Historical short essay on Manoppello

Encircled by the loveliest shadesof green of its woody hills and by the snow-covered top of its mountain Maiella, Manoppello (217metres above sea-level), is situated in a geographic zone very suitable to reach in a short time both the Adriatic coast and the mountain places. Its bannerincludes a wheatsheaf, the “manoppio” from which the name of this attractive small town (about 6,000 inhabitants) derives. During the Roman era Manoppello was named “Pollitrio”. In the XIII century the town passed to Frederick II, then from Louis of Anjou it passed to Louis of Savoy.


The view of Manoppello

It was also a possession of the Orsini family; in 1423 it was conquered and destroyed by Braccio da Montone. The church of San Nicola di Bari dates back to the first half of the XIV century; today it displays many Baroque features. The church of Santa Maria D’Arabona, built in 1208, stands on the site of a Roman temple of Bonae. From the Cistercians who built it, it passed to the conventual minor friars and then to the Salesians.

A diploma of the Emperor Ludovic II of the year 874 (deed of gift of the Manoppello castle to the abbey of San Clemente a Casauria) establishes the foundation of the town which, from the beginning of its history, was subjected to the monastery of Montecassino. When, in 1638, the Capuchins came into possession of the Holy Face, Father Donato da Bomba wrote a “relatione historica”, kept in the provincial archives of the Capuchins in L’Aquila. In it is explained how the Holy Face arrived at Manoppello and was owned by the friars. Let’s read the following statement of the “relatione historica”: “In the times of Iulius II, Roman Pontifex, lived at Manoppello, in Hither Abruzzi, province in the kingdom of Naples, Giacomo Antonio Leonelli phisicist and very famous in astrology and other liberal arts. One day he was talking with other notables of the place in the open space in front of the mother church dedicated to St. Nicolas of Bari; right in the middle of the conversation an unknown pilgrim arrived, religious looking and very venerable who, greeted a so important circle of citizens, told doctor Giacomo Antonio Leonelli, politely and humanely, he had to confide a secret very liking, helpful and profitable to him.

Then he took him aside, on the threshold of the church, gave him a bundle and, without unrolling it, told him to like very much that devotion to receive divine benevolence and to prosper in secular and spiritual interests.Giacomo Antonio took the bundle and, retired near the holy water stoup, began to open it. As he saw the Holy Face, he was greatly astonished at first sight and he burst into tears of joy then wiped so that his friends couldn’t notice his emotion. Giving thanks to God for such an inestimable gift, he re-wrapped the Veiland than he looked for the unknown pilgrim to thank him and to give him hospitality but he couldn’t find him. Frightened, nearly stammering, he inquired about the pilgrim but his friends declared they saw him going into the church but they didnât see him going out.

Then he went back home with his friends full of extreme gaiety and many people flocked to admire such a wonderful miracle. To revere such a marvellous and holy image and, as much as possible, to be thankful to God for the received benefit Doctor Giacomo Antonio immediately had done, in the wall of his study, a niche, wardrobe-shaped, with its well adapted little doors and keys, where he kept the Image devoutly and respectfully and with an oil-lamp always burning night and day. Later on some descendants wanted to share out Giacomo Antonio’s property received by inhereditance but a great discussion rose from this, so a certain soldier and man at arms named Pancrazio Petrucci (who had married Marzia, still alive, descendant of the Leonelli) on the pretext to vindicate his wifeâs rights, rushed into the Leonelliâs house and took the Holy Image he wanted to possess. But Pancrazio didnât keep it with the due devotion and decorum. After having taken it, he didnât fold back the Image with the due diligence and devotion but, ill-used and badly folded back, he took it home where he kept it with not much care and estimation. Notwithstanding this, it remained fine and intact even though wringled and spoilt and this event certainly displeased God.

