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CHAPTER XXIV MONTEFIASCONE AND BOLSENA
A carriage Irom Vlterbo to Honteflaseone costs eight lire with one horse, and the drive is beautiful—Albergo, Aquila Nera, near the Gate.
IT is an interesting drive across the Etruscan plain from Viterbo to Monteflascone. On the left of the road, five miles from Viterbo, are the ruins called Le Casacce del Bacucco, consisting of baths and other buildings of imperial date. The largest ruin is now popularly called La Lettighetta, or the litter. Considerably to the east of this, stranded in the wide plain, are the ruins still called Ferento, of the Etruscan city Ferentinum, which Horace perhaps alludes to (?) when he says:—
'Si te grata quies et primam somnus in horam
—Epist. i. 17.
From this it appears to have been a quiet country town, but Suetonius speaks of it as the birth-place of the Emperor Otho, and Tacitus as the site of a temple of Fortune. It continued to exist in mediaeval times, and was the site of an episcopal see, but was utterly destroyed in the eleventh century (A.D. 1014) by the people of Viterbo, because its citizens had committed the heresy of representing the figure of Christ upon the cross with the eyes open (as they are in Byzantine frescoes), instead of closed.
In the area of the town, mediaeval remains are mingled with early Roman foundations and polygonal blocks of basaltic pavement. The principal ruin is the Theatre, which is finely placed on the edge of a ravine. It has seven entrances, and the stage-front is a hundred and thirty-six feet in length, built of rectangular blocks without cement.
'Fereutum, though small, and probably at no time of political importance, was celebrated for the beauty of its public monuments. Vitruvius cites them as exhibiting "the infinite virtues" of a stone hewn from certain quarries, called " Anitianae," in the territory of Tarquinii, and especially in the neighbourhood of the Volsinian Lake. This stone, he says, was similar to that of the Alban Mount in colour, i.e. it was grey like peperino; it was proof alike against the severity of frost and the action of fire, and of extreme hardness and durability, as might be seen from the monuments of Ferentum, which were made of it. "For there are noble statues of wonderful workmanship, and likewise figures of smaller size, together with foliage and acanthi, delicately carved, which, albeit they be ancient, appear as fresh as It they were but just now finished." The brass founders, he adds, find this stone most useful for moulds. "Were these quarries near the city, it would be well to construct everything of this atone." Pliny speaks of this stone in the same laudatory terms, but calls it a white silex.'—Dennis, 'Cities of Etruria.'
About four miles east of Ferento, by a path difficult to find, is Vitorchiano (Vicus Orclanus), a village (910 ft.), on an Etruscan site, which still possesses the curious monopoly of supplying the servants of the Roman senators. It is said that this was granted when a native of the place successfully extracted a thorn from the foot of one of the emperors. Every forty years the principal families draw lots for their order of service, each sending one of its members, or selling the privilege at a price which is fixed by custom. "The validity of the privilege was put to the test some years since, and the Vitorchianesi came off with flying colours." The resemblance in the costume of the servants at the Capitol to our 'Beef-eaters,' as Dennis remarked, is considerable. It extends even to their hats. The Senate of Rome conceded this favour in consequence of the Vitorchianesi keeping faith with it during the siege of Viterbo. A great deal of linen is made by the women here. The railroad is reached at Grotte S. Stefano.
Still further east, twelve miles from Viterbo, by the direct road, is Bomarzo. Two miles from the modern village, which has an old castle of the Orsini (1525) with a museum, is Mugnano, the site of an Etruscan town, supposed to be Moeonia. There are few remains above-ground, but several interesting tombs. One with a single pillar in its centre, is known as the Grotta della Colonna. Near it is the Grotia Dipinta, decorated with very curious frescoes of dolphins and other monsters, some of them with semi-human faces. The temple-shaped sarcophagus, adorned with snakes, now in the British museum, was found in this tomb. In the Borghese Gallery in Rome is a bi-lingual (Greek and Etruscan) Tazzetta di Bomarzo.
