11 October 2022

11 October

Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte – adventurer

Colourful life of Italian-born prince

Prince Pierre-Napoleon Bonaparte, a nephew of the Emperor Napoleon, was born on this day in 1815 in Rome.  He was to become notorious for shooting dead a journalist after his family was criticised in a newspaper article.  Bonaparte was the son of Napoleon’s brother, Lucien, and his second wife, Alexandrine de Bleschamp. He grew up with his nine siblings on the family estate at Canino, about 40 kilometres north of Rome.  The young Bonaparte helped to keep bandits at bay, spending a lot of time with the local shepherds who were armed and had dogs to protect them.  He set out on a career of adventure, joining bands of insurgents in the Romagna region as a teenager.  In 1831 he spent time in prison for a minor offence and was banished from the Papal States.  He went to the United States to join his uncle, Joseph Bonaparte, in New Jersey. He spent some time in New York before going to serve in the army of the President of Columbia. At the age of 17 he became the President’s aide and was given the rank of Commander.  Bonaparte returned to the family estate at Canino where he enjoyed hunting with his brothers.  Read more…


Cesare Andrea Bixio - composer and lyricist

Pioneer of Italian film music left catalogue of classic songs

Cesare Andrea Bixio, the composer behind such classic Italian songs as Vivere, Mamma, La mia canzone al vento and Parlami d'amore Mariù, was born in Naples on this day in 1896.  Bixio enjoyed many years of popularity during which his compositions were performed by some of Italy's finest voices, including Beniamino Gigli, Tito Schipa and Carlo Buti, and later became staples for Giuseppe Di Stefano and Luciano Pavarotti.  He was also a pioneer of film soundtrack music, having been invited to compose a score for the first Italian movie with sound, La Canzone dell'Amore, in 1930. As well as writing more than 1,000 songs in his career, Bixio penned the soundtracks for more than 60 films.  Bixio's father, Carlo, was an engineer from Genoa; his grandfather was General Nino Bixio, a prominent military figure in the drive for Italian Unification and one of the organisers of Garibaldi's Expedition of the Thousand.  Carlo, who died when Cesare was only six years old, married a Neapolitan, Anna Vilone, who wanted him to pursue a career in engineering, like his father. However, after developing an interest in music at an early age he had other ideas.  Read more…


Anita Cerquetti – soprano

Performer with a powerful voice had brief moment in the spotlight

Anita Cerquetti, the singer whose remarkable voice received widespread praise when she stood in for a temperamental Maria Callas in Rome, died on this day in 2014 in Perugia.  Cerquetti had been singing the title role in Vincenzo Bellini’s Norma at Teatro San Carlo in Naples in 1958 when Callas, who had been singing the same part in Rome, walked out after the first act on the opening night.  Despite Callas claiming that her voice was troubling her, the incident, in front of Italian President Giovanni Gronchi, created a major scandal.  Fortunately the performances in Rome and Naples were on alternate days and so for several weeks Cerquetti travelled back and forth between the two opera houses, which were 225km (140 miles) apart. The achievement left her exhausted and three years later she retired from singing and her magnificent voice was heard no more.  Cerquetti was born in Montecosaro near Macerata in the Marche. She studied the violin, but after a music professor heard her singing at a wedding she was persuaded to switch to vocal studies. After just one year she made her debut singing Aida in Spoleto in 1951.  Read more…


10 October 2022

10 October

Stefano Magaddino - mafioso

Longest-ruling Mafia boss in US history

Stefano Magaddino, the Sicilian mafioso who went on to enjoy the longest period of power enjoyed by any crime boss in the history of the American Mafia, was born on this day in 1891 in Castellammare del Golfo.  Known as ‘The Undertaker’ or ‘Don Stefano’, Magaddino controlled a crime empire radiating outwards from Buffalo, on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State.  Geographically, it was a vast area, stretching from the eastern fringe of  New York State to its western outposts in Ohio and extending north-east almost as far as Montreal in Canada, its tentacles reaching across the Canadian border from Buffalo even into Toronto.  One of the original members of The Commission, the committee of seven crime bosses set up in 1931 to control Mafia activity across the whole of the United States, Magaddino was head of the Buffalo Family for more than half a century.  He died in 1974 at the age of 82, having survived all the other Commission members, including the founder Charles ‘Lucky’ Luciano and Chicago boss Al Capone, with the exception of his cousin from Castellammare, Joseph Bonanno, who along with Luciano, headed one of the Five Families of the New York underworld.  Read more…


