The Borgo of Sant'Agata de' Goti

Sant’Agata dei Goti glows with an authentic, rustic beauty, magnificent, yet at the same time, incredibly delicate, like the fragile tuff stone to which this miraculous borgo owes its existence.

Overhanging the green valley, the houses have fused over time with the steep cliffs, with no way to distinguish or divide one from the other, each finding strength in their union.

The noble soul of Sant’Agata graces the public squares, expressed in the white facades of the churches and the Baroque elegance of the Ducal Palace, but once you leave the piazzas, you find yourself in a more rustic and authentic world of exposed stone houses and ancient stone walls covered with climbing vines and flowers.

This tiny hilltop village is full of wonders, with a new enchantment around every corner and a new marvel to explore down every cobblestone lane. In this ancient place of magic, hidden treasures and enthralling discoveries await you at every turn.

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Sant’Agata’s past is a long corridor leading back to the most ancient halls of time.

Its origins go back several centuries before the birth of Christ, with the most accredited hypothesis being that the borgo was built over the ancient Samnite city of Saticula.

This city was repeatedly besieged and conquered, particularly in 315 BC, during the second Samnite War between the Samnite League and the nascent Roman Republic. In 313 BC, the borgo finally ceded and became a Roman colony, from then on remaining faithful to Rome.

The name Sant’Agata dei Goti was given to the borgo many centuries later. One hypothesis dates the name to the sixth century AD, during the period when the Goths were invading Southern Italy: after losing the crucial Battle of Vesuvius to the Byzantines, the Goths asked to remain in the territory as subjects, setting up a colony here, hence, it its name. Another viable theory maintains that the name is derived from the family Guascona dei Goth who received the borgo of Sant’Agata in concession from Roberto D’Angio in 1313.

The next group to dominate the borgo were the Lombards, after which, the borgo passed through the hands of the most important feudal rulers of Naples, ending with the Carafa family.

Sant’Agata became the Episcopal Seat in the tenth century, and one of its bishops, Felice Peretti became Pope Sixtus V, while another of the borgo’s bishops was sanctified as Sant’Alfonso de’Liguori.

This period coincided with the Norman domination, during which the defensive structure was expanded with the construction of a fortress, and the Duomo and other sacred buildings were commissioned.

The charm of this hilltop village with its millennial history has made Sant’Agata dei Goti a favorite tourist destination for an ever increasing number of visitors.

 

The Palazzo Ducale

The halls of the Ducal Palace still echo with its glorious past. Originally, it was simply a Lombard tower, but with the arrival of the Normans in the year 1000, this primitive defensive structure was transformed into a fortress, built in the local tuff stone.

The round arch of the entrance to the palazzo faces the façade of the Church of San Menna, which was built in the same period.

Over the centuries, the palace was remodeled several times, in keeping with the taste of the owners and the fashion of the times. The pictorial decorations dating back to the 1400 and 1500’s are still visible, revealing the intention to soften the rough character of the fortress and transform it into an elegant noble residence. The circular tower, which in the past was used as a prison and is the only one of the towers to remain standing, is also from the sixteenth century.

In 1696, the castle was acquired by the important Neapolitan family, the Carafa della Stadera di Maddaloni, and given to Caterina Carafa and her newlywed husband, Count Colubrano.

The palazzo had already been remodeled, but the young couple made some changes to suit their refined taste, such as the paintings depicting Diana and Acteon in the main hall on the first floor, done by the artist Tommaso Giaquinto in the beginning of the 1700’s.

The entrance to the palazzo is a rounded archway which was reutilized from a more ancient construction, a common architectural practice in the past. The entrance leads to the first courtyard and the main building. On the upper floors, traces remain of the construction from the early Middle Ages.

Il Duomo, the Cathedral

The Duomo is dedicated to the Madonna of the Assumption. The construction was probably commissioned by the bishop Adelardo at the end of the 900’s, but controversy on that date has been growing in recent years. In fact, it is thought that this place of worship was originally a temple dedicated to the goddess Tellus, the Earth goddess, and then later converted to Christian worship, but scientific verification is still under way.