As we continue along the road to Montefiascone, the town is exceedingly effective from a distance, cresting a hill, and crowned by the handsome dome of a cathedral, designed by San Michele and dedicated to S. Margaret. The hill, always celebrated for its wine, probably derives thence its name—fiascone signifying a large flask. Dennis considers that it occupies either the site of the Etruscan city Oenarea, or, more probably, that of the Fanum Voltumnae, the shrine where the princes of Etruria met in council to deliberate on the affairs of the confederation. No Etruscan remains, however, exist save a few caverned tombs, now turned into the hovels of the inhabitants,
'Well may this height have been chosen as the site of the national temple! It commands a magnificent and truly Etruscan panorama. The lake (of Bolsena) shines beneath in all its breadth and beauty—truly meriting the title of "the great lake of Italy " : and though the towers and palaces of Volsinii have long since ceased to sparkle on its bosom, it still mirrors the white cliffs of its twin islets, and the distant snow-peaks of Amiata and Cetona. In every
other direction is one "intermingled pomp of vale and hill." In the east rise the dark mountains of Umbiia; and the long line of mist at their foot marks the course of "the Etruscan stream "—
"The noble river That rolls by the towers of Rome."
The giant Apennines of Sabina loom afar off, dim through the hazy noon; and the nearer Ciminian, dark with its once'dread forests, stretches its triplecrested mass across the southern horizon. Fertile and populous was the country, numerous and potent the cities, that lay beneath the confederate princes as they sat here in council; and many an eye in the wide plain would turn hitherward as to the ark of national safety. The warriors gathering- at the sacred lake in defence of their children's homes and fathers' sepulchres, would look to the great goddess for succour, the augur on the distant arx of Tarquinii or Cosa, would turn to her shrine for a propitious omen—the husbandman would lift his eye from the furrow, and invoke her blessing. on his labours ; and the mariner on the bosom of the far-off Tyrrhene, would catch the white gleam of her temple, and breathe a prayer for safety and success.'— Dennis, 'Cities of Etruria.'
The principal sight of the place is the wonderful old Church of S. Flaviano, which dates from the eleventh century, but was restored by Urban IV. in 1262. It is inscribed:—
'Annis millienis currentibus atque tricenis
Cui Deus assistat, semper qui talibus instat,
The church is a most curious building, and highly picturesque outside, with a broad balconied loggia over a triple entrance. Within, it is one of the most remarkable churches in Italy, by no means 'subterranean,' as sometimes described, nor has it even a crypt, but the triforium is of such breadth that it almost forms a second church, and contains a second high-altar, and a bishop's throne, approached by staircases on either side of the high-altar which covers the remains of S. Flaviano in the lower church. The pillars are of enormous size, and with curious capitals sculptured with intricate patterns. Some of the side chapels are almost in ruins. The whole building was once covered with frescoes, which are now only visible where a whitewash coating has been removed. In a chapel on the left of the entrance they are more perfect, and exquisite specimens of Umbrian Art. The chief subject is the massacre of the Innocents; a beautiful head, probably of the unknown artist, is introduced in the frieze. In the centre of the ceiling is seen Christ surrounded by Angels.
An incised grave-stone (1493) before the high-altar representing a bishop with a goblet on either side of his head, is interesting as that of Bishop Johann Fugger, one of the financial family who burnt the pledges of the debts of Charles V., and lived in princely splendour in the old palace at Augsburg now known as the inn, 'Drei Mohren.' The bishop loved good wine beyond everything, and travelled over all distant lands in search of it. He was so afraid of the price rising on his advent, that he sent on his wine-taster before him, to sample the wine at the places he came to, and if he found it good to send back the word 'Est.' The valet came to Monte- fiascone and found the wine so absolutely enchanting that he wrote the sign three times—' Est, Est, Est' (like Bass's double XX). The bishop arrived and drank so much that he died, desiring with his last breath that a barrel of wine might annually be upset upon his grave, so that his body, after the manner of certain of the ancients, might still sop in the delicious fluid, and bequeathing a sum of money to Montefiascone on this condition. The bishop's wishes were carried out annually till 1813, but the price of the cask of wine is now applied to charity. On the bishop's sepulchral slab is the epitaph placed there by the valet.
'Est, Est, Est
It was in the castle of Montefiascone that (1370) the ecstatic S. Bridget of Sweden forced her way into the presence of Pope Urban V. and forbade him to leave Italy, threatening him with death if he disobeyed her.
