“Within is the wellspring of Good – it is always ready to bubble up if you just dig.”

Marcus Aurelius

In the three first 3 parts of this series I introduced the following concepts:

  • That we are all echoes of past events undergone by our ancestors in time and space
  • That echoes can be “heard” and discerned from DNA, linguistic, behavioral, and geodemographic analysis
  • Certain behaviors are transmitted as religio-cultural memes that can span many generations

For nearly 10 years I had been digging into my past using these techniques to understand from whence I came.  The culmination of that work was when my daughter and I went to southern Italy.  We first confirmed the birthplace of my great-great-grandmother Clementina’s in Piaggine. Then using information in the village archives of Piaggine and using Google Earth to look at likely candidate villages in proximity to Piaggine we also confirmed the birthplace of Clementina’s husband Angelo Corbo in nearby Sacco.  When the staff in the vital records office showed me his birth record with my great great great grandmother Angelina “Vave” Perrone’s name on it I had my “Kunte Kinte I found you moment.”  It was a very emotional and triumphant experience.  My quest was at and end.

Or so I thought.

As I dug deeper into the history of this very small village I stumbled across a seminal event that occurred during the summer of 1656.  As roughly translated into English:

“In May of 1656 the plague arrived in Naples by ships from Sardinia. The situation soon became uncontrollable and the population faced an epidemic that left 250,000 dead in a town that had about 450,000 people.

In the rural outskirts of the kingdom was a real tragedy with a death toll reaching 50% -60% of the population.  In most villages of the Cilento mortality was 60% and in a few as much as 100%  The plague came to Sacco in late June of 1656.  The initial safeguard measures enacted by royal decree included the quarantine of strangers and the burning of their clothes.  It did not work.

Sacco was devastated.  More than 600 people died in a village of 935. Entire Families were wiped out.  The old church and cemeteries could not hold the dead.  It was total desolation.  Everyone lived in expectation of an imminent and horrible death.

But the plague to Sacco was the beginning of a splendor that never before had seen.  For on August 2, 1656 on the feast day of Our Lady of the Angels something extraordinary happened: the death in the entire countryside suddenly ceased.

And it was attributed to the intense devotion to Our Lady of the Angels in Sacco.  The prayers of the Sacchesi had not only saved their village – but of the entire region. As the Abbot Pacichelli, rector of the Carmelite Monastery in nearby Piaggine, wrote this account in the years following the plague: the “Small castle of Sacco, became revered for the miracles performed by the image of Our Lady during the fierce plague involving thousands of pilgrims from various parts of the kingdom who, with the oil of Her lamp, were freed or protected from the epidemic.

The parish church of Sacco was soon to administer an immense wealth. An unprecedented influx of pilgrims flooded the streets of Sacco rushing from everywhere to honor the Queen of the Angels.   Massive donations  of gold, silver, ducats and other coins, jewelry, pottery, linens, and even 545 sheep were made as people gave thanks for their lives. The parish church, where there was the Chapel of Our Lady of the Angels, could not contain the crowds of pilgrims. It was necessary to think of appropriate solutions. And ‘what the clergy did in 1756 on the 100th anniversary of the deliverance from the plague was to build a new church which must be understood as a solemn act of thanksgiving.

The plague that had brought so much pain had turned into an occasion of great revival. It invigorated the cult of the Virgin, the people found encouragement and guidance in faith. The reconstruction work was relentless, every citizen contributed with their work and those who could not pay part of their work gave substances…”

As I reflected in the summer of 2007 on the events of the summer of 1656 in the tiny village of Sacco – I realized that I had found the Wellspring of Faith – the source of the echo within my maternal line that explained the behavior and abiding faith of some very devout women that literally went back centuries.  As I dug just a little deeper I discovered that this was not just an artifact in my own family.   The sons and daughters of Sacco all over the world give thanks for their very lives to this day:

“As if by magic, in August, the villages of the Cilento come alive to the return of emigrants. The feast of Our Lady of the Angels in Sacco, is the meeting point of all Sacchesi citizens outside the territory of our municipality. In fact, every year and always return more or less numerous of citizens from Italy, Europe and the Americas.

The party is like a ritual that is renewed every year around the country with a magical atmosphere and everything seems to be the first – where no time has elapsed.  All this makes chasing “backwards” time, and what is the same everywhere has a special meaning to us from antiquity.    All this from time immemorial: in fact, the veneration of Our Lady of the Angels in Sacco is lost in time.

The devotion to Our Lady of the Angels is always strongly felt by all Sacchesi. In fact, our large community of New York did made a copy of the statue of the Virgin Mary is celebrated on the first Sunday of August. Here and there, the statue is carried by hand to the center of the square. Many people huddle around pushing and shoving others in the hope of being able to carry on their shoulders or just to touch her or kiss her. Someone tears at the memory, perhaps from the distant past. The Madonna has made the miracle of bringing together many Sacchesi under her coat and we are grateful to her for ever…”

Every August 2nd my thoughts turn to a little village in the Cilento – of the tremendous trial that my ancestors underwent and the faith that was invigorated with their deliverance. A faith whose echo has not diminished for centuries.   On that day I share their story of what happened with my children and give thanks that we had the opportunity to live.  May these echoes from the Wellspring of Faith carry on.