I’ve researched and written on orphans and adoption customs in Italy before, but in the last few months I’ve come up with another reason to be interested in Italian orphanages… I’ve discovered that my great-great grandfather was an orphan. Apparently, the “First Anselmo” as we are calling him (there were more after him) was offspring of a nobleman from Molfetta and a servant girl. We have the surname of the father but only the first name of the mother. After being educated in the orphanage at Giovinazzo, Puglia he lived with two other families, neither of which had the surname Finzi. So we have a new family mystery to solve… why Finzi? And why Catholic? (Most Finzis in Italy are Jewish).
I suppose that someday I might get my hands on the adoption records from 1836. I’ve read that there can be a lot of information gained due to the narrative style of report written about each foundling during that period. But in the last part of the 19th century, the adoption procedures slimmed down to the barest of information. However, if the foundling was placed in a Ruota del Trovatello (Foundling Wheel), there might never be any information about who the parents of the child were. You see, the Ruota was a type of drum shaped cabinet on a pivot, used in orphanages to receive unwanted babies--anonymously.
During those hard times, there were a significant percentage of abandoned babies from both unmarried women and married couples. Poor peasants with several other children could not afford to feed yet another child. They would anonymously abandon the child at the Ruota, typically built into the wall of the local convent or Ospizio (orphanage).
The problem of unwanted newborns has been documented in Italy since Roman times when babies abandoned next to a column in a forum were either taken home by strangers to serve as slaves or left to die. Pope Innocent III was so shocked by the large number of dead babies floating in the Tiber River that he institutionalized the “foundling wheel” in the 12th century as a solution for dealing with the large number of foundlings—infants abandoned by their parents and left to die or be discovered and cared for by others. The size of the Ruota was purposely kept infant-sized to prevent older children from being abandoned. Older children were thought of as workers and laborers, and rather than be abandoned, worked on the farm or became apprentices to a local tradesman.
The practice of using foundling wheels to dispose of unwanted children gained in popularity and became a common practice in medieval Europe. By the early part of the 19th century, names were often recorded when people gave up their children to the orphanage or church openly, a practice often done when there might come a time when they wanted the child back—as they became more solvent or when an older child could work on a family farm. But surnames could never be known when they put the child in the Ruote. For this reason, many often pinned a charm or special memento to the child that could be identified if they ever wanted to reverse their decision. The babies were given surnames such as Esposito (exposed), Proietti (thrown away), and Innocenti (innocent). People with such names can usually trace their family tree back to a foundling. It was only after 1926 that an Italian law banned the use of such discriminatory names, when names were given to describe the time of year (Primavera) or the month (Maggio) the child was abandoned.
(Read more about orphan names HERE)
Safe Ways to Abandon Babies in Modern Society
In many countries, there are still modern versions of the Ruota… usually a climate controlled drawer in which a baby could be placed. Multilingual posters in modern Rome read—“Don’t abandon your baby! Leave it with us.” The practice of placing unwanted infants in a modern foundling wheel, heated baby hatch, stork cradle, stainless steel baby box, maternity ward, or designated safe haven is a practice that is still used today in many European countries and the United States and the practice is gaining in popularity throughout the world to combat child infanticide.
Some legal problems with modern baby hatches are connected to a child’s right to know their own identity, as guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Baby hatches also deprive the father of his right to find out what has happened to his child, though DNA testing of foundlings would seem to offer a partial solution. I suppose as strange as the Ruota sounds, it has saved the lived of countless children in Italy and around the world…
As for me, I now know we come from a lineage of Finzi’s that come to a sudden, mysterious beginning in 1836. Since my great-great grandfather seems to have been placed into the orphanage with some paperwork filled out, perhaps someday I’ll be able to continue to trace our family tree further and further back in time.
Domestication of geese dates back to Neolithic times, about 6,000 years ago. During the Roman Empire there is much evidence of breeding geese in both writings and art. Of course, the ancient Romans saw the goose as a ready source of food high in protein and fats.
