|Oratino is a comune (municipality) in the Province of Campobasso in the Italian region Molise, located about 7 km west of Campobasso. As of 31 December 2004, it had a population of 1,326 and an area of 18.0 km2. Oratino borders the following municipalities: Busso, Campobasso, Castropignano, Ripalimosani.
Established in Lombard times, its first recorded feudal lord was fu Eustachio D'Ardicourt in 1268. When the Anjou took possession of Southern Italy, in 1326 king Robert gave the fiefdom to his wife Sancia. Then other families followed: the D'Evoli, Gambatesa, Sforza, Di Capua. A very special tradition is repeated on the night of December 24, when the "Faglia", a giant column made of canes, 7 feet wide and 40 feet high, is lit in the square before the parish church.
The History of Oratino
The following document is translated excerpts from the book "Universita Dell Oratino", written by Angelo Tirabasso.
THE FEUDAL SYSTEM AND THE LORDS IN ORATINO
Probably in the late Lombard and Norman era, Oratino was a part of the Boiano estate and of the subsequent county of Molinis or Molisiis.
According to the illustrious Masciotta, in 1279 it probably belonged to the Ardicourt family, Eustachio and his son Adamo, to whom it would have been granted in 1268. Around the year 1300, its master was Giovanni di Lando.
Pietro De Sus would have held the fief of Oratino until his death in 1326, after which it reverted to the crown. King Roberto, in a decree of June 6, gave it to his wife, Queen Sancia.
Subsequent fief holders were The D’Evolis of Castropignatono, the Gambatesas of Termoli, and the Sforza Gambacortas.
Then the terrible cataclysm occurred, the destructive earthquake, and Oratino, which had to rise from its ruins, is considered an uninhabited fief, its population totally dispersed and never again reunited in the former center.
As an uninhabited fief, it was granted in a decree of 1495 to Andrea di Capua, Duke of Termoli. From the di Capua family it probably passed to the Carraciolos and the Cocias.
In this period Oratino rose from its ashes, and it seems like a miracle that in the short time of some 40 years the people of Oratino were able to build the imposing structure of its church and the other buildings that all bear the dates of the same epoch.
Certainly the Coscia family, originally from Ischia and which numbered among its members a pope, must have ruled the area with an easy hand , as was suitable in the splendid times of the 1500s. The Cocias were succeeded by the Di Silvas, a Spanish family.
THE EARLY TIMES OF ORATINO
Present day Oratino, located at the summit of the high hill, must have sprung up during the Barbarian era, when the Roman empire was destroyed. In order to defend themselves from aggressors, the inhabitants looked for high, naturally fortified places.
The place where the Mother Church is located at present was probably a bare precipice, rising in isolation at the top of the hill. Clinging to that rock, the small village of Oratino arose, around the present Church of St. Nicola, which was the oldest one.
Tradition holds, and this is partially confirmed by the ruins and reasonable deductions, that the church of St. Nicola was the oldest church and the first center of Oratino. A short distance away, and perhaps also called Oratino, since it was part of the same world , so to speak , was a certainly more populated center farther down the hill which is today called "La Rocca" (The Fortress).
This settlement is perhaps more ancient. Located above the only stone bridge which spanned the Biferno River, it was probably on the Roman road linking the Frentani and Pentri families’ estates.
The ruins of the bridge, called the bridge of the "turrets", have not been carefully examined.
But the words "of the Turrets" in the name suggest that they derive from the remains of pilasters in the shape of towers, which was a characteristic of Roman architecture.
At the top of the great rock formation called "La Rocca" there arose a large fortress, perhaps from the pre-Roman epoch, as could be argued from the megalithic walls, the remains of which can still be seen.
The Benedictine Monastery of St. Giovanni Ottobonis was then built there. The land on which the settlement arose is marshy, and the earthquakes must have created continuous problems, the last one being known as St. Antonino’s earthquake because he left a complete description of it and the complete ruin that it caused.
The settlement was almost swallowed up by disasters, the beautiful monastery with the church disappeared, and the few remaining inhabitants took refuge where the present day Oratino is located; a safer place almost immune to the numerous enemies in the form of earthly natural forces and mankind.
