If you wanted to know anything about Matilde – not the one who told such dreadful lies but the great mediaeval countess – then this is the year to swat up. It’s Matilde year since the grand lady died nine hundred years ago in 1115 at Bondanazzo in Reggio Emilia. Throughout the country various conferences and exhibitions will be celebrating this exceptional woman who wielded the greatest power and influence at a time when the majority of her sex was regarded as mere chattels. Indeed, such was the fame of Matilda that she is one of only two women buried in Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome – the other being Queen Christina of Sweden.
We’ve already been to one conference on the subject of Matilda at Bagni di Lucca’s library. This event has been described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/who-was-matilde-di-canossa/. It was, therefore, something of a hard choice to decide between another Matilda conference at Borgo a Mozzano’s library and the presentation of Natalia Sereni’s new book on the influence of the First World War on Bagni di Lucca. Natalia Sereni is a brilliant local historian who has written on many subjects from the Prato Fiorito to the hard-won fight to include Fornoli in the comune of Bagni di Lucca. She has already delivered a conference on the First World War described in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/01/16/between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-the-great-war-from-an-italian-perspective/.
In the end we decided to attend the Matilda at Borgo as we could always buy Natalia’s book at a later date. Furthermore, since it was Matlide who built the amazing mediaeval Ponte della Maddalena bridge at Borgo we felt it would be more appropriate to be there!
We were not disappointed by our choice. New aspects of the countess were presented and, mercifully, the speakers delivered their contributions ‘al braccio’, as the Italians say. i. e. without reading out papers but using them merely as a prompt.
Domenico Maselli introduced the late afternoon with a brilliant summing up of Matilda’s life and times. He is one of the most important figures in Italian protestantism, emeritus professor of Christianity at Florence university he’s also emeritus pastor of the Valdensian church in Lucca. Without a single note in front of him, without a hesitation and with a superbly clear voice his account was nothing less than gripping. It was truly a joy to be able to understand everything Maselli said and to be wrapped up in his enthusiasm of the subject.
Silvia Valenti, an estate agent and local historian from Diecimo, continued with her own brand of enthusiasm for the mediaeval road systems and urban plans of our area. She’d clearly done a lot of research in her home town and was able to thoroughly explain the region’s historical topography and even date some buildings back to Canossa’s time.
The third contribution was from Emilio Tampucci, director of the education department at Borgo, who didn’t describe himself as an academic but whose knowledge of the subject, to be fully demonstrated in his forthcoming book, was extraordinary.
Tampucci guided us through all the representations of the Countess and even ventured his own interpretation of the crossed double SS which appears on several of her monogramed signatures:
It’s a pity that each comune seems to program its events without taking adjoining comuni into account. We would have enjoyed going to both events but were glad we chose the Borgo one. Without belittling the well-studied event at Bagni di Lucca’s library I am of the opinion that those delivering conferences should not rely solely on reading out papers but rather, as happily occurred at Borgo a Mozzano, give a more informal and perhaps more entertaining ‘al braccio’ account of their findings.
As with the Bagni di Lucca event this one had the audience to overflowing in the rather narrow conference space and also had a small, but excellently researched exhibition, on Matilda and her times.
(Part of the exhibiton including a pomegranate, Matilde di Canossa’s, emblem)
Borgo a Mozzano’s new mayor, the young Patrizio Andreucetti was supposed to open the proceedings but was only able to catch the last contribution. He’d just come back from Lucca where all the province’s mayors had gathered to determine how best they would be able to demonstrate their solidarity with the tragic events that bloodily unfolded in Paris on the night of Friday the thirteenth. In this sad way we were brought back to our troubled contemporary age.
(Mayor Andreucetti presenting pomegranate wreaths to the speakers)