L'oca (the goose) was written about in the 1st century collection of recipes by Marco Gavio Apicius, the most famous of Roman culinary maestros. The goose was fattened with dried figs and wine mixed with honey, then were either oven roasted, spit-roasted or boiled and served with a sauce made with pepper, coriander, mint, rue and olive oil. Its liver was a delicacy to be dipped in milk and honey.
It's also obvious to historians that Charlemagne, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire also favored the development the valuable goose. In the Middle Ages he personally owned 30 geese on his farm for domestic use and trade. In Italy as well as other countries, goose is the preferred celebratory food on the day of San Martino.
Aside from food, the goose served many other purposes. In the 15th century, Paolo Santonino wrote in his Itinerarium Sanctonini, "Wherever there is an abundance of geese, even the poorest peasants have a feather bed". With their exceptional eyesight, wide field of vision, extremely loud and boisterous honking, a gaggle of geese makes excellent guards to warn of poachers, intruders, thieves and predators, and unlike dogs, they can't be silenced by offering them a treat.
In 390 BC, when Rome was attacked by Gallic troops, their honking alarmed when an enemy attempted an attack. Even today, geese are used in Italy, not only to eat pests in vineyards and olive and nut groves (a very organic approach to avoid pesticides), but they will warn the owner of poachers entering their lands. They have also been used to protect wine and whisky cellars.
Old school Italians even forecast the weather using the goose... at the dinner table, that is. If the bones are white, the winter will be short and mild; if they are dark is a sign of rain, snow and cold.
Gaming the Goose
The goose has also given its share of fun to early households in the form of the game called Gioco dell'Oco. Even saying the name is fun... Jy-Oko, dell Oko.
In the Game of the Goose the object is fairly straightforward, rolling the dice and being the first to make it to the center. There are obstacles to avoid, just like in the child's game Candy Land, except rather than getting stuck on a Licorice Stick, the obstacles are the Inn, the Bridge and Death.
The game originated sometime in the 16th century, and is considered the forefather of most board racing games. Manufactured versions appeared in the late 19th century, and modern versions are still played throughout Italy and Europe. There are even life-sized games with real geese played during the Festival of San Marino in some towns like Mirano and Mortara.
In Italy, goose-based lunches are typical northern regions such as Friuli, Veneto, Lombardy and Romagna. In several places the Dinner of San Martino is an entire menu based on goose. In the province of Pavia the town of Mortara has the nickname City of the Goose where one specialty is goose salami, called Salumi dell'Oca. Having a strong Jewish heritage, this high fat sausage replaces typical pork sausage on the table and is prepared in the Kosher tradition.
In addition to their fatty meat, geese produce large edible eggs, weighing up to 6 ounces each. They are used just as chicken eggs are, but have a much larger yolk with a more gamey flavor. As part of the Cucina Povera in past history, a goose egg would have been preferred over a chicken egg since each egg contains much more fat and calories (essential to get through a lean growing season or winter). Perhaps this is where the idea of the Goose Who Laid a Golden Egg came from. Here's a comparison between chicken and goose eggs:
Chicken - 1.5 oz; 72 calories; 4.75 grams total fat/1.56 grams saturated;6 grams protein
Goose - 6 oz; 266 calories; 19.11 grams total fat/5.1 grams saturated; 20 grams protein
In a modern healthy diet, one rarely considers eating goose eggs, especially if trying to lower their dietary cholesterol... One large chicken egg contains 186 mg of cholesterol, but a single goose egg contains 1,227 mg of cholesterol!
So you see, the contadini (farmers) of Old Italy considered raising geese as a sound investment. They are a good source of high fat, high calorie, high protein food; a "watchdog" against intruders; down for his beds, and for the most part, geese get their own food, grazing for garden pests and are happy to eat kitchen scraps. Keeping geese around was very furbo.
