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St. Caesareus. History of the Patron Saint of Terracina

St. Caesareus. History of the Patron Saint of Terracina

With the beginning of the Triduum in all the parishes of the city, yesterday, Wednesday, 7th November, in Terracina opened the celebrations in honor of St. Caesareus that will end on Monday 12th November (civil feast).
A Spasso con Sara to discover the history of the Patron Saint of the city.


Who was Cesareo?

Of African origin, he was born in Carthage around 85 A.D. to a mercenary and a woman of the glorious Gens Iulia, the family clan of Julius Caesar. Caesareus, in fact, would mean “devoted to Caesar”.

When the family converted to Christianity, he devoted his life to the deaconage, the care of the poor and the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus. He left with some of his companions for Rome and sank in Terracina, where he would stop to dedicate himself to his religious mission.


St Cesareus and his companions are shipwrecked in Terracina (Credits: www.wikiwand.com).


Caesareus, witness of faith in Terracina

According to the tradition, every year in Terracina a magnificent young man sacrificed himself in Apollo. Dressed in shiny weapons, the poor man was forced to throw himself from the cliff of Pisco Montano riding a horse. Founder of this rite, a certain Firmino, a pagan priest driven by the spirit of evil.

Caesareus, having arrived in Terracina, witnessed such a practice and was arrested for having protested vivaciously against this custom. Eight days later, Lussurius, one of the city’s notables, led him to Leonzio, the Consularis Campaniae. After questioning him, he ordered Caesareus to deny his Christian faith and to sacrifice to Apollo. When he arrived in front of the temple, the pagan sanctuary collapsed and killed the priest Firmino. Caesareus was imprisoned again.

After another year in prison, Leontius recalled Caesareus and, struck by the divine glow of the deacon, converted to Christianity. Baptized and, having received the body and blood of Jesus Christ from the presbyter Julian, he died. Julian and Caesarean were captured and, after being closed in a sack, were thrown from the cliff of the Pisco Montano. The notable Lussurius, who had signed their condemnation, died after being bitten by a snake.


St. Caesareus. Fresco decorating the vault of the central nave of the Cathedral of Terracina dedicated to him (Credits: terracinablog.altervista.org).


Not only Caesareus. The Martyrdom of Eusebius and Felix

The bodies of the martyrs Caesareus and Julian, brought back to shore by the waves of the sea, were recovered by Eusebius who buried them in Agro Varano, a place in the Valley of Terracina. The monk, who remained praying at their tomb for five days, was joined by many Terracinese who, baptized by Felix, converted to Christianity.


Finding the body of St. Caesareus on the beach of Terracina (Credits: wikiwand.com).


The situation bothered, however, Leontius II, the son of the Roman consul converted by Caesareus. Desiring to take revenge for his father’s death, he had Felix and Eusebius arrested and, after having captured them, ordered them to sacrifice to the gods. Felix and Eusebius confirmed, however, their Christian faith and their bodies, after being beheaded, were thrown into the river. Carried by water, they arrived near La Pineta where Quarto, priest of Capua, found them together with their heads miraculously intact. After recovering the remains, he gave them an adequate burial.


San Cesareo alle Prebende, the first church of Terracina

Quarto buried Felix and Eusebius near Caesareus and Julian in an area of the Valley called “Le Prebende”, an integral part of a larger complex known as “agro Varano”. This name was used to indicate the lands of the Varii, or rather the possessions of a wealthy terracinese family which, having converted to Catholicism, offered its own house for the meetings of the Christian community and the celebration of the Eucharist.

The house of Varo, which initially housed the only remains of Caesareus and Julian, soon became a real church, known by the name of S. Maria ad Martyres. However, it was abandoned following the martyrdom of Felix and Eusebius, arrested in that place, while officiating the Christian rites.


Lugli reports that in 1879 some excavations were made between the church of Santa Maria ad Martyres and the road. The map, designed by Pio Capponi, shows some mosaics found randomly in a vineyard in the area (Credits: ACS, AA.BB.AA., I vers., Allegati, b.150).