Over the centuries the building has suffered significant damage caused by earthquakes. The bell tower and many other elements have been rebuilt several times, leaving almost no remaining trace of the original structure, especially regarding the façade.

A statue of the Assumption graces the top of the portico, flanked by Sant’Agata and Santo Stefano.

There is also the crest of Pope Sixtus V, who was the bishop of this diocese.

The interior is in the Latin-cross layout, with two series of pillars that divide the space in three naves. The flooring of the central nave and a part of the presbytery was originally covered in mosaics, of which only a few fragments remain, dating back to the thirteenth century. The largest fragment seems to represent the universe surrounded by the four evangelists.

The carved wooden choir box, created by the master sculptor Alessandro de Rosa between 1650 and 1653, is particularly interesting, with detailed carvings of human faces and monstrous animals, or ‘bestiary’.The choir was once closed by a high altar, which has been dismantled.

Beneath the Church is a crypt with three apses and cross vaults. The ornate decorations are full of fascinating sculptural details, especially on the columns and the capitals. The frescos in the crypt date back to the fourteenth century and reflect the Umbrian-Siena school.

Chiesa dell’Annunziata, the Church of the Annunciation

The Church of the Annunziata is at the entrance to  Santa’Agata dei Goti. Today it faces a square with the same name, but originally it was outside the  borgo, elevated to parish church in 1764 by Sant’Alfonso de ‘Liguori to meet the needs of the faithful who lived in rural areas.

The decorations are a blend of sixteenth century and Baroque elements. The entry portal was created in 1563, in the Neapolitan school inspired by classical art, as can be seen  by the tympanum and underlying lunette, sculpted to represent the Virgin Mary’s Annunciation scene.

The interior is in a single nave layout, with chapels in Baroque style along the sides. In the past, the chapels also performed a social function, and the earnings of the Diocese were used to provide  dowries for the daughters of less well-off families, and almsgiving for parishioners in financial difficulty.

Restoration interventions have recently uncovered frescos dating back to different eras, the most important being a fifteenth century work representing the Last Judgment. This fresco is part of a cycle which also includes the Resurrection of the Dead, Hell, and Paradise, painted on the counter-façade, so that as the faithful were leaving the church, it would be fixed in their memory as the last thing they saw, influencing the fundamental choices in their lives and directing them towards eternal glory.

Chiesa e Convento di San Francesco, The Church and the Convent of St. Francis

The Church and the Convent of San Francesco are full of Baroque decorations and infused with influences from the 1700’s, but their origins are much more ancient. This complex probably dates back to the second half of the 1200’s, as it was a part of the property of the Friars Minor who arrived in Sant’Agata dei Goti in 1267.

The façade of the church is also Baroque, flanked by a bell tower with a clock, surmounted by a cusp with majolica tiles, which has recently been restored.

The church is absolutely full of paintings and frescos. In the center of the wooden ceiling is a marvelous painting from 1650,  depicting San Francesco in an ecstatic state, while the altarpiece, dating back to 1702, is decorated with a marvelous painting of the Annunciation by Tommaso Giaquinto, who, in 1703, also painted the frescos in the apse, depicting biblical scenes and a representation of San Francesco receiving the stigmata.

The cloister, which is entered through a portal from the 1700’s, is particularly interesting, with fascinating details, such as the mouth of the cistern and the lateral blind windows, which reveal the  structure’s original Gothic influence.

In the 1800’s, following the anti-clerical decrees of the Napoleonic Code, the Convent of San Francesco was closed by the State, to be later purchased by the municipality of Sant’Agata.

Today the complex hosts exhibitions and cultural events.

