Thursday, June 21, 2012


Light begins to run from you as soon as you step under the round arched cupola of ochre stone that guards the entry. The unpolished, rough-hewn wood door closes slowly behind you, whether you want it to or not. Turning left you enter the long, seemingly endless corridor that leads away from you with no end in sight…perhaps to an evil infested eternity. Your footsteps scratch along the grit and sand of the thousand year old stone floor as you enter into the darkness, the great stone pillars connected by graceful arches would be beautiful were it not for the shadows that lurk behind them, the tears that stream from them, and their screams. You’ve entered the Lucedio Abbey, once a place of devotion and religion, now considered one of the scariest places on earth.

In the early days of 1124, the Marquis of Monferrato, Raneiro and his parents, Bernard and Ardizzone gave the land upon which the monastery to the abbot of La Ferte in order to enable him to form a new Cistercian Settlement. Also called the Bernardines or the White Monks, Cistercians are a strict Roman Catholic order with emphasis on manual labor and self-sufficiency. With the help of abundant additional donations, the monastery quickly became a vital part of the community, both as a religious presence and as a fecund agricultural compound.

For the next five hundred years, the abbey conducted itself with great comportment with involvement in the Crusades as well as benefices from such notables as the Marquis Boniface, Pope Pius IX, Pope Callistus III and Francesco II Gonzaga. But all that was to change in 1684.

Legend holds that in that year, many of the young girls of the surrounding village became instruments of the Devil, and their work for him was to corrupt the monks of the Lucedio Abbey. Perhaps through seduction, perhaps under the guise of spiritual guidance, the girls preyed upon the monks, turning them into active Satanists, converting their devout practices slowly into harmless rituals that eventually became sacrifices. From that moment on, the Abbey became the sight of debased humanity, a place of gruesome tortures, evil rituals, bloody murders, and even child molestations. A once holy place became a vortex of evil itself, one so malevolent, that word of the happenings reached the pope, Pio VI, who closed the abbey, in 1784, exactly one hundred years later. But by then…it was too late, the evil had permeated the very structure and there it remains, even today.

The Lucedio Abbey has been studied by numerous and varies paranormal groups, and all have come away with the same findings…shadows that move, pillars that weep, cries of anguish that feel the building and the heart with revulsion. It is in the Judgment Room where prisoners were once tied up to stand and await the fate of the Monks that the Crying Column stands, a pillar of stone that becomes wet (‘weeps’) for no reason or rhyme.

The mythology continues into the Crypt where, it is said, and evil spirit was imprisoned under the Church. But only the greatest of powers could keep it sequestered, powers held by the abbots themselves. Buried in an upright, sitting position they are stationed in a circle surrounding the believed vortex of the evil. In a bizarre twist, some sort of natural mummification took place and they are on guard even today, perhaps through eternity.

Additional strange occurrences include a strange mist or fog that inexplicably rises up and overtakes the Principato and bell tower. In the graveyard strange shapes, of the kind that people say represent the Devil, appear to dance upon and around the graves and stones. And in the church and the priest’s house, strange lights and sounds ring out at odd days and times.

In a land as ancient as Italy, this is but one of many such places, where remnants of previous lives have left their indelible ethereal impression upon the physical earth. As I set about to write historical fiction tales of the uniquely Italian sort, I cast my mind’s eye and my writer’s pen to the winds that carry such stories.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012


Rivaling the romanticized myth and legend of the Musketeers are those colorfully garbed Swiss Guard. We think of them now as the stalwart guardians who protect the Vatican, its people and its historic treasures. How strange it is then to look back to their genesis and find homeless men who were, in essence, killers for hire.

“The Helvetians are a people of warriors, famous for the valor of their soldiers,” so proclaimed Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and historian of the second century. Helvetia—the Latin name for Switzerland—is, as well, the name of the tribe from which the population grew. And grew it did, so large it fell under precarious economic conditions of an overpopulated land shrouded in poverty. Some 15,000 men looked to emigration for salvation and their skill as warriors for the profession.

This moment was to be the creation of a band of brothers as famous as any that ever existed. Developing a tactical form of combat unique in its style—sans cavalry or artillery—they fought in brief and yet victorious wars during the warm weather months, returning home with their pay and any ‘bonuses’ they may have garnered in the form of looting.

Their reputation grew and so did their patrons; the Swiss Guard fought for France, Spain, Vienna, Naples, Portugal and other, smaller actions. But it is as the Papal Guards, the Guardia Svizzera Pontificia, that they still exist and in which personification the world knows them, the “Defenders of the Church’s Freedom.”

Though there is evidence of an alliance between the Guard and Pope Sixtus IV dating to 1497, it is January 22, 1506 when 150 Swiss soldiers stepped foot on Vatican grounds and were blessed by Pope Julius II. The next few years found them fighting for the Holy See, as well as for other Italian States, but it was not until a fateful day in May of 1527 that their most valiant test came upon them.

It is here that I encounter the Guard in the Sack of Rome, in a pivotal moment in The King’s Agent. A dynamic combustion of varied warring political forces found Italy besieged, yet again, by the French. The attack on Rome, when it came on May 6, 1527, found the city poorly protected against the under paid, under fed forces of Charles, Duke of Bourbon, frustrated and irritable soldiers who took it upon themselves to feed upon the glory that was Rome. The city was looted; men, women, and children were abused and killed, and the Vatican itself was set upon and overtaken. Of the almost two hundred Guards that protected the Pope, all but 42 died. Yet it was this valiant, heroic effort that allowed the Pope to escape from the heart of the overrun Vatican City, through the Passetto di Borgo, to the temporary safety of the Castel Sant’Angelo.

Every year, on May 6, new recruits are sworn in to the Swiss Guard in commemoration of the soldiers’ bravery on that fateful day, accepting their duty with this oath:

"I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the See is vacant.

Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!"