The theme of this route is enriched by the amazing variety of records and the deep popular devotion towards the female Saints and Martyrs born in the Sabine area from influential families which characterized along the centuries the life of the whole community. Histories and legends about brave women who faced death in order to defend their Christian belief.
The journey starts from the Sabine area and ends in the valleys of Salto and Turano.
The legend and the sites of Santa Barbara.
According to tradition, the Saint was born in 273 in Nicomedia, today’s Izmit, in the Eastern Roman Empire, and was called Barbara (foreign, non-Roman) for her dedication to the study and prayer. In her teenager years she moved to a villa between today’s Scandriglia and Ponticelli with his father Dioscuro, collaborator of the emperor Massimiliano, who wanted to marry her and kept her locked up in a tower. When Barbara converted herself to Christianity, her father denounced her to the prefect Marciano for impiety towards the pagan gods. During the process, which took place on December 2, 290, Barbara exhorted the audience to reject the pagan religion and embrace Christianity. After two days of fruitless torture, she was behead by her very father, who was soon after struck by lightning and died.
This is why today Saint Barbara, invoked against lightning, storms and fire, whose remains are preserved in the Cathedral of Rieti, is the patron saint of fireguards, miners, artillerymen, sailors and bricklayers. A vast cult, influenced by several Eastern legends, which also involve other parts of Italy such as Tuscany and Venice.
Santa Barbara is also venerated in Scandriglia, represented in the municipal coats of arm by a three- windowed tower (the Trinity) with the letters S and B at both sides. Here, in the district called Contrada Santa Barbara, where she was supposed to be executed, there is a small rural church. The cult of the Saint also exists in Chiesa Nuova, where the parish “Santa Barbara in Agro” lies.
Santa Vittoria, between history and archaeology
The cult of Santa Vittoria, just like the one of Sant’Anatolia, dates back ito ancient times. The martyrdoms of the two Saints have been described in the Roman Martyrology translated by San Geronimo and depicted in the mosaics of S. Apolinnare Nuovo in Ravenna, where both women offer their crowns to Jesus Christ after refusing to marry noble patricians in order to consecrate themselves to God.
For this reason, under the Emperor Decius (249-251), Vittoria was at first exiled, then killed and buried in a cave in Trebula Mutuesca, an ancient Sabine and then Roman city, the remains of which, still visible today by Monteleone Sabino, have been found during some new excavations in 2000. Here lies a small catacomb partially located under the bell tower and the Church of Santa Vittoria, with its impressive Romanesque facade and three asymmetrical inner aisles, the result of several reconstructions.
In the twelfth century the church was restored by the Bishop Dodone from Rieti. The church, the entrance hall and the belfry also include architectural elements, inscriptions and materials from the ruins of the ancient Roman city.
The cult of both Santa Vittoria and Sant’Anatolia is due to the Benedictine Monks from Farfa. After a conflict with the bishops of Rieti, they moved the relics of Santa Vittoria from Monteleone Sabino to other Farfa properties in the Piceno area, where they founded Santa Vittoria in Matenano.
Sant’Anatolia, between the Valley of Turano and Salto-Cicolano
Anatolia, a noble Roman young girl like Vittoria, after refusing the marriage for a life of faith, was imprisoned in the vicus of Tora and then locked up in a sack together with a poisonous snake. The reptile did not harm the Saint but attacked the soldier who came to verify her death the day after. The man, saved by Anatolia, became a Christian martyr too. The Bishop Tebaldo from Rieti, with the permission of Pope Leone III, transferred the body of Anatolia to the Monastery of Subiaco, where she became the patron Saint. Her worship spread out in the Turano Valley near Castel di Tora, where the Saint was supposed to be martyrized, and in the areas of Torano and Cicolano . The Sanctuary of Sant’Anatolia near Castelvecchio, today’s Castel di Tora, was transformed in 1728 into a Monastery of Capuchin fathers and the one in Torano di Borgorose was donated to Farfa in the early eighth century by the Duke of Spoleto Faroaldo II, but remained under the Benedictine Monks for about one century. In 1877 Father Luigi Ferrante carried on a new project for the monastery with a large staircase leading to the church, a neoclassical facade and three doors to the inner aisles. The temple is enclosed in a rectangular apse and, on the main altar, a statue of the Saint can be admired. Past the main entrance, in an ancient chapel by the first pillar to the right, hangs an image of Sant’Anatolia, which is said to be of divine origins.
Santa Filippa Mareri.
In the area of Salto -Cicolano in the province of Rieti another famous woman Saint carried on the Franciscan cult. In 1228, the year of the canonization of St. Francis, the Baroness Filippa Mareri, whose family ruled the area until the fifteenth century, transformed the original Benedictine monastery into the Franciscan convent of San Pietro de Molito , today’s convent of S. Filippa Mareri, located in Borgo S. Pietro di Petrella Salto. The Baroness died in 1236 and was recognized in 1248 by Pope Innocenzo IV as the first female Franciscan saint. Despite her rich origins she experienced the life of a hermit in a natural cave which still dominates the sanctuary, accessible through an impressive path, with a panoramic view over the lake and the whole Valle del Salto. In 1940 the river waters submerged the original monastery and today only a small museum can be visited, hosting furniture, sacred objects, holy images but also common objects, vases , books, cookbooks and tissues saved before the flooding. A chapel with late-Renaissance frescoes has also been preserved. They depict the main events in the life of the Saint, whereas the paintings in the lunettes are dedicated to beggars saints and the ones on the vault to the glory of heaven.