In northern Italy, where there is a large Jewish culture, there is an artisan process of creating Prosciutto dell'Oca (goose ham). This is a lean product, similar to prosciutto, made using the leg of the goose, seasoned with salt, pepper and spices and aged for about 2 months or more. Its color is dark red, with a sweet taste and an intense aroma. It is used as an appetizer for important occasions and often served on bruschetta with a glass of local wine. The city of Mortara, offers Prosciutto dell'Oca during both spring and fall festivals.
Siena and its Winning Contrada dell'Oca
In Italy, cities are divided into contrade (districts or wards), with the most famous being the 17 contrade of Siena whose representatives race on horseback in the Palio di Siena, run twice each year. Each contrada has an animal as its mascot, produly and loveingly displayed on flags all over the city. The one that we point out here is the Contrada dell'Oca.
If you love geese, than this is the flag you should be rooting for when you visit Siena to witness this exciting horse race. But there's another reason... The Noble Contrada dell’Oca holds the record of winning 65 Palios races, from its inception in 1644 to the present day.
List of September 11 Victims of Italian Heritage
September 11, 2018
Closed since 1997, the Cressoni Theater in Como was destined to be demolished, making way for modern luxury residence. As happens often in ancient Italy, the more you dig, the more you find... but what a find this was!
A hoard of ancient Roman gold coins...
A soapstone jar dating from the fifth century AD was found this week, full of ancient Roman gold coins that could be worth millions of dollars. The unique coins that date back to the late Roman imperial era were uncovered in the cracked soapstone jar, broken when workers first came upon it. “We do not yet know in detail the historical and cultural significance of this discovery but this area is a real treasure for our archeology,” Minister of Culture Alberto Bonisoli said in a press release published on Friday.
As is common when archeological artifacts are uncovered, construction will be halted until further excavation is carried out by archeologists, who believe the site could also contain jewelry and gold ingots. The excavation site is close to the Foro Novum Comum, an area known for some major Roman artifacts discoveries.
Bodyguards rushing Pope John Paul II to safety after he was shot
in Saint Peter's Square by Turkish extremist Mehmet Ali Agca, May 13, 1981.
St. Pope John Paul II meets with Mehmet Ali Agca,
the man who tried to assassinate him, in a Roman prison cell, 1983.
Riding in his Popemobile across Piazza san Pietro on May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot by Mehmet Ali Aqca, who had escaped from a Turkish prison after receiving a life sentence for murdering a journalist. Aqca fired four shots with his pistol with two shots striking the Pope in his lower abdomen, and two more in his arm and finger. There were also two other people who were shot and survived.
Aqca had an accomplice who was supposed to set off a bomb but instead fled the scene. Both Aqca and Oral Celik were captured and arrested.
The Pope survived his severe injuries, and then asked Catholics to pray for Aqca, whom he had forgiven.
An Italian court sentenced Aqca to life in prison. In 1983, John Paul II visited him in his stark prison cell and spent time praying and talking. The Pope stayed in touch with Aqca’s family during the years and in 2000 requested his pardon. The request was granted.
Aqca was released and deported to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for the life sentence he had fled decades prior. He converted to Christianity while incarcerated, and was finally released in 2010.
In December 2014, Aqca returned to Rome and
laid two dozen white roses at the pope’s tomb.
The act of forgiveness is a powerful tool in life
that many of us have yet to master.
Museo Galileo - Museum of the History of Science in Florence
Galileo invented many mechanical devices besides the telescope, such as the hydrostatic balance, a pendulum clock and a high power water pump powered by one horse. Of course, his most famous invention was the telescope. Galileo made his first telescope in 1609, modeled after telescopes produced in other parts of Europe that could magnify objects three times. He created a telescope later that same year that could magnify objects twenty times. You might argue that although he didn't invent the first telescope, he obviously improved upon it.
