Strolling in an enchanted village, lost in the magic of time.
Piteglio’s link with Templar history refers to evidence in the area and in the folk and devotional tradition, still the subject study and historical inquiry. The first sign was revealed with the arrival in town of the relic of the Milk of the Madonna that a folk memory tells of its being brought by a crusader, perhaps a Templar, who, in 1266, had stopped at the castle of the Guidi Counts, on the site where the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta now stands. The relic, an object of worship in the late Middle Ages and in the successive centuries, was placed in the chapel of the Milk of the Madonna, in the center of the altar, inside a wooden structure described in chronicles of the times as being in the form of the Temple of Solomon.
A unique eighteenth-century painting, with the particular iconography of the Madonna and the Child, who displays the holy cruet, covers the relic throughout the year. Still today the chapel is entered through an arch covered with such symbolic elements as fleur-de-lis, Jacobean shells, and figs, which culminate at the center in the dualism of a female and a male face. The relic of the milk is a feminine cult that seems to be linked to ancient pagan traditions, from perhaps when Piteglio celebrated the cult of the Great Mother Earth, assisted by a galactophorous spring or milk source that tradition has placed under the bell tower.
The unusual inscription Abissus Gratiae on the Company’s altar, immediately adjacent to the bell tower, may refer to this. Other symbolic elements are the sinister faces ornamenting the coats-of-arms or sacred vessels that look like Baphomet, the pagan idol worshiped by the Knights Templar. The nearby church of the Santissima Annunziata, or the old parish church, also has some unusual signs.
Until the second half of the twentieth century, and to some extent still today, every Monday of the Angelus, the priest blessed the Lima Valley from the exterior pulpit, showing the relic of the milk and chanting three times, along with the people, the Monstra te esse Matrem, the hymn dedicated to the Virgin by St. Bernard, the compiler of the order’s rules. On the outside wall, we find a Solomon’s knot and, below, an old woman spinning, with cryptic symbols and letters. Inside, the walls are lined with stone seats, each indicated by a five-petaled rose. The devotion to St. Bernard reached its height in the early eighteenth century when Piteglio’s prelate Taddeo Giovannini had an oratory built in the modern-day Piazza Guermani and dedicated it to the Abbot of Clairvaux; a relic of the saint was placed inside. In 2007, the oratory, no longer extant, was remembered in a sculpture by the artist Dorando Baldi.
Whatever is today’s way of standing before a symbol, a date, or a popular and devotional tradition, Piteglio has indeed given us a fascinating and sometimes mysterious interpretation of a place where one can get lost in history.
A game of coincidence
Playing with some dates and symbols related to Piteglio, it is interesting to imagine and trace the subtle common thread that runs through a history marked by a recollection of the Templar story. To give just a few examples. The foundation of the Oratory of San Bernardo da Chiaravalle dates back to 1703, the quadricentenary of the Schiaffo di Anagni, or the Slap of Anagni, which marked the beginning of the order’s end. The oratory was consecrated in 1707, the fourth centenary of the Templars’ arrest in Paris. There is a commemorative plaque from 1710, the 400th anniversary of the end of the Knights of Christ. Some scholars have interpreted the figure in the old parish church of the old woman spinning in the light of Templar symbolism.The letters WGN have been translated as W (or like) Jesus of Nazareth and the subsequent MJB as (de) Molay Jaques Bartolomeus, the last master of the Order and considered a second Messiah by his followers. The central heart could refer to the Rosicrucians whose representation of knowledge struck by a dart that returns it to a material plane. The old woman spinning the distaff could thus be an armed man wielding a sword, in the act of pointing it upward, as if rising again after the Fall.