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The Origins of
Sant'Angelo d'Alife

[Photograph of Sant'Angelo d'Alife]

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Sant'Angelo d'Alife

The Castle of Rupecanina and Raviscanina

The Town of Alife

Notes: Sources and Original Texts

The Origins of Sant'Angelo d'Alife

From 326 B.C. to 1456 A.D.

"Sant'Angelo d'Alife had together with Raviscanina a single origin and feudal existence. Both had their origin in the ancient Città Rufrio [i.e. the territory called Rufrium which according to Livy was conquered by Rome in 326 B.C. (Source: Raviscanina)], in the land of the Samnium-Pentri. Around 569-570 A.D. Sant'Angelo was a simple village (pagus) that grew in inhabitants when the people of Alife sought refuge there because their own city had been razed to the ground by the Saracens; here, in order to be safer, they built at the summit of a crag a sturdy castle, named Rupecanina.

"In 1220 the castle was destroyed by the soldiers of Frederick II and the village was occupied by the soldiers of Cardinal Pelagio, but these were driven out by the insurgent population. At the end of the 13th century the castle was abandoned, and in this way arose Sant'Angelo to the east and Raviscanina to the west. In 1400 the castle was burned and it was never rebuilt; then in 1456 an earthquake destroyed the houses of the village." [Source: Comunità Matese, translated by RWA]

Old Road Map Showing Sant'Angelo d'Alife and the Castle of Rupecanina, 7 KB

Map Source: based on Italia: Motoring Map, Hallwag Berne, Switzerland (no date, but before 1970 when Piedimonte d'Alife became Piedimonte Matese) and augmented by RWA. The icon to the left of S. Angelo indicates the Castle of Rupecanina. The castle is located within the territory of the Comune of Sant'Angelo d'Alife.

The road shown connecting Alife and Pratella is Strada statale ("State Road") No. 158. The height above sea level for Monte Mutria is 1,823 m = 5,979 ft; for Passo di Prete Morto ("Dead Priest Pass", now called Passo di Miralago) 1,102 m = 3,615 ft.

The Geography of Sant'Angelo d'Alife

The map to the left shows the Region of Campania within the Republic of Italy. Campania consists of five Provinces - Avellino, Benevento, Caserta, Napoli (Naples), and Salerno. The Province of Caserta is the northwestern-most province of the Region of Campania. And in its northwestern-most corner lies the Comune ("village and its agricultural lands") of Sant'Angelo d'Alife.

Map of Italy, showing the Region of Campania, 4 KB Map showing Campania's five provinces, 3 KB

Map of central southern Italy, 2 KB Map of the Region of Campania, showing Sant'Angelo d'Alife, 3 KB

The dot on the lower right map marks the location of Sant'Angelo d'Alife within the Region of Campania. The Bay of Naples lies between the large islands of Ischia (north) and Capri (south).

Sant'Angelo d'Alife is about 35 miles from Naples, and about 95 miles from Rome, as lines are drawn on a map. But by map lines Sant'Angelo is 19 miles to the north of the provincial capital City of Caserta, whereas it is 33 miles away from that city by road.

Height above sea level: 385 m = 1,263 ft *

* The altitude of the comune is given as the height above sea level of the Casa comunale of the comune. The Casa comunale ("municipal building" or "town hall" or "civil registry office") normally lies at the center of the comune's inhabited or built-up section, i.e. at the center of the town or village proper. So there may be many variations above or below the stated altitude within the (territory of the) comune.

  1961 Census: 2,776
  1991 Census: 2,580

Diocese: Alife

Military District: Benevento

What does "Comune" mean?

A comune is not only a town, but a town and its surrounding countryside (or agri, "agricultural land"). In other words, a comune is both a village and a territory.

In pre-Civil Registration church documents, a comune was referred to as a Terra or "Land" -- i.e. Administrative Territory. For example, a child was baptized on 4 March 1791 in the Church of St. Bartholomew the Apostle in this Land of Sant'Angelo Raviscanina (la Chiesa sotto il titolo di S. Bartolomeo Apostolo di questa Terra di Santangiolo Raviscanina), or a death occurred on 21 November 1806 in Ecclesia S. Mario Vallis hujus Terra S. Angeli Rupiscanina (in the parish of the Church of Santa Maria della Valle of this Land of Sant'Angelo Raviscanina).

The normal way for a contadino ("peasant") to refer to his village of origin or home town was, not comune, but baés -- It. paese -- i.e. native land.

English language equivalents for comune might be "township" or "municipality" or "self-governing borough".

Related Page: English-Italian Glossary.

Maps Showing Sant'Angelo d'Alife:

The Names of Sant'Angelo d'Alife

Before 1809, in Church documents, Sant'Angelo is named S. Angeli Rupiscanina, that is, S. Angelo Rupiscanina (which, like Raviscanina, is a variation of Rupecanina).

The history of the names of Sant'Angelo d'Alife can be deduced from the township's Civil Register 1809-1865.