With the commune enlarged by the inhabitants of the destroyed settlement of "La Rocca" and of the village called Casale, in the region of the same name, the population felt the need to build up or enlarge the new church. So the precipice rising straight up at the top of the hill was leveled off with tremendous effort. The present archpriest’s church was built there, awkwardly situated as it is because of uneven terrain, with the bell tower located on some of the rock which was not completely leveled off.
The church of St. Maria of Loreto was built at the same time, and the ancient Byzantine statue of St. Maria, as well as that of St. Giovanni, was taken there from the destroyed Benedictine Monastery of St. Giovanni Ottobonis.
The earthquake which administered the coup de grace to the church of St. Maria of Loreto struck at 11PM between Saturday and Sunday , December 5th , 1456. St. Antonino, in the detailed description he made of the earthquake, lists among the towns destroyed "Lo Ratino". The ancient "Lo Ratino" was composed of three inhabited centers, one in the "La Rocca" area, which was certainly the most important and perhaps of pre -Roman origin. The name referring to the monastery remained in use until the eighteenth century, mostly among the clergy of Oratino. The second center was where Oratino is today. The third and least important was in the Casale area.
THE MOTHER CHURCH
The Mother church bears the name of St. Maria Assumpta. On its central door, the year 1526 is incised. This could be the time of the almost total reconstruction after the previously mentioned great earthquake, since it was certainly smaller in the beginning and perhaps had a single nave. This is deduced from the fact ( as found in the old documents ) that the large bell was broken on June 5, 1715, bore the carved inscription of the date of its casting in 1464 by a master foundryman from Agone. The bell was remelted and recast by Master Andrea Castagna of Larino for forty Ducats, making it the largest casting in the church of the hospital, later broken and recast by Marinelli of Agone in 1901. The year 1696 is carved on the side door, and on the door to the sacristy the year 1697, from which it appears that the church was built in several stages, without any regular oversight, and hence the weakness of the side walls as compared to the sturdy center walls. Until 1728 the ceiling was all wood and plain; later on plaster vaults were added. Where the altar of St. Celestino is today, used to be a closed gallery for the baronial family. Like all churches of the time, it served as a tomb and there were five large graves there, which are now closed.
Among the clergy, in addition to the archpriest, almost always someone was appointed as Abbot , a title carried over from the destroyed monastery of St. Giovanni Ottobonis in the area of "La Rocca".
The patron saint of Oratino is St. Bonifacio Martire (St. Bonaface the Martyr), whose feast falls on
May 14th. The relic of his thigh bone was given to D. Bonofacio de Santis by Cardinal Gasper De Carpineo, Vicar General of his Holiness, on April 16, 1695, and the plenary indulgence for his feast day was granted in a decree of June 2, 1702. The co- patron is St. Genaro Vescovo e Martire ( St. Genaro, Bishop and martyr); his relic, a very small one was obtained as a great favor from Duke Gennaro Girolamo Giordano, and the plenary indulgence from Benedetto XIII in a decree of February 13,1723.
There still exists the holy corpse baptized with the name of St. Celestino, taken from the Roman catacomb in 1780 and brought to Oratino by D. Donato Altobelli and Lorenzo Iannandrea. The corpse is in excellent condition with a complete skeleton. It was restored and covered with a transparent cloth and is universally admired.
The church has two statues: St. Francesco and the rosary, the work of the celebrated Neopolitan sculptor Colombo. Among its treasures is the large silver monstrance, of which we will speak of later, a magnificent crucifix, and two valuable canvasses: Trinity and Purgatory. During the time of Archpriest
Tirabasso, the painting of St. Nicola was brought there. It had lain among the ruins of the church that had been built on the precipice. It is a wonderful painting on wood, which was covered by a more recent canvas. It dates from the 1500’s and is of great value.
The church was completely restored with funding from the city in 1908 and repainted by the Oratinian artists Giacomo and Prof. Nicola Giulliani, father and son. In the central nave there is a large fresco painting on the vault: L’Assunzione di M. SS. ( The Assumption of the blessed St. Mary).
