It is popularly said that there are some villages small enough to miss if one blinks. Vetteglia isn’t quite in that league of places but it’s easy to miss the turning to the right after San Gemignano and on the road to San Cassiano.
It’s sad that the sure way not to go past Vetteglia is to look out for the chapel of San Rocco which is now in a complete state of dilapidation: roofless with all its ecclesiastical fittings gone and a jungle sprouting up where the faithful’s pews used to be. And yet this building could be saved in time since its walls are all still there and would just need some solid repointing. As for the roof, there is enough wood around for that to be reconstructed. And as for its use? Why not as a hostel and mountain refuge, for there are plenty of great paths and mulattiere (mule-tracks) starting out from it to such wonderful places as the Prato Fiorito and the San Cassiano valley?
One might ask how San Rocco got to this stage. The cynics would say that there was now no need to pray for the patron saint of parishioners afflicted by pestilence since there have been virtually no cases of bubonic plague over the past hundred years, (at least since medical science discovered that it was bad water rather than “mal aria” (bad air) that caused it, carried, of course, by those infamous rats).
However, the church of San Rocco was a centre of faith and hope for many through hundreds of years and it should be restored and respected, not just because it makes sense to keep one’s beautiful buildings intact, not just because it could be useful as a mountain hostel but also as a memorial to all those victims of pandemics in times when there was no known cure.
Vetteglia was founded in the late Roman Empire age by a legionary called Vettilius who was given land by the Emperor to set up a farm as thanks (and a pension) for serving in the Roman army.
I was in Vetteglia on Saturday evening, invited to attend Mass in a building that had received all the care and attention that San Rocco lacked. It is the chiesina of Santa Maria del Carmine which is at the lower part of this small village.
It’s a charming building with the characteristic portico to shelter outflowing congregations from sun or rain, a typical little bell-tower and an interior gorgeously decorated on this occasion, not just with its beautiful naïve frescoes, but with a plethora of flowers.
And it’s thanks to the likes of local inhabitant Nicola Farina, builder extraordinaire, that the church still stands with all its appeal today.
I love the two deer feeding under the sun-god like a trinity. It always makes me think of those wonderful words from the Psalms:
“As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.”
which sound even more poignant in a landscape where quite frequently roe deer enter one’s field or feed in the woods behind our house or (luckily) rush out of my way as I scooter home during the dark.
Incidentally, the big M stands for the Virgin Mary, Maria, (not McDonald’s as some wag once tried to convince me….)
After the Mass, celebrated by Don Vitali, I was fortunate enough to meet Osvaldo whose wife, Ann Ruth Barsi, has curated the new edition, with English translation, of the definitive book on the Pieve (or parish church) of Controni written by its erstwhile priest Don Elio Carlotti (see my post at http://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/from-pieve-di-controni-to-eltham-palace/ on this magnificent church). Osvaldo’s family live in Washington DC and visit Italy for a few weeks a couple of times a year.
How did I meet Osvaldo? It’s because he came to me and said he read my blog! I think that’s the best reason for writing anything about this exquisite area – to meet up with like-minded people who truly appreciate the beauties of this part of the world. Here is a photograph of us with their little granddaughter taken at Vetteglia’s church:
You can get more information about the book and Ruth’s magnificent work in bringing out a second edition at Debra Kolkka’s post at
The views from Vetteglia are quite stupendous, particularly that of the Prato Fiorito which can here be seen in all its full extent and majesty. There are lovely walks to be had at various levels of ease or difficulty. My favourite one is from Longoio through San Gemignano to Vetteglia and then finishing at San Cassiano.