he arrived in America as an immigrant in 1913, he was registered as Rodolfo Guglielmi. His first movie credit listed him as Rudolpho di Valentina and he appeared under nine different variations of that name before achieving fame as Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1920.

During the silent movie boom, he enjoyed more success in The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle and The Son of the Sheik and his smouldering good looks made him a 1920s sex symbol, nicknamed "The Latin Lover" and adored by countless female fans.

Yet his route to fame was difficult. Unable to find work at home, he joined the exodus of southern Italians to the United States and aged just 18 boarded a boat to New York, disembarking at Ellis Island on 13 December, 1913.

He soon ran out of money and, even in the harsh New York winter, he had to sleep rough in Central Park.  Eventually, after working as a dishwasher and a gardener, he found employment at Maxim's Restaurant-Cabaret as a "taxi dancer", a paid-for partner for female clients.

Maxim's attracted a wealthy clientele and it is there that Valentino began to capitalise on his good looks and natural charm to become a sought-after partner. But he had to leave after the relationship he developed with a Chilean heiress landed him in jail.

Valentino movie poster
When the lady in question sought a divorce from her husband, Valentino agreed to take the stand to support her claims of infidelity on her husband's part, testifying that he was seeing a female dancer at Maxim's.  Out of revenge, the husband, a well-connected businessman, had Valentino arrested, along with a known madam, on trumped-up vice charges.

He was released after only a few days but the scandal cost him his job and when the heiress then shot her ex-husband during a custody dispute, he decided it would be in his interests to move on and he joined a travelling musical troupe that would eventually lead him to the West Coast, and Hollywood.

There he inveigled himself with more wealthy women by offering private dance tuition. At the same time, he was pursuing his ambition to work in the cinema and landed a series of bit-part roles.

It was while travelling to Florida for one of these that he read the novel The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by the Spanish author Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, and decided to seek out June Mathis, a screenwriter for Metro Pictures, who had bought the rights to the novel, in the hope of securing a part. As it happens, Mathis had seen him perform and already had him in mind.

The movie was a massive success, one of the first to make more than $1 million at the box office, and Valentino became a star.  He was paid accordingly. At his peak he earned $10,000 a week at a time when the average wage in the United States was $2,000 a year.

Yet contentment eluded him.  At times difficult to work with, he clashed with a number of directors and a bitter dispute with one of his studios led to him being unable to work at all after they refused to release him from his contract.  Despite his earnings power, he also ran up huge debts.

Although he was married twice, albeit divorced both times, he found himself the target for gossip and innuendo about his sexuality. His taste for jewellery and exotic clothes led some male writers to imply that he was gay. One columnist enraged him so much he took boxing lessons from Jack Dempsey, the world heavyweight champion, and challenged the writer to a fight.

Photo of crowds waiting for Valentino funeral cortege
Crowds gather outside the Campbell Funeral Home in
New York ahead of Rudolph Valentino's funeral 
Valentino's death in 1926 at the age of only 31 shocked the world.  He collapsed at a New York hotel and was taken to hospital. At first he was thought to have appendicitis but it transpired he had perforated gastric ulcers. This in turn led him to develop peritonitis and pleuritis, conditions affecting the membranes lining his abdomen and lungs, which proved fatal.

The outpouring of grief among his fans was such that 100,000 people, mainly female, lined the streets of New York as his funeral cortege made its way to St Malachy's Roman Catholic Church in the Broadway theatre district.  A similar number were said to have filed past his coffin at the Frank Campbell Funeral Home, where his body was displayed for a number of days before the private ceremony.

Although his debts meant there was little in his estate to pay the costs, a second funeral then took place in Beverley Hills in California and Valentino's body was laid to rest in the Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, in a crypt provided by June Mathis, his scriptwriter friend, who had bought it for a husband she subsequently divorced.

Travel tip:

Valentino is honoured in several ways in his home town of Castellaneta.  A Rudolph Valentino Museum was opened in his childhood home and a statue unveiled in 1961. A Foundation was created to promote his life and his work and in 2009 a film school - the Centro Studi Cine Club Rodolfo Valentino Castellaneta - was opened in the town.

Photo of Casa Valentino in Castellaneta
Rudolph Valentino's family home in Castellaneta
Travel tip:

The Valentino Museum, where the exhibits include the bed in which he slept as a boy, can be found on Via Vittorio Emanuele, in the old part of Castellaneta, which has a medieval layout of narrow alleys and streets and sits on a ridge above the sheer-sided Gravina di Castellaneta.

(Photo of Valentino family home by Pietro d'Ambrosio CC BY-SA 3.0)

More reading

Pina Menichelli: silent movie diva who achieved worldwide fame

How Shakespeare made Zeffirelli a household name

Spaghetti westerns opened doors for top producer

Also on this day:

1527: The Sack of Rome

1963: The birth of Alessandra Ferri, prima ballerina assoluta


16 March 2016

Aldo Moro - Italy's tragic former prime minister

Politician kidnapped and murdered by Red Brigades

Aldo Moro pictured in 1978, not long before his kidnap by the Red Brigades
Aldo Moro pictured in 1978, not long
before his kidnap by the Red Brigades
Italy and the wider world were deeply shocked on this day in 1978 when the former Italian prime minister, Aldo Moro, was kidnapped on the streets of Rome in a violent ambush that claimed the lives of his five bodyguards.