Andrea Zanzotto - poet

Writer drew inspiration from landscapes of Veneto

Andrea Zanzotto, who was regarded as one of Italy’s greatest 20th century poets, was born on this day in 1921 in Pieve di Soligo, the village near Treviso where he lived almost all of his life.  Zanzotto, who spent 40 years as a secondary school teacher, wrote 15 books of poetry, two prose works, two volumes of critical articles and translations of French philosophers such as Michaux, Leiris and Bataille.  His first book of poetry, Dietro il paesaggio (1951), won a literary award judged by several noteworthy Italian poets. Critics reserved their greatest acclaim for his sixth volume, La beltà (1968), in which he questioned the ability of words to reflect truth.  Zanzotto, whose verse was consistently erudite and creative, was known for his innovative engagement with language and his fascination with the rugged landscapes of the Veneto, from which he drew inspiration and provided him with much symbolism.  His upbringing was difficult at times because his father, Giovanni Zanzotto, a painter who has trained at the Bologna Academy of Fine Arts, was a committed supporter of the Socialist politician Giacomo Matteotti, who was murdered by Fascist thugs in 1924 a few days after accusing Mussolini’s party of electoral fraud.  Read more…


Daniele Comboni – Saint

Missionary who worked miracles after his death

The Feast Day - festa - of Saint Daniel Comboni - San Daniele - is held on this day every year in Italy.  Saint Daniel, who was a Roman Catholic missionary to Africa, died on this day at the age of 50 in 1881 in Khartoum in Sudan. He was canonised in 2003 by Pope John Paul II in recognition of two miracle cures claimed to have been brought about by his intercession.  Comboni was born in 1831 at Limone sul Garda in the province of Brescia in Lombardy in northern Italy.  His parents were poor and he was the only one of their eight children to live to become an adult.  Comboni was sent away to school in Verona and after completing his studies prepared to become a priest.  He met and was profoundly influenced by missionaries who had come back from Central Africa and three years after his ordination set off with five other priests to continue their work.  After they reached Khartoum some of his fellow missionaries became ill and died because of the climate, sickness and poverty they encountered, but Comboni remained determined to continue with his mission.  On his return to Italy, while praying for guidance at the tomb of Saint Peter in Rome, Comboni came up with the idea of a missionary project to save Africa.  Read more…


9 October 2022

9 October

- Stefanina Moro – partisan

Amazing courage of a young girl who protected her compatriots

Brave teenager Stefanina Moro, who served as a partisan during World War II, died on this day in 1944 in Asti as a result of injuries inflicted upon her by Nazis, who caught her and tortured her for information.  Stefanina, who was born in Genoa in 1927, is thought to have been between 16 and 17 years old when she died of her wounds in a hospital in Asti.  After growing up in the Quezzi district in Genoa, Stefanina became a partisan and later served as una staffetta - a courier - responsible for maintaining communications between groups of partisans to help the Italian resistance movement during the war of Italian liberation.  Sadly, in 1944, Stefanina was captured by Nazis and taken to the Casa del Fascio - the local Fascist party headquarters - in Cornigliano, about seven kilometres (4 miles) west of Genoa, to be interrogated. Stefanina was then moved to the Casa dello Studente in Corso Gastaldi, a former university building that was being occupied by the Nazis and had been turned into a prison.  Prisoners were routinely tortured there under the command of an SS officer, Friedrich Engel, who would come to be known as the ‘Executioner of Genoa’ or the ‘Butcher of Genoa.’  Read more…


Agostina Segatori – artist’s model and restaurateur

Van Gogh paid Italian café owner with works of art in exchange for meals

Agostina Segatori, whose Italian looks inspired many of the top French painters in the 19th century, was born on this day in 1841 in Ancona, a seaport city in the region of Le Marche.  Little is known about Agostina’s early life, but she had moved to Paris before she was 20, because she posed for Edouard Manet’s painting, L’Italienne there in 1860.  Over the next three decades she was to model for Edouard Joseph Dantan, Jean-Baptiste Corot, Jean-Leon Gerome, Eugene Delacroix and Vincent van Gogh. Agostina had a relationship with Edoard Joseph Dantan that lasted 12 years. Dantan is reputed to have referred to her as Madame Segatori-Morière, which implied she was married to a Monsieur Morière. She had an illegitimate son, Jean-Pierre, with Dantan. Their relationship was stormy and ended in 1884.  Despite having a failed relationship and becoming a single mother, Agostina continued to work as an artist’s model and carefully saved the money she earned.  In 1885 she invested her savings in a café with an Italian theme, the Café du Tambourin. It became a hotspot for artists, writers and critics.  Read more…