Before the unification of Italy in 1860, Sant'Angelo was a comune (township or borough) in the Province of Terra di Lavoro in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. During the "French Decade" (1806-1815) and the Bourbon Kingdom, the municipality was called Santangiolo Raviscanina, with the variations S. Angiolo and Sant'Angelo, first in the Distretto of Capua (1809), then in that of Piedimonte d'Alife (since 1970 Piedimonte Matese).

The municipal seal of the Kingdom of Italy had S. Angelo a Raviscanina. In the early years of the 20th Century the name S. Angelo Alife was sometimes used, and then finally the present Sant'Angelo d'Alife. During the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies the municipality was also sometimes called Santangiolo di Piedimonte -- this being yet another way to distinguish this Sant'Angelo from the 17 other comuni and the 22 frazioni in Italy also named Sant'Angelo.

According to the title pages of the Civil Registers for deaths and births (and for marriages, 1927 and 1929), at the very least during the years 1927-1929 the Municipio di S. Angelo d'Alife was in the Province of Benevento. The title pages for 1922 (and for marriages, also 1928) have Comune di S. Angelo d'Alife, Provincia di Terra di Lavoro.

Origin of the Name "Sant'Angelo"

The "holy angel" (sant'angelo) of Sant'Angelo d'Alife is the Archangel Michael, who is the village's patron saint. There is a grotto at the border of Sant'Angelo with Raviscanina where the Lombards in the 6th Century venerated this angel (una grotta, che si trova ai confini [di Raviscanina] con S.Angelo d'Alife, in cui i Longobardi veneravano l'Arcangelo).

The official seal of Sant'Angelo d'Alife (CE), 4 January 2005, 3 KB The Archangel Michael fighting the devil, in the official seal of Sant'Angelo d'Alife, 2 KB

Image Source: copy of the birth certificate (atto di nascita) of Raffaele Angelillo (1888-1965) of Sant'Angelo d'Alife, dated 4 January 2005.

There is a legend connected to the Cave of Saint Michael (Grotta di San Michele l'Arcangelo). The Archangel clashed with the devil there in order to prevent the devil from returning to sow evil on the earth, once having exited through the passage offered by the cave which came up from Hell. Near this cave, in which the Lombards venerated the archangel, was built a church, today remade from scratch. (Interessante è la leggenda legata alla grotta di S. Michele. L'Arcangelo ebbe qui uno scontro con il demonio, per impedirgli di tornare a seminare il male sulla terra, una volta uscito attraverso il passaggio offerto dalla grotta e che veniva dall'Inferno. Presso questa grotta, in cui i Longobardi veneravano l'Arcangelo, fu edificata una chiesa, oggi rifatta ex novo.) (Source: Raviscanina, translated by RWA).

It seems then that the village could have been named "San Michele d'Alife" rather than "Sant'Angelo d'Alife" directly after the "holy angel" by that name. There is a special celebration in the village for the Archangel Michael on May 8th.

Related Pages:

The Churches of Sant'Angelo d'Alife

The Comune of Sant'Angelo d'Alife is in the Diocese of Alife. The following information was current circa 1951.

Santa Maria della Valle (Our Lady of the Valley), feast day: 8 September. Parish population: 1900. Year founded: 1100. Religious Communities (Roman Catholic): Asilo: Sr. Ancelle di Maria Immacolata (Sisters of Mary Immaculate), 5

S. Bartolomeo Apostolo (Saint Bartholomew the Apostle), feast day: 24 August. Parish population: 700. Year founded: 1100

S. Nicola di Bari (Saint Nicholas of Bari), feast day: 6 December. Parish population: 650. Year founded: 1600

Source: Annuario delle diocesi d'Italia. Marietti Editori Ltd. 1951.

Related Page: Map showing Sant'Angelo d'Alife within the outline of the Diocese of Alife, with the complete church statistics for Sant'Angelo d'Alife and San Martino in Pensilis found in the Annuario.

The Castle of Rupecanina

[Photograph of the Castle of Rupecanina]

Remains of the Castle of Rupecanina, 10 KB

Image Source: Comunità Montana del Matese.

"The imposing ruins that rise up between the townships of Raviscanina and Sant'Angelo d'Alife have come to be called the Castello di Rupecanina (Castle of Rupecanina), but the chroniclers and documents of the Middle Ages have handed down to us five different names." [These names, Rapacanina, Ravecanina, Rabacanina, Rupiscanina, Rupecanina, may have their origin in the name of the ancient territory of Rufrium (variation Rufricum), when, following its conquest by Rome, that territory name migrated away from the Volturno River valley toward the Matese Mountains. (Source: Raviscanina) When the Normans ruled the city of Alife (ca. 1066-1197), S.Angelo-Rupecanina was an important village in their territory (Source: I normanni nel Sud), Rupecanina here being the present Raviscanina. Translations by RWA]

"One supposes that the construction of the castle was ordered by the political authority of Alife which intended to create a secure refuge against possible enemies, such as the Saracens who for the whole of the 9th century continually sacked southern Italy. So they thought to fortify this hill which lacked any vegetation and was accessible in few ways. With the passage of time many families of Alife moved to this place enclosed by sturdy walls and towers, forming the strongest castle in the area. Here dwelled the Lombards and, in Norman times, the counts of Alife." [The remains of the Castle of Rupecanina are still visible from all parts of the plain of Alife (visibile da tutta la pianura alifana) (Source: Raviscanina)]

[Sant'Angelo d'Alife and Raviscanina were administered together until 1 January 1809. (Source: Raviscanina)] "The Administrative Councils (Consigli Amministrativi) of Raviscanina and S.Angelo used to meet in the Castle of Rupecanina" (Source: Comunità Matese).