The attack took place on Via Mario Fani, a few minutes from Signor Moro's home in the Monte Mario area, at shortly after 9am during the morning rush hour.  Moro, a 61-year-old Christian Democrat politician who had formed a total of five Italian governments, between 1963 and 1968 and again from 1974-76, was being driven to the Palazzo Montecitorio in central Rome for a session of the Chamber of Deputies.

As the traffic forced Moro's car to pause outside a café, one of four small Fiat saloon cars used by the kidnappers reversed into a space in front of Moro's larger Fiat, in which the front seats were occupied by two carabinieri officers with Moro sitting behind them.  Another of the kidnappers' Fiats pulled in behind the Alfa Romeo immediately following Moro's, which contained three more bodyguards.  At that moment, four gunmen emerged from bushes close to the roadside and began firing automatic weapons.

Moro's five bodyguards were killed before he was pulled from his vehicle and bundled into another of the kidnappers' cars, which had stopped alongside and was then driven away at speed.

La Repubblica's headline: Moro rapito (Moro kidnapped)
The front page of La Repubblica
brings news of the dramatic events
"Moro rapito (kidnapped)"
Soon afterwards, responsibility for the kidnapping was claimed by the Red Brigades, the notorious left-wing terrorist organisation that had been carrying out violent acts since the early 1970s, aimed at destabilising the country.

Moro was held captive for 55 days before his body was found in the boot of a Renault car in Via Michelangelo Caetani in Rome's historic centre on the afternoon of May 9 following a tip-off. During his period of captivity, members of the Red Brigades communicated with the authorities that Moro had been tried and condemned to death for what they perceived as his "political crimes" but that they would consider a pardon in return for the release of 13 members of the organisation, including the founder, Renato Curcio, who were on trial in Turin.

However, the state's position was that it would not negotiate with terrorists, despite personal pleas from Moro himself.  Numerous attempts to locate his place of imprisonment were unsuccessful.

The authorities ultimately identified 10 individuals involved in the kidnapping, eight of whom were arrested.

The motives for the kidnapping appeared to be linked to Moro's role as a negotiator between the Christian Democrats and the Italian Communist Party - the PCI - who at the time were gaining considerable support in Italy as a left-wing group who supported democracy and parliament.  Moro was an advocate of the so-called 'historic compromise' between the two ideologically-opposed groups.

The memorial to Aldo Moro in Via Caetani
(Photo: Torvindus (CC BY-SA 3.0)
The PCI had condemned the Red Brigades for their violent tactics and revolutionary aims and in turn the Red Brigades had accused the PCI of allowing themselves to be manipulated by the right.

On the day of the kidnap, the Chamber of Deputies had been due to vote on an alliance between the Christian Democrats and the PCI, brokered by Moro in what became known as the 'historic compromise', that would have given the Communists a direct role in Italy's government for the first time.

The Red Brigades are said to have wanted this process to be derailed and if this was their objective they succeeded. A vote of confidence in Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti's right-wing coalition government went ahead as planned later in the day and Andreotti won with a large majority, with even members of the PCI voting with him in the interests of national security and stability.

Yet although there were four subsequent trials relating to the Moro murder and 38 years have passed, conspiracy theories still circulate that forces other than the terrorist group were involved.

Given that the kidnap took place with the Cold War between east and west still a long way from resolution, the most popular theories link his death with American opposition to the involvement of the PCI in any Italian government, preferring Italy to retain its position as a bulwark between western Europe and the Eastern Bloc which it bordered.

Others suspect the involvement of the subsequently outlawed Masonic lodge Propaganda Due, which had among its members many politicians, industrialists, prominent journalists and military leaders who saw the Italian communists as a threat.

Travel tip:

Visitors to Rome can pay their respects to Aldo Moro at a modest monument in Via Michelangelo Caetani, close to the place his body was discovered.  There is a plaque and a bronze bas-relief portrait on a wall opposite the Palazzo Caetani.  The street can be found in central Rome a short walk from the Largo di Torre Argentina, scene of the death of Julius Caesar on 15 March 44BC. A plaque in Via Mario Fani remembers the five policeman killed in the kidnap.

Piazza Aldo Moro in Lecce
Photo: Lupiae (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Travel tip:

Aldo Moro was born in the far south of Italy in Maglie, an inland town of just under 15,000 inhabitants in Apulia, in the Province of Lecce. The historic city of Lecce, famous for its baroque architecture, is 25 kilometres to the north.  Moro has been honoured with the naming of a square, the Piazza Aldo Moro, in the centre of the town.

More reading:

Why Socialist politician Bettino Craxi opposed Aldo Moro's 'historic compromise'

How the Moro tragedy cast a shadow over the political career of president Francesco Cossiga

Enrico Berlinguer - the leader who turned Italy's Communists into a political force

Also on this day:

1886: The birth of athlete Emilio Lunghi, Italy's first Olympic medal winner

1940: The birth of controversial film director Bernardo Bertolucci