Fra’ Filippo Lippi - Renaissance painter

Mentor of Botticelli who led life of scandal

The controversial 15th century painter Fra’ Filippo Lippi, who famously eloped with a nun who had agreed to pose for him at a Dominican monastery in Prato, died on or close to this day in 1469 in Spoleto, a city in Umbria then part of the Papal States.  He was aged 62 or 63. Because of the scandalous nature of his life, there was speculation after his death that he had been poisoned, possibly by relatives of Lucrezia Buti, the nun who fell for his charms and was the mother of two children by him.  Aside from his colourful private life, Lippi was an important figure in the development of painting.  Himself influenced by Masaccio and Fra’ Angelico, he developed a signature style of his own that was colourful and decorative and characterised by clarity of expression.  His own influence was seen in the works of his pupil Sandro Botticelli and his son, Filippino Lippi.  Born in Florence in 1406, the son of a butcher, Lippi was orphaned when he was two years old. Until he was eight, he lived with an aunt, who then placed him in a Carmelite convent. In 1420 he entered the community of friars at the Monastery of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence.  Read more…


Vajont Dam Disaster

Catastrophic flood may have killed 2,500

Prone to earthquakes because of its unfortunate geology, Italy has suffered many natural disasters over the centuries, yet the horrific catastrophe that took place on this day 58 years ago in an Alpine valley about 100km north of Venice, killing perhaps as many as 2,500 people, was to a significant extent man-made.  The Vajont Dam Disaster of October 9, 1963 happened when a section of a mountain straddling the border of the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions in the Friulian Dolomites collapsed in a massive landslide, dumping 260 million cubic metres of forest, earth and rock into a deep, narrow reservoir created to generate hydroelectric power for Italy's industrial northern cities.  The chunk of Monte Toc that came away after days of heavy rain was the size of a small town yet within moments it was moving towards the water at 100km per hour (62mph) and hit the surface of the reservoir in less than a minute.  The effect was almost unimaginable.  Within seconds, 50 million cubic metres of water was displaced, creating a tsunami that rose to 250m high.  The dam held, but the colossal volume of water had nowhere to go.  Read more…


Gabriele Falloppio – anatomist and physician

Professor made key discoveries about human reproduction   

Gabriele Falloppio, one of the most important physicians and anatomists of the 16th century, died on this day in 1562 in Padua.  Often known by his Latin name Fallopius, he lived only 39 years yet made his mark with a series of discoveries that expanded medical knowledge significantly.  He worked mainly on the anatomy of the head and the reproductive organs in both sexes and is best known for identifying the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus, which are known even today as Fallopian tubes.  He also discovered several major nerves of the head and face, and identified many of the components of the hearing and balance systems.  Falloppio described all of the findings of his research in a book published a year before he died, entitled Observationes anatomicae.  Educated initially in the classics, the death of his father plunged his family – noble but not wealthy – into financial difficulties, prompting him to pursue the security of a career in the church, becoming a priest in 1542. He served as a canon at the cathedral in his native Modena.  Falloppio retained an ambition to study medicine, however, and when the family’s finances had improved sufficiently he enrolled at the University of Ferrara.  Read more…


Salimbene di Adam – historian

Friar's records provided important information on history of Italy

Salimbene di Adam, a Franciscan friar, whose yearly chronicles became a valued source for historians, was born on this day in 1221 in Parma in Emilia-Romagna.  Sometimes also referred to as Salimbene di Parma, he was the son of Guido di Adam, a wealthy Parma citizen. Salimbene entered the Franciscan Order in 1238 and served his novitiate in the Monastery of Fano on the Adriatic coast.  As Fra Salimbene, he led a wandering existence and never held any office in his order. He transferred from one monastery to another, meeting notable people and becoming an eyewitness to historic events.  In the 1240s he travelled to Lucca, Pisa and Cremona, and also visited France.  On his return to Italy in 1248 he went to Ferrarra where he stayed for several years. But he then went on his travels again, staying in Franciscan convents in northern Italy.  Fra Salimbene began to write his Chronicles (Cronica) in 1282 and continued to work on them until his death.  Organised as yearly records, the Chronicles cover the years 1168 to 1288 starting with the founding of the city of Alessandria to the south of Milan by the Lombard league.  Read more…



Stefanina Moro – partisan

Amazing courage of a young girl who protected her compatriots

Stefanina was a courier who helped groups of partisans to communicate
Stefanina was a courier who helped
groups of partisans to communicate
Brave teenager Stefanina Moro, who served as a partisan during World War II, died on this day in 1944 in Asti as a result of injuries inflicted upon her by Nazis, who caught her and tortured her for information.