This place of worship moved, then, at the bottom of the valley, in the pagus of St Silvianus, where the Christians, as well as a new church, also gave life to a cemetery of their own. The new sanctuary was called San Salvatore and the whole area in general was called Valley of the Saints. Contatore tells us that when the body of Silvianus was discovered, this sanctuary was called San Silviano, while that of Varo, from the Middle Ages was called San Cesareo alle Prebende.

The small church of San Cesareo alle Prebende was destroyed in 1892 by the owner of the land, but a column of white grooved marble was erected, surmounted by an iron cross that the local peasants called the Cross of S. Cesario to remember his burial place.

These events would therefore seem to confirm what has been said in other places: the first Christian places of worship in Terracina are born extra urbem, outside the town centre and, specifically, along the Appian Way and on the tombs of the first martyrs.



When was Saint Caesareus martyred?

The life and death of the patron saint of Terracina have been handed down from four different stories (passiones) that place the martyrdom of Caesareus in different historical periods.

The most discussed hypotheses are two.

One would place the story of the deacon of Terracina in the Trajan age (98-117 AD), since the saint appears in the Passio of Nereus and Achilleus, both killed under the empire of Trajan. Caesareus is remembered in this story as the one who buried the virgins Flavia Domitilla, Eufrosina and Teodora, martyred at the end of the first century AD.


The Emperor Trajan (Credits: capitolivm.it).


A second hypothesis is instead supported by Piero Longo who would move the martyrdom of Caesareus during the persecution of Decio and in the context of the Ludi Apollinares. Caesareus would have been sacrificed to Apollo in Terracina on July 13, 250 AD.


Caesareus is transferred to Rome

Soon, however, the remains of St. Caesareus took the road to Rome. It is said, in fact, that Galla Placidia was cured by the martyr of Terracina in his church of the Valley. The young woman, possessed by the devil, had been sent by her parents to the tomb of Sant’Isidoro, on the island of Chios, with the hope of a recovery. However, that trip was worthless. Back home, she arrived at Terracina, where Bishop Felix took her to the tomb of St. Caesareus. The deacon appeared to her in a dream and miraculously healed. After hearing the news, the emperor ordered the immediate transfer of the Saint’s remains to Rome and, with the assistance of Pope Damasus, between 375 and 379 A.D., they were placed in the Domus Augustana on the Palatine where the oratory of San Cesareo in Palatium was born.


Representation of Galla Placidia (Credits: chiamamicittà.it).


The relics of Terracina

The emperor, however, would have left some bones of the saint to the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres of Terracina. Later they were moved to the Cathedral where two reliquaries are kept. Placed under the protection of the parish priest, they are exposed to popular veneration during the feast of the patron saint.

The silver reliquary arm, would keep two bone portions of the forearm of the saint and is carried in procession during the festivities in his honor.

The urn-shaped reliquary in silver-plated brass, on the other hand, dates back to the 19th century and is attributed to local craftsmen. It contains, according to the most accredited opinion, two bones of the deacon’s forearm, although recent studies would recognize such fragments as the tibia or a tibia and the saint’s femur.


I reliquiari di San Cesareo a Terracina (Credits: www.wikiwand.com).


As we have seen, the story of St Caesareus does not present, in some cases, precise historical and chronological references. But we don’t care much because in the end Christianity is nothing other than to surrender completely to the faith of God and that of the martyrs and saints who were witnesses to his message of love.


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ART & CULTURE, 0 comments
All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

All Souls’ Day: November 2nd

On this day the Christian Church remembers all the deceased.
A Spasso con Sara at the origins of this commemoration.


The Church has always been linked to the memory of the dead. In the Christian vision of existence, man’s destiny does not end with death. At the end of earthly life, the soul reaches the vision of God and, at the end of time, after the Last Judgment, it will rejoin its mortal remains resurrected. The faithful, therefore, pray to their loved ones who are extinct to ask for their intercession with God and to join them and the elect after death.


