No Mute Inglorious Miltons Here: Benabbio’s Claim to Fame

If anyone thinks that the villages surrounding Bagni di Lucca were inhabited by what Gray, in his immortal elegy on a country churchyard, referred to as mute inglorious Miltons, then think again. A series of conferences, started in 2010 under the aegis of the Fondazione Michel Montaigne and its director Marcello Cherubini (whose own father was a distinguished historian of the comune of Bagni di Lucca), continues to reveal the number of inhabitants who made a highly significant impact on the international scene, especially in art, literature and music.

The results of these study days will be presented next Saturday 27th June at 5.30 pm in Bagni di di Lucca’s library, otherwise known as the ex-Anglican church.

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I remember the conference on that extraordinary engraver,  Bartolomeo Nerici, at Crasciana last  year (see my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/enlightened-engraver/), in 2012 the conference on Nicolao Dorati, the great renaissance composer born in Granaiola, and the amazing connections brought out between the English court at the Royal palace of Eltham where Chaucer was poet-in-residence and Pancio da Controne (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/from-pieve-di-controni-to-eltham-palace/

This year’s conference was held at Benabbio which is a large village on the way towards the passo Del Trebbio and, therefore, an alternative, mountainous route to Lucca. This may explain the extraordinary richness of Benabbio’s heritage, some of which I’ve described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/visiting-in-the-rain/ but which requires a lot more sites added to it, including the castle and the museum

Here are two exquisite statues of the annunciation by Jacobo della Quercia’s dad, which date back to the 1300’s.

Here are other items from this marvellous little museum in the hidden mountain village:

The conference was held in the very beautiful oratorio of the SS Sacramento, which dates back to the XVII century and has still part of its ceiling encased by a “cassettone” above the precious altar.

Benabbio has produced at least five important historical figures of which three were the subject of the conference.

This was the conference programme:

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The conference was introduced by mayor Massimo Betti and coordinated by Bruno Micheletti.

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Antonio Nicolao (1753-1827 or 1830) was a historian and chronicler who produced Lucca’s first major history in several volumes, the last of which remains incomplete but which was to deal with the buildings of Lucca itself, including churches and palaces. The speaker, Tommaso Maria Rossi, is archivist of the diocesan archive of Lucca cathedral and was able to discover many new details, not the least of which is that we are not exactly sure when the great man died, 1827 or 1830. It would be good to get a reprint of Nicolao’s work as it is difficult to find and what he wrote sounds fascinating.

It’s significant that Nicolao became a regular cleric of the order of the Mother of God which was originally in the monastery of the church of Santa Maria Corteorlandini, the church Luccans popularly call Santa Maria Nera to distinguish it from Santa Maria Bianca , Santa Maria Forisportam. The order placed great emphasis on learning and, indeed, the Lucca state archives and public library are housed in the former monastery.

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Francesco Cianelli 1838-1910 was Antonio’s nephew and he too, was ordained as a priest. Francesco became a classics scholar and teacher at Lucca’ seminary and was the author of various epigram and inscription published together towards the end of the nineteenth century. He was also one of the great poet, Giovanni Pascoli’s, Latin mentor and friend. In fact, Pascoli refers to Cianelli with great esteem and affection. Pascoli should know for he managed to buy his lovely house at Castelvecchio Pascoli with the prize money obtained by winning various international Latin verse writing competitions!

Incidentally, Francesco Cianelli is buried in the local cemetery. Clearly, he is not one of the mute inglorious ones inhumed there.

Marcello Cherubini gave his talk on  Antonio Viviani 1770-1830, a poet to both the Pontifical and Neapolitan courts who wrote various dramas, poems and tragedies in a neo-classical style, with reference to Viviani’ chronicle of events in the area between 1799 and 1802.

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Both papers were not only interesting but fun too, especially Viviani’s account of what happened to the area during those momentous years 1799-1802, i.e. between Napoleon’s invasion of Italy and the peace of Amiens. The antagonism between the republicans and their tree of liberty, erected in Benabbio’s main square, and the religionist who opposed them chopping down the infamous tree and replacing it with a cross, only to have Lucca turned into a Napoleonic principality in 1802 with the arrival of Bonaparte’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi, gave rise to the closest the area had to an insurrection until that is, of course, the years 1944-5 with the battles between the partisans and the Nazi occupiers.

I would also add that Benabbio continues to host significant persons. Some of them have their ancestry there. Thecla Reuten, for example, the Dutch actress born in 1975 has a mum born in Benabbio and often returns to the village. And of course the great English painter Raymond Victor Mee (1945-2006) and his wife Julia Mee, also a highly regarded artist, fell in love with this almost hidden village which inspired their work as Tahiti inspired Gauguin and Barga, Bellamy.

However, it’s slightly disappointing that I have been unable to find details of any famous cultural contributions some other villages, like Longoio, have made to the world.

The conference was concluded by a short concert of music by Kreisler, Beethoven, Paganini (who was Elisa’s music teacher and lover) and Sgambati (who spent his summers in Benabbio) played by Carlo-Andrea Berti (violin) and Alvise Pascucci (keyboard).

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2 thoughts on “No Mute Inglorious Miltons Here: Benabbio’s Claim to Fame

  1. Well it is an opening your statement I wonder if anyone in Longoio has made any contributions to the area I think that is liking asking for acceptance or even recognition and I think that that person is you others have tried and failed but you have succeeded with this here blog amazingly well, and I have stated before despite the fact that I am your long suffering wife in the situation I applaud your success the success that you owe yourself for your hours of pouring over the computer and research and in your work and interest that you create to brighten our lives in sharing what we or you do and achieve along your perambulations around that and other areas and you certainly enthuse us all to go look or do good on you and keep up the good work!

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