Stefanina, who was born in Genoa in 1927, is thought to have been between 16 and 17 years old when she died of her wounds in a hospital in Asti.

After growing up in the Quezzi district in Genoa, Stefanina became a partisan and later served as una staffetta - a courier - responsible for maintaining communications between groups of partisans to help the Italian resistance movement during the war of Italian liberation.

Sadly, in 1944, Stefanina was captured by Nazis and taken to the Casa del Fascio - the local Fascist party headquarters - in Cornigliano, about seven kilometres (4 miles) west of Genoa, to be interrogated. Stefanina was then moved to the Casa dello Studente in Corso Gastaldi, a former university building that was being occupied by the Nazis and had been turned into a prison.

Prisoners were routinely tortured there under the command of an SS officer, Friedrich Engel, who would come to be known as the ‘Executioner of Genoa’ or the ‘Butcher of Genoa.’ To try to make Stefanina reveal the names of her fellow partisans, the Nazis tortured her for several days, but their attempts were unsuccessful and she would not speak and never gave anyone away.

SS commander Friedrich Engel ordered the torture of partisans
SS commander Friedrich Engel
ordered the torture of partisans
After her ordeal, she was taken to a hospital in Asti in the Piedmont region, where she died on 9 October as a result of her wounds. It is believed she had not yet reached her 17th birthday.

Stefanina’s name is inscribed on a memorial to all those from the Quezzi district of Genoa, who had died while opposing the Nazi occupation of the city. The dedication on the memorial reads: ‘Non caddero invano ma per la libertà. Il comitato di Liberazione Nazionale Liguria agli eroici caduti del rione di Quezzi. (They did not fall in vain but for freedom. The National Liberation Committee of Liguria to the heroic fallen of the Quezzi district.)

The city of Genoa also named a street in Stefanina’s honour. In Via Stefanina Moro, there is a plaque that says: Via Stefanina Moro – Caduta per la libertà – 1927 – 9/10/1944.

In April 2020 on the 75th anniversary of Italy’s liberation, Sandra Zampa, under secretary at the Ministry of Health in the Giuseppe Conte administration, gave an address honouring the women of the Italian resistance, naming Stefanina Moro alongside other women partisans, such as Nilde Iotti and Irma Bandiera.

Friedrich Engel, under whose command Stefanina’s torture took place, was convicted in absentia of 246 murders by an Italian military court in 1999, for his role in the 1944 executions of Italian prisoners.

A street in the Genoa district of Quezzi,  where Stefania was born, carries her name
A street in the Genoa district of Quezzi, 
where Stefania was born, carries her name
He was then brought before a court in Hamburg in 2002 and tried and convicted on 59 counts of murder. He was sentenced to seven years in prison but because he was by then 95 years old, he was given a stay of that ruling and was able to leave court a free man.

In 2004, Germany’s highest court, the Bundesgerichtshof, overturned the previous ruling on the grounds that, despite acknowledging that Engel ordered the executions, the case of criminal murder had not been proven. The court would not permit a new trial because of Engel’s age and state of health.

Engel died at the age of 97 in February 2006 in Hamburg, more than 60 years after he ordered the torture that led to the death of Stefanina Moro.

The Doge's Palace in Genoa is one of the city's many splendid 16th century palaces
The Doge's Palace in Genoa is one of the city's
many splendid 16th century palaces
Travel tip:

Genoa, where Stefanina Moro was born and brought up, is the capital city of Liguria and the sixth largest city in Italy. It has earned the nickname of La Superba because of its proud history as a major port. Part of the old town was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2006 because of the wealth of beautiful 16th century palaces there, many of which have been restored to their original splendour.  The Doge's Palace, the 16th century Royal Palace and the Romanesque-Renaissance style San Lorenzo Cathedral are just three examples.  The area around the restored harbour area offers a maze of fascinating alleys and squares.