Michelangelo. Sistine Chapel. The Last Judgment (Credits:ilpost.it).


Since the Middle Ages: Odilone of Cluny

The anniversary of November 2 has its roots in the tenth century, although already St. Augustine, between the fourth and fifth centuries AD, praised the custom of praying for the dead outside of their anniversaries.

In the seventh century AD, the monks devoted a full day to prayer for the dead. And Amalarius, theologian and liturgist of the age of Charlemagne (8th-9th century A.D.), already placed the memory of those who had passed away on the day after that of the Saints.

The first, however, to officially set the date of 2 November was the Benedictine abbot Saint Odilone of Cluny in 928 AD. Sources report that he was particularly devoted to the souls of Purgatory for whom he addressed all his prayers, penances and sufferings. One of his brethren, returning from the Holy Land, told him that he had been shipwrecked on the coasts of Sicily. On the island he met a hermit who told him that he had heard in a cave the voices and cries of purging souls who, together with those of the demons, cried out against Odyloon. Listened to the testimony, the abbot fixed November 2 as the commemoration of the dead and passed a law that required all the monasteries of his congregation to ring the bells with funeral tolls after vespers of November 1.


Abbot Odilone of Cluny (Credits: catholicsaints.info).

Ancient roots

The liturgical celebration of the day of the deceased, dominated by the color purple, symbol of penance, expectation and pain (used, among other things, also in funerals) has, in fact, even older origins of the tenth century and the choice of the day of its recurrence, that of November 2, is not entirely random.

According to some interpretations, this date should in fact be referred to the Universal Flood which, according to Moses’ account, fell on the “seventeenth day of the second month”, to be identified with our November. The Feast of the Dead would therefore have been born to remember those people who God himself had annihilated, in order to exorcise the fear of new similar events.


Lorenzo Lotto and Giovan-Battista Capoferri. The Universal Flood. Bergamo, church of Santa Maria Maggiore (Credits: researchgate.net).


Remarkable is the echo of the Celtic culture and, in particular, of the night of Samhain, the Celtic New Year, a celebration halfway between death and rebirth and which fell between October 31 and November 1. The customs and traditions of this feast are lost in the world of myth and legend and the rituals concerned roughly the world of the dead through divination and storytelling.


Re-enactment of the Celtic New Year (Credits: cuneoannunci.it).


The commemoration of the dead also took place in ancient Rome with the feast of Parentalia, a nine-day period dedicated to the celebration of the dead of the family and which began on February 13 and ended on the 21st of that month, the day of the real feast of the dead.


Mosaic of the “Memento Mori”, Pompeii Officina Coriariorum – Tannery, now in the Archaeological Museum of Naples (Credits: mosaicartnow.com).


The Byzantine church also celebrated all the dead. This happened, however, at a different time of the year, namely on the Saturday before the Sunday of Sessagesima (about 60 days before Easter), in a period roughly between the end of January and the month of February.

And there are many connections that can be found between the Christian recurrence and very distant worlds, such as Mexico and Central and Latin America in general (Dia de los Muertos) and even China (festival of Qingming), countries that are teeming with rituals and customs in which the souls of the dead are consoled in favor of the living.


El dia de los Muertos (Credits: thebolditalic.com).


The feast of the dead between Rome and Terracina

There are many celebrations between Rome and Terracina. As mentioned in one of my last articles, in Rome, for example, the Brotherhood of Sacconi Rossi holds on this day an impressive procession that, by candlelight, runs through the Tiber Island, throws in the Tiber a wreath of flowers in memory of the “dead of the water” and ends with the blessing of bones in the underground crypt of the brotherhood.


The night procession of the Sacconi Rossi on the Tiber Island (Credits: rocaille.it).


In Terracina, the fulcrum of the commemoration of the dead is the Church of Purgatory in the Borgo of Cipollata, consecrated to the memory of the deceased, as recalled by the inscription inside the dome: “holy and just is the thought for the dead”. After the celebration of the Holy Mass at 6 am, from the church starts a procession directly to the city cemetery (this year the procession will not be held because of the events of these days). Another mass is celebrated at the cemetery.