With this telescope, he was able to look at the moon, discover the four satellites of Jupiter, observe a supernova, verify the phases of Venus, and discover sunspots. His discoveries proved the Copernican system which states that the earth and other planets revolve around the sun. Prior to the Copernican system, it was held that the universe was geocentric, meaning the sun revolved around the earth
When they arrived in Venice in 1989, Pink Floyd were met by over 200,000 Italian fans, but also by a large contingent of Venetians who had no desire to see the show happen at all. The city’s municipal administrators viewed the concert as an assault against classical Venice. The concert was also stepping on traditional toes considering it was scheduled to take place in St. Mark’s square, coinciding with the hugely popular Redentore festival (the Feast of the Redeemer with fireworks from a nearby island). With Venice already threatened by sinking foundations, winter flooding, and with the memory of the St. Mark's bell tower having collapsed in 1902 (and having been rebuilt) many were concerned about the safety of the fragile historic art and architecture of the city.
Three days before the concert's July 15th date, Venice's superintendent for cultural heritage vetoed the concert, claiming that the amplified sound would damage the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica, while the whole piazza could very well sink under the weight of so many people dancing in unison.
The ban made concessions to allow the concert to go forward: lowering the decibel levels from 100 to 60 and performing from a floating stage 200 meters from the piazza. The concert was broadcast on TV in over 20 countries with an estimated audience of almost 100 million. The concert drew 150 thousand more people than actually lived in Venice, and even though fans were on their best behavior, one group of statues sustained minor damage and the crowds left behind 300 tons of garbage and 500 cubic meters of empty cans and bottles. And due to the fact that public porta-potties were not provided by the city, fans relieved themselves on the monuments and walls.
The concert placed tension between different political factions forcing the Mayor to resign with shouts of “resign, resign, you’ve turned Venice into a toilet.” His comrades on the city council also stepped down.
The band may have taken down the city’s government, but they put on a hell of a show--one the Italian fans, and the millions of who watched from home, will never forget.
A beautiful example of A. J. Johnson’s 1866 map of Italy. Johnson first introduced this map in his 1863 atlas and it represents a substantial re-engraving of his original two part plate. Johnson's reconsideration of his Italy map was most likely related to Italy's unification in the 1860s. No longer a collection of independent states, Italy now needed to be represented as a cohesive whole. In order to accommodate this Johnson reorients his map to the northwest, allowing the boot to fill a single vertical page while leaving space to fully depict Sardinia and Corsica. In the lower right quadrant there is a inset map of Malta. Throughout, Johnson identifies various cities, towns, rivers and assortment of additional topographical details. Features the fretwork style border common to Johnson’s atlas work from 1864 to 1869. Published by A. J. Johnson and Ward as plate numbers 88 and 89 in the 1866 edition of Johnson’s New Illustrated Family Atlas .
His name doesn’t sound Irish when you read it in the Spanish naval documents, but Guillermo Herries (a Portuguese translation of his name) was really William Harris of Galway. It’s no surprise that Irish children never heard of “Guillermo” even though he was a member of Columbus’ First Voyage with the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria…
As historians have theorized based on their evidence, William Harris first met Columbus at St Nicholas’ Church in Galway in 1477. Some say he discussed strange, unknown plant seeds and other objects washing up along the shoreline in Ireland possibly from some far off land, while others think Harris boasted to Columbus that he had actually sailed to those lands to the west. Columbus was also emboldened by stories he heard of the 6th century monk, St. Brendan and his voyage to the New World.
It’s not too difficult to believe that Harris might have reached America before 1492, since it’s been proven that Leif Erickson had also been there hundreds of years earlier in a failed attempt at setting up a colony in the northern regions.
“Guillermo Herries” is one of 38 people listed as being left by Columbus in Haiti to form
the first European settlement in the New World. In the end, after a short time, the native population slaughtered them all.
Still, we must honor both the Italians, Portuguese and even the Irishman that took part in opening up the New World to European culture…
Happy Saint Patrick's Day a tutti!