The Ascensore di Quezzi climbs 249 feet to link two parts of the hillside district
The Ascensore di Quezzi climbs 249 feet
to link two parts of the hillside district
Travel tip:

The street named after Stefanina, Via Stefanina Moro, is in the Quezzi district of Genoa, where the heroic girl was born. Quezzi, a residential area with many high rise buildings, sits high above the port. Built on a hillside, it has many steep streets. Since 2015, residents and visitors have been able to use the Ascensore di Quezzi - the Quezzi Lift - a kind of cross between a conventional lift and a cable car, which links the lower part of the district at Via Pinetti with the upper part at Via Fontanarossa, 76 metres (249 feet) above, in exactly 100 seconds. The 131m (430ft) journey is in two sections, one with a gradient of 44%, the other with a gradient of 30%. The lift’s single car, which carries a maximum of 25 passengers, tilts at the moment the gradient changes so that its floor remains level.

Also on this day:

1221: The birth of historian Salimbene di Adam

1469: The death of Renaissance painter Fra’ Filippo Lippi

1562: The birth of anatomist and physician Gabriele Falloppio

1841: The birth of Paris art café owner Agostina Segatori

1963: The Vajont Dam Disaster


8 October 2022

8 October

16th century singer who helped create opera genre

The singer and composer Giulio Caccini, who was a key figure in the advance of Baroque style in music and wrote musical dramas that would now be recognised as opera, was born on this day in 1551.  The father of the composer Francesca Caccini and the singer Settimia Caccini, he served for some years at the court of the Medici family in Florence, by whom he was also employed, as a somewhat unusual sideline, as a spy.  Caccini wrote the music for three operas and published two collections of songs and madrigals.  His songs for solo voice accompanied by one musical instrument gained him particular fame and he is remembered now for one particular song, a madrigal entitled Amarilli, mia bella, which is often sung by voice students.  Caccini is thought to have been born in Tivoli, just outside Rome, the son of a carpenter, Michelangelo Caccini, from Montopoli, near Pisa.  His younger brother, Giovanni, became a sculptor and architect in Florence.  He developed his voice as a boy soprano in the prestigious Cappella Giulia at St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, studying under maestro di cappella Giovanni Animuccia.   Read more…


Vincenzo Peruggia – art thief

Gallery worker who stole the Mona Lisa

Vincenzo Peruggia, a handyman who earned notoriety when he pulled off the most famous art theft in history, was born on this day in 1881 in Dumenza in Lombardy, a village on the Swiss border.  Peruggia stole Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa from the Louvre in Paris and evaded detection for more than two years, even though he was questioned by police over the painting’s disappearance.  It was only when he attempted to sell the iconic painting - thought to be of Lisa del Giocondo, the wife of a cloth and silk merchant - to an art dealer in Florence that he was arrested.  Experts accept that, although the Mona Lisa - sometimes known in Italy as La Gioconda - was a notable work, it is open to debate whether it was the best of all the magnificent pieces created by the Tuscan Renaissance genius, whose other masterpieces included The Last Supper and The Virgin of the Rocks and other outstanding portraits, such as The Lady with an Ermine.  Yet it is without question the most famous painting in the world and enjoys that status largely because of Peruggia’s audacious crime.  The theft took place on August 21, 1911, a Monday morning, when Peruggia removed the painting from the wall of the Salon Carré in the Musée du Louvre on the Right Bank of the Seine.  Read more…


Antonio Cabrini - World Cup winner

Star of 1982 part of formidable Juventus team

World Cup winner and former Juventus defender Antonio Cabrini was born on this day in 1957 in Cremona.  Cabrini, who was coach of the Italy women’s football team for five years until 2017, took his first steps in professional football with his local team, Cremonese, and moved from there to Atalanta of Bergamo, but it was with the Turin club Juventus that he made his mark, forming part of a formidable defence that included goalkeeper Dino Zoff plus the centre-back Claudio Gentile and the sweeper Gaetano Scirea.  During Cabrini's 13 seasons in Turin, the Bianconeri won the Serie A title six times, as well as the 1985 European Cup, plus the Coppa Italia twice, the UEFA Cup and the European Super Cup, and the Intercontinental Cup.  Milan's Paolo Maldini tends to be recognised as the greatest defensive player produced by Italy but Cabrini's abilities put him only just behind.  Known by his fans as Bell'Antonio for his good looks and the elegance of his football, Cabrini's game possessed all the qualities required of a left-back.  His positional sense and speed of thought served him well in defensive duties and he was also exceptional going forward.  Read more…

EN - 728x90


7 October 2022

7 October

Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta - condottiero

Brutal tyrant or sensitive patron of the arts?

