Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo, Sant' Angelo a Fasanella.

The details concerning the discovery and dedication of the grotto to St. Michael is uncertain.  What is clear is that the grotto is very old.  The cave was once inhabited by prehistoric man in the Palaeolithic age and was "rediscovered" about 1000 years ago. The grotto was most likely dedicated to St. Michael  during the Norman occupation of southern Italy, perhaps by the Norman king Roger II (King of Sicily, 1130-1154) or by his grandson Guillaume II 'the Good' (1166-1189). It is also possible that Benedictine monks discovered the cave  as early as 800 A.D. and later, under the Normans, built a monastery or Abbey dedicated to the saint (only ruins of the Abbey remain today). Historical records indicate that the "Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo" already existed during the reign of Roman Emperor Frederick II who,  to punish a rebelling prince Pandolfo Fasanella and others in the "Conspiracy of Capacio" , had his army sack the ancient town of Fasanella and the surrounding towns in 1246.

Download this video (avi)  of Masella singing.  Who is Masella? Read below.


 

The road to the cave (grotto) is immediately off of the main square in the town which can be seen in the background.

Mario Vigorito and daughter-in-law Carolyn Vigorito prepare to descend down the road to the cave.

The entrance to the grotto can be seen in the distance..

The next few slides were taken as we journeyed down this path.

Houses built on majestic cliffs.

A closeup of a house perched on solid rock.

Grape vines.

Olive tree orchard

Olive tree orchard

Olives up close.

Grapes & Cacti.

Pomegranate tree

The door to the grotto.

From left to right: Michael & Mario Vigorito, Antonio Barone, Giuseppe Tardio.

Giuseppe Tardio with the key to the door of the Grotto.

Many thanks to Mr. Tardio for allowing us to explore the grotto at our leisure.

Lion flanking the portal.

The lion seen here and on the other side of the door was carved by a the sculptor Francesco da Sicignano who worked during the mid 1400 to early 1500s often for the the Prince of the Sanseverino family. The wood door flanked by the lions was built in 1517 perhaps by the artist himself.

A "vera da pozzo" high on the wall immediatley inside the grotto on the right.

This "well head", adorned with Neapolitan tiles circa 1614, was constructed at the entrance to the cave opening and so was once at ground level. This was probably the original entrance to the grotto which was eventually enlarged to accomodate the massive doors.

The area of the grotto as you enter the portal..

To the left, under a balcony that houses an organ, is a corridor to a bell tower that belonged to an Abbey that was once adjacent to the cave. Straight ahead and behind the altar dedicated to the 'Immacolata Concenzione" is the continuation of the first section of the grotto . To the right is the remainder of the grotto where the Altar to St. Michael is located.

The tomb of Francesco Caracciolo, Abbot of Sant' Angelo erected in 1585.

The Caracciolo family was one of the illustrious families of Sant' Angelo. Several Carracciolos were abbots of the Sant Angelo monestary, which according to records was already in existence during the reign of Holy Roman emporer Federick II in 1223.

The altar dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

A closeup of the section of the cave behind the Altar to the Immaculate Conception.

The equipment in the picture belongs to UNESCO's restoration team who were working on the "Madonna & Child" on the left. This section of the cave extends another 20 meters (65.6 ft) and contains skeletal remains and ancient coffins. Archeologists have also determined that this cave was inhabited by hominids (prehistoric man).

Altar dedicated to "madonna and child"

The sculpture and frescoes are circa 15th century.

Closeup of the child Jesus and frescoes in the enclosure.

Continuation of the grotto to the right of the entrance.

Another altar.

A grave with headstone

"Here lies Rufina Garaldi, born Curzio June 11 1803. Her soul rose to god December 15 1878. Devoted mother of her son Pasquale. This headstone is placed in her memory."

Cave wall

Neapolitan tiles on the floor of the grotto.

Another grave.

Largest area of the grotto. In the background is the altar to St. Michael

Altar to Saint Michael built in 1702 on the site of the original altar.

The altar is in front of the cave wall with the impression of St. Michael's wings. The cave and wings were discoverd, according to legend, by a Prince Manfredi circa 1000.

St. Michael's wings behind the altar.

The wings are barely visible in the rock, but the flash from the camera brings out the pattern. Immediately below the wings and behind the present altar there once was a small pond of fresh water. As early as the 15th century people used this holy water to cure ills. There is no longer any water in this location.

Closeup of the statue of St. Michael attributed to the artist Giacomo Colombo in 1663.

Corridor to the bell tower.

In the 1300s there was a Benedictine Abbey immediately adjacent to the grotto. (The original abbey may have been present as early as 1100). The bell tower of this Abbey was built along the side of the mountain surrounding the opening at the end of this section of the cave. Only the bell tower and some ruins remain of the Abbey. The entrance into the tower from the cave has been sealed.

Ruins of the Benedectine Abbey.

Only these small sections of the Abbey walls remain. This picture was taken from the top of the bell tower which was the only section preserved over the centuries. The veneration of St. Michael spread throughout Southern Italy beginning about 600 -700 A.D. The Benedictine monks spread the veneration of St. Michael by building Abbeys in remote places in the mountain.

Climbing to top of the bell tower to ring the bell.

This section of the tower once served as the sacristy of St. Michael's Abbey.

A bell named Masella.

I am uncertain of the age of the bell. The earliest records of a repair was in 1773. Legend has it that a peasant woman Masella known for her beauty and angelic voice was punished for her vanity when during a holy feast day the earth opened beneath her feet and swallowed her up. On that location was erected a tower with a bell made of bronz and the precious metals (gold and silver) collected by a friend or sister. To this day the bell is still refered to as Masella and her "voice" can be heard troughout the valley.

Mario Barone ringing Masella.

Giuseppe Tardio telling the legend of Masella.

Sant' Angelo and the ruins of Benedictine Abbey.

Panoramic view of the Grotta di San Michele Arcangelo

The bell tower along the side of the mountain can be seen with the ruins of the Benedictine Abbey immediately in front of it. The entrance to the cave is to the right of the tower. (Photo was downloaded from the web)