Chiesa di San Menna

  • The origins and the fortune of this church are closely tied to Count Roberto the Norman, who wanted a chapel for the castle.
  • It was constructed between 1102 and 1107, and consecrated in 1110 by Pope Pasquale II, who was in the area for official duties.
  • In many respects, this church resembles the Abbey of Montecassino, with its basilica and three nave layout, divided by two series of round arches. The mosaics in the Liturgical Hall also resemble those found in the Abbey, with the typical characteristics of mosaics from Montecassino in the Lazio region.
  • Restoration work in the 1950’s brought to light important historical pieces in this church: a series of eighteenth century pillars revealed an entire ancient colonnade, and under the main altar, a stone slab engraved with a Greek cross surrounded by vine shoots was found, an image common to early Christian churches in the sixth and seventh centuries.
  • Count Roberto was also responsible for furnishing the church with the remains of St. Menna. In 1094, the Count wanted to make an important donation of precious reliquie to the Cathedral of Caiazzo. After receiving some indications of where to look, he went to the town of Vitulano, and in a little half-destroyed church he found the body of St. Menna, which he transported to the Cathedral of Caizzo.

After a series of disagreements with the Bishop of Caizzo, the Count withdrew his precious gift, and took the reliquie of the saint to the Chapel of Sant’Agata. They were placed in a funeral urn, accompanied by a marble plaque. Later, the reliquie of San Brizio, the Bishop of Tours were added, and successively, the reliquie of San Socio. The funeral plaque was then placed in the middle of the sarcophagus, to divide the remains of the saints.

The ‘Infiorata del Corpus Domini’

Religious sentiment, long standing traditions, and love for one’s home town have always been a winning combination. In Sant’Agata dei Goti, the perfect union of these three elements is expressed in the “Infiorata del Corpus Domini’.

The ‘Infiorata’ is a widespread tradition in many Italian borgos. It is literally a mosaic carpet of flowers, created by all the families in the town, that entirely covers the streets of the celebrating borgo with thousands upon thousands of flowers arranged on the ground to form splendid designs, often in elaborate religious themes: a living, floral fresco in honor of Corpus Domini, the Body of Christ.

The preparations are long, meticulous and painstaking, and unite the whole community. On the day of the celebration, the streets are filled with thousands of colors and beautiful floral works of art of such mastery that they seem to be paintings, attracting visitors from all over the world, who come to admire these marvelous floral creations.

Sant’Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori

Alfonso Maria de’ Liguori was born near Naples in 1696, to a family of humble origins. Until he was twenty-six, he was a dedicated scholar of philosophy and law, but he then decided to abandon Jurisprudence to become a servant of God.

In 1726, he was ordained as a priest, and began to serve the poorest factions of the population in Naples. He decided to leave the city after he came in contact with the shepherds of Amalfi and was moved by their immense human and spiritual discomfort.

In 1760 he was nominated as Bishop of the Diocese of Sant’Agata dei Goti, which at the time was a neglected mountain village in need of aid and support.

He only chose to leave the curia because of his declining health conditions. Blindness and deformative arthropathy forced him to retire to Nocera de ‘Pagani, where his family cared for him until his death.

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Zuppa di Farro, Spelt Soup

The cuisine of Sant’Agata dei Goti is a constant reference to its local culture and ancient history, linked to the ancient civilization of the Samnites. The flavors and aromas recount the agricultural traditions and way of life that make up the very soul of this community.

One of the typical delicacies of this borgo is the ‘Zuppa di Farro’, a simple but very tasty dish.

Ingredients for four people:

  • 200gr of spelt grain;
  • 200gr of white beans;
  • 200gr of red beans;
  • 200gr of potatoes;
  • 200gr of carrots;
  • One stalk of celery;
  • Extra virgin olive oil;
  • Onion as needed;
  • White wine as needed;
  • Tomato paste as needed;
  • Salt as needed;
  • Croutons;
  • Grated cheese as needed.

First, if you are using dry beans, soak all the beans for at least one night before beginning your preparation.

The next day, cut all the vegetables into cubes to facilitate cooking. Next, fry the onion in oil until golden, then add the beans and the white wine.

Stir from time to time until the wine is evaporated, then add the potatoes, carrots, celery, tomato paste and a pinch of salt. Cook for two hours and then add the spelt, and cook for another thirty minutes.

As soon as the soup is ready, ladle into a dish and serve topped with grated cheese and croutons.

This hearty soup is perfect for warming cold winter evenings.

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