One of the most daring military leaders in 15th century Italy, Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta, died on this day in 1468 in Rimini.  He had been Lord of Rimini, Fano and Cesena since 1432 and is remembered as a generous patron of the arts during his rule.  Sigismondo commissioned the architect Leon Battista Alberti to build the most famous monument in Rimini, the Church of San Francesco, which is also known as the Tempio Malatestiano, and he welcomed artists and writers to his court.  But partly as a result of a systematic campaign of defamation by his enemy, Pope Pius II, some historians have ascribed a reputation for brutality to him.  Sigismondo was one of three illegitimate sons of Pandolfo Malatesta, who had ruled over Brescia and Bergamo between 1404 and 1421.  At the age of ten, after the death of his father, Sigismondo went to Rimini with his brothers to the court of his uncle, Carlo Malatesta. His birth was later legitimised by Pope Martin V.  After Carlo’s death, Sigismondo’s older brother inherited the Lordship of Rimini, but after two years he abandoned it to go into a monastery and handed over power to Sigismondo.  Read more…


Rosalba Carriera - portrait painter

Venetian artist specialised in miniatures

One of the most successful women painters in the history of art, Rosalba Carriera is thought to have been born on this day in 1675 in Venice.  A pioneer of the Rococo style, she worked in pastel colours and was best known for her portraits. Her work was so admired that at her peak she had an almost constant stream of commissions from notable visitors to Venice, and from diplomats and nobility in the courts of other countries, principally France and Austria.  Born into a middle-class background, she was able to live a relatively comfortable life, although she would outlive her family, including her two sisters, and had gone blind by the time she died, at the age of 84.  Nowadays, Carriera’s portraits are as highly sought after as they were in the 18th century, with prices in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds realised when examples come up for auction.  One of the finest such examples, a portrait of the Irish politician Gustavus Hamilton, who was a colonel in the regiment of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne, fetched £421,250 at Christie’s in 2008.  The daughter of a clerk and a lacemaker, Carriera is said to have learned lacemaking from her mother but as the lace industry declined she began decorating snuff boxes with miniature portraits, to be sold to tourists.  Read more…


Gabriele Corcos - celebrity cook

YouTube recipe blog led to TV fame in US

The TV cook and author Gabriele Corcos, whose show Extra Virgin on the Cooking Channel has given him celebrity status in the United States, was born on this day in 1972 in Fiesole, a town in the Tuscan hills just outside Florence.  He was invited to produce and host the show - the first original cookery programme to go out on the network when it launched in 2010 - after his YouTube channel, in which he prepared traditional Tuscan dishes, attracted a large following of devoted fans.  The Cooking Channel show was so successful it ran for five seasons, with 68 episodes, spawning a best-selling book of Tuscan recipes and a further show, Extra Virgin Americana, in which he starred with his wife, the actress Debi Mazar.  Corcos became a star of the kitchen without ever intending it to be his career.  His parents - his father was a surgeon, his mother a schoolteacher - wanted him to achieve his academic potential, while he was eager to find paid employment. He found a compromise by joining the army with the intention of qualifying as a medic, only to realise that the reward for graduating was to be posted to Kosovo, Somalia or Iraq.  Read more…


Saint Giustina of Padua

Murdered by Romans in last major purge of Christians

On the Italian catholic calendar, today is the feast day of Santa Giustina of Padua, celebrating the memory of a young woman executed on this day in 304 in the city of Padua.  Little is known about the life of Giustina apart from her faith. Born into a noble family in Padua, she took a vow of chastity and devoted her life to God and teaching the values of Christianity.  She died as a victim of the purge of Christians undertaken by the Roman Emperor Diocletian.  Persecution of Christians by the Romans was nothing new. Christians were regarded with suspicion and seen as subversive at times. When misfortune struck the Roman Empire they were often blamed. Feeding Christians to lions was once seen as entertainment.  Even as Christianity grew and attitudes softened, there were still emperors from time to time who decided to take a hard line.  One was Diocletian, who had come to power in 284.  Following an edict that rescinded all legal rights for Christians and compelled Christians to sacrifice to Roman gods or face imprisonment or execution, Diocletian launched what became known as the Diocletian Persecution.  Read more…