But as the earthly things are more changeable than the moon, the above-mentioned Pancrazio, who stole the Holy Image, was put into prison by the royal court in Chieti so he wrote to his wife Marzia and asked her to sell or to pawn whatever home object, particularly the Holy Image as he knew that very many people wanted it and to send him money for his release from prison. Therefore the kind and simple woman went to Doctor Donato Antonio De Fabritiis, another villager of Manoppello (a man endowed with religious devotion not less than Giacomo Antonio Leonelli) to sell him or to give him in pawn (till the return of her husband) the Holy Image. Doctor Donato Antonio De Fabritiis wishing for a treasure so great and precious, gave the woman four scudi (nearly twenty liras as it happened in 1618) and took the Holy Image without observing it or unrolling it.
Then the woman went away with the four scudi and Donato Antonio, dispatched his business he had to attend to, good-humoured and joyful for the beautiful purchase, spread out the Image which was in the middle of a square veil and all transparent owing to the thinness of the texture, four palms wide in every side and he realized that the veil, badly kept and preserved after the theft in Leonelli’s house, was entirely ragged, worn-out, moth-eaten and worm-eaten, all corrupt, almost pulverized and the last rags still hanging could fall down without being touched with the exception of the Holy Image still beautiful, uninjured and without deterioration, though very wrinkled.

At first sight the spiritual merchant was astonished and regretted spending 4 scudi for a thing very polluted and badly kept. So putting it aside as useless and of no value thing, the doctor thought to return it to the woman who made fun of him and to get his money back. Absorbed in thought, he met the President of the friary of the Fathers Capuchins, at that time with its vestry-board at Manoppello: Father Clemente of Castelvecchio Sacerdote, a very wise and shrewd person, to whom he revealed his intention to give back the Veil to recover his money.
Father Clemente heard the matter, then affected at the sight of the beauty and the quality of the image, he knelt down, adored it and efficaciously exhorted Donato Antonio not to give it back, on the contrary to give much more money by request because there is no high price in the world sufficient to pay it and he added it was a miracle and a gift of Providence if the Veil remained in a good state. Thanks to this sound and spiritual advice, the doctor became calm and satisfied because he valued he had underestimated the Veil.
Therefore the same Father Clemente scissored all the rags around the Veil and removing very well from it dust, worms and other impurities, he turned it as it is nowadays.

The above-mentioned Donato Antonio, wishing to enjoy the Holy Image with better devotion, got it stretched in a frame with plate-glasses in both sides and adorned with walnut inlay by a friar of ours named Brother Remigio of Rapino (as he did not confide in other secular artisans).
As merciful and zealous doctor Donato Antonio considered the Holy Image had to remain more decorously in a devoted church, not resisting this celestial and divine impulse (not listening to the insistent requirements of clergy and other monks of the same territory) gave it to our convent of the Capuchins at Manoppello where it is venerated by that people with satisfaction of those Brothers who never get tired of revering it“.
This is the content of the “relatione historica” (historical report).

Vista della Basilica del Volto Santo

The view of Basilica

Continuation of this sacred story

The convent of the Capuchins was founded from 1618 to 1620, exactly when Giacomo Antonio De Filippis had the Holy Veil put between two plate-glasses. The church was dedicated to St. Michael Archangel. In this church the Holy Face was exposed to the veneration of the people on April 6th, 1646. For nearly 40 years it was not object of public veneration but kept almost privately in a niche, in the right-hand side of the high altar.
Only in 1686 was built, in the left-hand of the church, a little chapel with an altar where the sacred relic was moved and was brought the liturgic feast of August 6th, day of the Transfiguration of Christ on the Mount. A negative event increased the veneration for the Holy Face. The eighteenth century started with a lustrum of earthquake shocks which shook incessantly Umbria, Abruzzo and Sannite region. Father Boniface of Ascoli from 1703 exposed many times the Holy face to the popular veneration.

The XIX century was marked by laws of suppression of religious orders: the monks had to leave the convent twice; the first time on September 6th, 1811; the same day the Holy Face was transferred to the Clarisse convent situated within the walls. The convent remained uninhabited, the sanctuary closed up to May 16th , 1816 when the Capuchins returned. The following Sunday, celebrated the usual feast, the Sacred Veil was taken back in triumph to its sanctuary.But on December 27th , 1866 a law expelled again the friars from the coenobium; the Holy Face remained inside the closed sanctuary. The monks returned on October 27th , 1869 and remained there till to-day. In 1871 was finished the new chapel. In 1923 was built the shrine on the high altar. In 1946 the community of Manoppello gave the new shrine. The church was enlarged and extended in the second post-war period from 1960 to 1965. The confessional room was built in the jubilee year 2000.