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARIA OF LORETO
This church was originally called the church outside the ramparts, since it was some 200 meters away from the inhabited area. Today it is surrounded by factories. The church is very old, and has been enlarged since it was built. In 1716, Vito Altobello, being the steward of this church and at the suggestion of D. Donato Altobello, made the four front clonnades , not only to support the wall, since the front wall was almost falling down, but also to provide decoration. In 1718 he removed the wood ceiling and replaced it with plaster. The church is covered with fresco paintings, providing a grandiose panorama, which was altered by later work by the Oratinian painters Ciriaco and Stanislao Brunetti, who did their work over a number of years, finishing it in 1757.
The large alter is made of a beautiful local red granite. On the rear wall, in a magnificent niche made of gilded wood , is the statue of the highly revered Madonna of Loreto. It came from the church of Giovanni Ottobonis, having been salvaged after the terrible earthquake. The small statue is very ancient, made entirely of wood, originally Byzantine in style, it was subsequently refurbished and dressed in cloth. Highly revered for centuries, it has been and still is the object of devout worship by the people of Oratino, who always turn to it for comfort in times of great calamities.
Flanking it are two oil paintings by Nicolo Falocco, a painter from Oratino of great talent, who died in 1723. There are four alters in the church, two of which are modern and made of marble. The statue of St. Rocco del Colombo is very beautiful, worthy of being in a museum. No less beautiful is the statue now called "La Madonna delle Grazie" ( The Madonna of the Graces), but which is actually the Madonna of Constantinople, originally from the hospital and later from the ducal chapel. It is a magnificent work by the sculptor Carmine Latessa who died young in 1719. The statue of the Carmelite monk is by Crescenzo Ranallo. The statues of St. Martino and St. Biagio were done by the Giovanettis. There is a beautiful canvas with good brushwork , of the Carmelite monk. The last of the dukes of the house of Giordano are buried in this church.
LA ROCCA - THE FORTRESS
On the slopes of the massive stone formation, below Oratino and above the Biferno river, lay the second town. Nothing remains of its walls, just an enormous quantity of broken bricks, which are also found further down the hillside. Among the ruins of the church there can still be seen the door posts, a fountain for holy water, and at the top of the rock, the ruins of a large tower, which was part of a fortress that was built there. The tower was probably the central structure, with the door of the fortress about halfway up the massive rock, as can be judged by the ruins. A staircase cut into the rock can still be seen.
At the top are ruins of pre-Roman walls, with 25 blocks of stone remaining, the largest being 1.7 meters long. No date is carved on the tower, which certainly was rebuilt during medieval times. On the door can be seen a sort of coat of arms carved into the stone. A figure in the shape of a half moon or a sickle is carved inside a circle, with other details that defy explanation.
Some people said the tower had been built for signaling purposes. This is unlikely, since towers of this kind were built in a series, one visible to the other; and since they were built in descending fashion, on a narrow horizon, there was no one with whom to communicate. A legend told in all the surrounding towns speaks of treasure hidden in the rock, a she goat with seven gold kids. Many have believed this story, and holes have been made at several points in the tower. No excavations have been systematically performed to find objects of antiquity and treasure. On the facing promontory, the statue of Minerva, now admired in the Imperial museum of Vienna, was found. It is possible that antiquities of great value can also be found here.
THE FAMINES OF 1764 AND 1803
The terrible famines that afflicted the Neapolitan region in 1764 had its victims in Oratino. A handwritten note in my possession says that in 1763 a huge amount of snow fell and it lasted all through December. Good weather began in January. February seemed like the month of July, and a terrible drought began that lasted the entire spring. Hardly any crops were harvested. The harvest of 1763 had also been poor. The population was suffering from hunger. Oratino sent D. Genarro Pallante to buy grain, but was unable to do so. Price controls were imposed but to no avail. In this area 180 people died.
To bury the bodies, a trench was dug at the hillock at the fork in the road. About 100 people were buried there. The parish books recorded the deaths from hunger. 2 died in March, the first person was Domenico Lorusso; 26 died in April; 27 in May; 30 in June; 10 in July. No record was made of those who died in the countryside.