The Geography of Raviscanina

Height above sea level: 358 m = 1,174 ft
[Area: 24.5 sq km = 9.6 sq mi. The territory of Raviscanina includes the frazioni of Case Albanesi, Quattroventi, Rave, and Case Pagane. (Source: Raviscanina)]

  1961 Census: 1,520 (with its frazione Quattroventi)
  1991 Census: 1,433

Diocese: Alife

History of Alife

"Alife was an ancient Samnite center of the 5th century B.C. It was conquered by the Romans in 310 B.C. When the Samnite Wars ended, Alife was declared Praefectura Sine Suffragio [i.e. the conquered people were subjected to Roman rulers but were not granted Roman citizenship rights (They were "without suffrage")] and so remained until the end of the Second Punic War.

"Following the earthquake of 369 A.D. Alife was in great part rebuilt including its city walls. The city had its revival with the creation by the Lombards first of the Dukedom and later of the Principality of Benevento.

"In 1561, in order to punish Count Don Ferrante Diaz Carlon who had taken part in a crime against one of his sisters, Philip II ordered the destruction of Alife. So from then for more than two centuries the ancient Roman City came to be almost completely abandoned. The end of feudalism in 1806 coincides however with the beginning of a very slow revival." [Source: Comunità Matese, translated by RWA]

Why was Alife Destroyed in 1561?

Nel 1561, per punire il Conte don Ferrante Diaz Carlon che aveva partecipato al delitto di una sua sorella, Filippo II ordinò la distruzione di Alife. What does it mean?

The translation is perfect but even in Italian it is not easy to understand whose sister was ... murdered. I am not sure about murder but I think it has to be understood this way because in Italian the husband who kills his wife is considered as a «delitto passionale» ["crime of passion"]. According to what I learned at school the sua refers to something up in the text. The first name we have up in the text is Don Ferrante ... but ... we have the one who punishes and even if his name doesn't appear first the sua may refer to him.

Et á la fin would you destroy a village for somebody else's sister? (Note by Angelo Abiuso, Geneva)

Oxford Classical Dictionary

Allifae [OCD 2nd ed. (1970)], mountain town overlooking the Volturnus [Volturno River], the gateway between Samnium and Campania: modern Castello d'Alife (with interesting museum in nearby Piedimonte d'Alife). Strategic Allifae changed hands repeatedly in the Samnite Wars. Under Rome it descended to lower ground and became a flourishing town (modern Alife, with well-preserved Roman walls, etc.). E.T.S. [Edward Togo Salmon]

I am not able to identify "Castello d'Alife". The two accounts suggest that in Roman times peace allowed the population to descend from higher ground, but then in Medieval times it was forced to move back to higher ground.

The Geography of Alife

Height above sea level: 110 m = 361 ft
[Area: 63.9 sq km = 24.9 sq mi. (Source: Alife)]

  1961 Census: 6,096
  1991 Census: 6,930

Diocese: Alife

Alife: town in the Volturno River valley, 18 miles north of Caserta, in the cereal and olive growing region. Population, 1936 Census: 3,331. (Source: Columbia Lippincott Gazetteer of the World, 1962.)


(1) Comunità Matese. Unauthorized translation by Robert [Wesley] Angelo of much-edited Italian texts found at the Web site Comunità Montana del Matese <www.unina.it/craa/matese/it_home.htm> as it existed in November 1997, the whole of which bore this copyright notice: Copyright 1996 Consorzio per la Ricerca Applicata in Agricoltura [Consortium for Applied Research in Agriculture].

Related Page: English translations of the original Italian texts the summaries on this page are based on, with the original texts from the Matese Mountain Community site: Sant'Angelo d'Alife, Raviscanina, and Alife

(2) Raviscanina. Information from a page of the Italian Web site Telemagazine <telema.gazine.it/raviscanina.htm> as it exited in July 1999. Unauthorized translation by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

(3) I normanni nel Sud. Information from the Web page Il capitolo sui normanni nella storia di Alife <www.geocities.com/SoHo/Workshop/4034/capitolo.htm> as it existed in July 1999. Unauthorized translation by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

(4) Alife. Information from a page of the Italian Web site Telemagazine <telema.gazine.it/alife.htm> as it exited in July 1999. Unauthorized translation by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

(5) The Civil Registers of Sant'Angelo d'Alife, 1809-1910. These are the usually unnamed source for anything original on this page. Most of this information can be culled from Angelillo Family History - Italian Civil Register Records. There is also a list of the Civil Registers of Sant'Angelo d'Alife that are available on microfilm.

The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/angelo/santstor.html
Last revised: 23 July 2018 : 2018-07-23 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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