6 October 2022

6 October

- The October Martyrs of Lanciano

Heroic group of partisans earned Gold Medal for Valour

The town of Lanciano in Abruzzo today and every October 6 remembers the 23 citizens killed by German troops on this day in 1943 after one of the most celebrated revolts of World War Two against the occupying Nazi forces.  The group became known as the Martiri ottobrini di Lanciano - the October Martyrs of Lanciano. Their deeds were recognised by the postwar Italian government with the award - to all the citizens of the town - of the Gold Medal for Military Valour, and there are a number of monuments in the town that commemorate the event and the participants.  As well as 11 partisan resistance fighters, another 12 Lancianese who fought alongside them were killed by the Germans. The leader of the partigiani group, a 28-year-old former soldier named Trentino La Barba, was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for Valour in his own right. Three others were honoured with Silver Medals.  Lanciano - 22km (14 miles) southeast of the city of Chieti and about 30km (19 miles) from the coastal resort of Pescara - had the misfortune to be one of the key municipalities close to the Gustav Line, one of the major defensive lines established by the Germans to counter the Allied invasion of the Italian peninsula.  Read more…


Ottavio Bianchi - football coach

The northerner who steered Napoli to first scudetto

Ottavio Bianchi, the coach who guided Napoli to their first Serie A title in the Italian football championship, was born on this day in 1943 in the northern Italian city of Brescia.  Napoli, who had been runners-up four times in Italy's elite league, broke their duck by winning the scudetto in the 1986-87 season, when Bianchi built his side around the forward line consisting initially of the World Cup-winning Argentina star Diego Maradona, the Italy strikers Bruno Giordano and Andrea Carnevale.  After the arrival of the Brazilian forward Careca to partner Maradona and Giordano, the trio became collectively known as MaGiCa.  Bianchi’s team began the 1986-87 season with a 13-match unbeaten run. It came to an end with an away defeat against Fiorentina but Napoli lost only two more matches all season, winning the title by three points from Juventus to spark wild celebrations in Naples.  It is a reflection of how defensively-minded Italian football coaches were at the time that Napoli won the title despite scoring only 41 goals in 30 matches, with Maradona (10) the only individual player to reach double figures.  Read more…


Maria Bertilla Boscardin – wartime nurse

Brave nun was prepared to die caring for others

Maria Bertilla Boscardin, a nun who was canonised for her devoted nursing of sick children and air raid victims in the First World War, was born on this day in 1888 in Brendola, a small town in the Veneto.  She was beatified by Pope Pius XII in 1952, just 30 years after she died, and made a saint by Pope John XXIII nine years later.  It was one of the quicker canonisations of modern history. Sometimes many decades or even hundreds of years pass before a person’s life is recognised with sainthood.  Boscardin’s came so swiftly that relatives and some of the patients she cared for were present at her canonisation ceremony. Indeed, her father, Angelo, was asked to provide testimony during the beatification process.  Born into a peasant family, who knew her as Annette, her life in Brendola, which is about 15km (9 miles) southwest of Vicenza, was tough.  She was seen as rather a slow-witted child, mocked by her peers and unkindly nicknamed ‘the goose’ even by the local priest. Her father, a drunkard, was often abusive and violent.  She wanted to become educated but her attendance at school was at times only sporadic because her family required her to work.  Read more…


Bruno Sammartino - wrestling champion

How a sickly kid from Abruzzo became king of the ring

Bruno Sammartino, who found fame as a professional wrestler in the United States, was born on this day in 1935 in Pizzoferrato, a village in the province of Chieti in the Abruzzo region.  He died in 2018 at the age of 82, having spent the last years of his life in Ross Township in Pennsylvania, about six miles north of the city of Pittsburgh.  Sammartino held the title of world heavyweight champion under the banner of the World Wide Wrestling Federation - now known as World Wrestling Entertainment - for more than 11 years in two reigns. The first of those, spanning seven years, eight months and one day, is the longest any individual has held the title continuously since it was first contested in 1963.  At his peak in the ring, Sammartino weighed in at 265lbs (120kg), yet it was something of a miracle that he survived his childhood.  Sammartino grew up in a mountainous region of Abruzzo now known as the Majella (or Maiella) National Park, still populated by bears, wolves and wild cats.  Life was tough, especially during the harsh winter months. He was the youngest of seven brothers and sisters, four of whom did not make it into adulthood.  Read more…