The celebration of November 2 at the Church of Purgatory of Terracina (Credits: tripadvisor.it).


The “sweets of the dead” and the many different Italian traditions

In many parts of Italy there is a widespread belief that on 2 November the dead come to visit their loved ones who have remained alive. The journey made is long and tiring. It is therefore necessary to prepare something to eat and/or drink that allows them to refresh themselves.

And, in fact, during this time of year, in different parts of our country, the so-called “cakes of the dead” are prepared. Based on simple ingredients, such as flour, eggs and sugar, but also almonds, candied fruit, jam and chocolate, these sweets, in consistency and shape, resemble, in some cases, to bones. They adorn the tables set for the dead and are consumed almost as if to soothe the sadness and emptiness left by the disappearance of loved ones.

In Umbria they prepare the “stinchetti”, sweets in the shape of broad beans (for this reason they are also called “broad beans of the dead”); in Naples, instead, the so-called “nougat of the dead”, which, different in consistency from the Christmas nougat, is given by the boy to the family of his girlfriend; in Sicily, however, protagonists are the children. If they have behaved well, the deceased will bring gifts that they will find in the morning under the bed. These are toys, but above all sweets, such as the so-called “pupi di zuccaro”, real dolls made of sugar. And still in Sicily, they prepare the “scardellini”, biscuits made of sugar and almonds in the shape of bones, or they use to eat (as in the area of Trapani) the “martorana fruit”, colorful, and made of sugar paste. In Veneto, lovers offer their brides a bag with “dead bones” inside, biscuits of coloured short pastry, flat and oval shaped. Finally, in Liguria, “bacilli” (dried broad beans) and “balletti” (boiled chestnuts) are prepared.


The so-called “fave dei morti”, typical sweets of Umbria prepared for November 2nd (Credits: umbriaformummy.com).


Neapolitan nougat prepared for 2 November (Credits: grandenapoli.it).


The “sugar puppets” prepared in Sicily for November 2nd (Credits: siciliaogginotizie.it).



The “martorana fruit” prepared in Sicily for November 2 (Credits: siciliaogginotizie.it).


But the “sweet of the dead” is not the only ancient Italian tradition linked to the commemoration of the dead. In some regions, for example, it is customary to leave a jar of fresh water at home so that the dead can quench their thirst; in others, it is customary to leave a lit light, a bucket of water and bread. In Rome, tradition had it that on the day of the dead a meal was eaten next to the tomb of a relative to keep him company.


In some parts of Italy it is usual to leave a lit light for each deceased at the window (Credits: oltrelasomma.it).

Posted by Sara Pandozzi in ON THIS DAY, 0 comments
Lost Churches of Terracina. 1 of 5

Lost Churches of Terracina. 1 of 5

A tale between the Middle Ages and the modern and contemporary age. A real walk through time. 5 mini episodes about the lost churches of Terracina (Latina, Italy). A special edition of A Spasso con Sara.

A unique case: a history linked to that of Rome

Terracina is an example of a city with continuity of life. Probably the center of the Ausoni at the end of the sixth century BC, was perhaps already under Roman rule shortly after, being mentioned in the first treaty between Romans and Carthaginians reported by the Greek historian Polibius. It fell into the hands of the Volscians and was regained by the Romans in 406 BC. After a bloody spring and pull with the Volscians, in 329 B.C. the descendants of Romulus founded a colonia maritima there. From that moment, the fate of Anxur-Tarracina was indisputably linked to that of Rome and its history can be largely inscribed within the wider framework of the city.


The city of Terracina and its distance from Rome.


Christianity in Terracina

And like Rome, also the ancient Terracina was invested, starting from the first century AD, by that phenomenon of universal importance that was Christianity. The new religion, centred on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, saw in Terracina the birth of an early community, presumably thanks to the Appian Way and the port, which had the merit of connecting the small town of Lazio with Rome (at the time the largest metropolis in the ancient world) and with the most remote corners of his empire.