From the ridge above Montefiascone we look down over the lonely lake of Bolsena, with which we have already made acquaintance from the top of Soracte. It is more than twenty-six miles round, and encircled by hills. Two rocky islets break the expanse of breezeless water; on the larger, Bisentina, stands an interesting church built by the Farnesi to commemorate the miraculous escape of S. Cristina from drowning: in the smaller island, Martana, may be seen the staircase which led to the bath where the Gothic Queen Amalasontha (daughter of Theodoric) was strangled by her cousin Theodatus. The lake is full of fish, especially eels: Pope Martin IV. died from eating too many of them:
'E quella faccia
Dal Torso fu, e purga per digiuno
'The lake is surrounded with white rocks, and stored with fish and wildfowl. The younger Pliny (Ep. xi. 95) celebrates two woody islands that floated on its waters : if a fable, how credulous the ancients! if a fact, how careless the moderns! yet, since Pliny, the islands may have been fixed by new and gradual accessions.'—Gibbon, v. 128.
As we approach Bolsena, situated on the Via Cassia, the valley is hemmed in to our right by curious basaltic rocks, formed by rows of columns closely imbedded together, as at the Giant's Causeway, and at Dunstanborough in Northumberland. Since railways have diverted the traffic, there has been only a very humble inn in the little walled town of Bolsena, the Stella, though artists may obtain lodgings there, or at the Alleanza. They will find plenty of fascinating work in its old streets, full of beautiful doorways, and charming subjects of vine-covered loggias before the old houses, with views of the blue lake beneath the twining branches.
Outside the northern gate is a sort of little piazza, round which are ranged some altars and capitals of columns, relics of the city of Volsinii, which the Romans built on the site of the earlier Etruscan city of Volsinium, celebrated in the pages of Livy. It was taken and destroyed by Fulvius Flaccus, B.C. 263. Sejanus, the treacherous favourite of Tiberius, was born at Volsinii, and the poet, Festus Avienus, A.d. 390 (?)
That which alone saves Bolsena now from sinking into utter insignificance, is the fame of S. Cristina, for though her legend is rejected by the authorities of the Church, her fame continues to be great through the whole of central Italy, and as the little town of Tiro, where she was born, on the shore of the lake, has been swallowed up by its waters, the pilgrimages in her honour are now devoted to Bolsena, where she is buried.
'Her legend, as given in the Perfetto Legendario, represents her as the daughter of Urbanus, a Roman patrician, and governor of the city. He was an idolater, but his daughter, who had been early converted to the faith of Christ, called herself therefore Cristina. "One day, as she stood at her window, she saw many poor and sick, who begged alms, and she had nothing to give them. But suddenly she remembered that her father had many idols of gold and silver; and, being filled with the holy zeal of piety and charity, she took these false gods and broke them in pieces, and divided them amongst the poor. When her father returned and beheld what had been done, no words could express his rage and fury! He ordered his servants to seize her and beat her with rods, and throw her into a dark dungeon: but the angels of heaven visited and comforted her, and healed her wounds. Then her father, seeing that torments did not prevail, ordered them to tie a mill-stone round her neck, and throw her into the lake of Bolsena; but the angels still watched over her ; they sustained the stone, so that she did not sink, but floated on the surface of the lake ; and the Lord, who beheld from heaven all that this glorious virgin had suffered for His sake, sent an angel to clothe her in a white garment, and to conduct her safe to land. Then her father, utterly astonished, struck his forehead and exclaimed, "What meaneth this witchcraft?" And he ordered that they should light a fiery furnace and throw her in; but she remained there five days unharmed, singing the praises of God. Then he ordered that her head should he shaved, and that she should be dragged to the temple of Apollo to sacrifice ; but no sooner had she looked upou the idol, than it fell down before her. When her father saw this his terror was so great that he gave up the ghost.
'" But the patrician Julian, who succeeded him as governor, was not less barbarous, for, hearing that Cristina in her prison sang perpetually the praises of God, he ordered her tongue to be cut out, but she only sang more sweetly than ever, and uttered her thanksgivings aloud, to the wonder of all who heard her. Then he shut her up in a dungeon with serpents and venomous reptiles; but they became in her presence harmless as doves. So, being wellnigh in despair, this perverse pagan caused her to be bound to a post, and ordered his soldiers to shoot her with arrows till she died. Thus she at