A stretch of the Appian Way along the northern side of the Aemilian Forum of Terracina.


St. Peter’s in Terracina?

It is said that, thanks to the Appian Way, Saint Peter visited Terracina. When he landed in Puglia, the Prince of the Apostles set off on a journey to the city where, according to tradition, he lived for twenty years and found himself martyred.

The Appian Way, as is well known, was built in 312 B.C. and extended until Brindisi, connecting Rome with the south of Italy. And the Regina Viarum (the name by which the Appia was known throughout the world) crossed the heart of the town of Terracina. Consequently, anyone who wanted to reach Rome from the south of Italy, had to pass through our city. Although we do not have material traces that concretely document the stopover of St. Peter at Terracina, we can declare quite plausible the hypothesis of his crossing of the city.


The Crucifixion of St. Peter in a famous painting by Caravaggio in the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome (Credits: arte.it).


The first Christian community in the city

A Christian community certainly existed in Terracina in the sixth century AD. In fact, a letter written by Pope Gregory the Great dates back to that time and, in 590 A.D., was addressed to Peter, bishop of the city, and to his community. The document, very precious, indirectly attests to the existence of an Ecclesia Terracinese (and also of a Jewish) but not that of a cathedral building connected to it.

It is very likely that the first churches of Terracina were located in the western part of its territory, outside the town protected by the walls (the last of which date back to the first decade of the fifth century AD). This area, drained by the Romans through special hydraulic systems and divided by them into many small agricultural plots, housed, in fact, the tombs of San Cesareo and San Silviano, the first martyrs of the city. Not by chance, it has gone down in history with the name of Valley of Saints.

La Valle of Terracina. Scheme of the ancient Roman centuriation and position of the ancient town (in orange).

Religion and Christian rites were practiced in hiding. In fact, it was necessary to wait until 313 A.D., the year of Constantine’s edict of tolerance, so that Christianity could be professed in the light of the sun like the many other new religions that were spreading at that time.

In Terracina, therefore, in the early Christian era (III – IV century AD) the churches as we understand them did not exist! Perhaps the ancient rustic villas of La Valle were used, with a phenomenon very similar to that of the domus ecclesiae of Rome. Those who, in essence, had a large space, made it available to the community for the celebration of Mass.


Basement of the large rustic villa in Monticchio ne La Valle di Terracina.

Churches come into the city

Churches only entered the city in the Carolingian age (VIII-IX century A.D.). At that time, in fact, Pope Leo IV (847-855 AD) donated a series of liturgical objects and furnishings to the Cathedral of Terracina. Its donation presupposes the presence, at least from the ninth century AD, of a cathedral building, which used, in part, the remains of the ancient Tempio Maggiore of the Aemilian Forum. Shortly after, the original city parishes connected to the first churches were also born, on which the subsequent urban development depended.


The Cathedral of Terracina.

A new phase began in the Romanic period (XI – XII century A.D.), marked by the birth of new churches. The city, characterized by a strong increase in population, expanded with five new villages leaning against its walls and each with its own parish church.

The subsequent Gothic period (13th-14th centuries AD) also saw the construction of new Christian buildings of worship. Two important convents were also built, that of San Francesco, on the hill of the same name, and that of San Domenico, inspired by the Cistercian tradition of the nearby Abbey of Fossanova.


The last transformation: the modern age

In modern times, after a first partial abandonment of the religious building heritage of the city (XVI – XVII century AD), it was recovered thanks to Pius VI Braschi, whose name is inextricably linked to that of Terracina, chosen as the physical end of the great work of draining of the Pontine Marshes promoted by him. And so, as part of a more general plan for the reorganization and revision of the city, some of its ancient churches disappeared, others were renovated, others were built from scratch.


The pope Pius VI (Credits: www.museivaticani.va).



But now I’m stopping here! For further details and to discover the names, location and traces of the lost churches of Terracina, I invite you to follow me in the next episodes of #aspassoconsara


Posted by Sara Pandozzi in CHURCHES & HOLY SITES, 0 comments