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PARISHES AND MIGRATION IN THE SWISS CANTON OF TICINO

08/07/2015 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, Italian Peninsula, landscapes and pilgrimage, Mediterranean, Other, Parish Research Today, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, The Alpine Territories, towns and urban environment

When I visit the numerous churches and chapels in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland located south of the Alps, I am always struck by their extraordinary artistic and historical richness. One explanation is the flourishing of devotions and religious art which characterised most Catholic countries after the Council of Trent. This is certainly true especially in the Italian area, to whose cultural sphere the Ticino belonged (even though it fell under Swiss political control in the sixteenth century), but there are other reasons. In fact, a crucial further factor needs to be considered: migration. On the one hand, over the centuries, thousands of people associated with the building trades left their homes in the Lake Lugano region to practice their skills as architects, masons, master builders, stucco workers, stonecutters, sculptors and painters abroad. This phenomenon was generally seasonal and whilst staying in their villages, the artisans helped to build or embellish churches and chapels. On the other hand, many migrants associated with other professions donated substantial parts of their earnings to devotional and charitable purposes.

The migrants’ faith and generosity are still visible in many churches and chapels of these territories, particularly in the Pedemonte region, the Centovalli and in the villages surrounding the town of Locarno. Inhabitants of these places had migrated to different Italian cities – especially Livorno, Florence and Rome – for centuries. Exclusively men, they worked as porters (facchini), coachmen (vetturini), chimney sweeps and food-sellers (rosticcieri), to mention just a few professions. In Livorno and Florence they were even able to obtain the monopoly of the porterage trade.

The following pictures shall help to illustrate the impact of migration as it is still tangible today. (Click the thumbnails to enlarge the images.)


§ Figures 1, 2 and 3 – Chapel of S. Rocco (St Roch, 17th century) in the parish church of S. Maria Assunta (Assumption) in Tegna (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno)

On the balustrade of many chapels, and in one case even on a confessional box, we can often find the inscription “B.D.L”, an acronym which means “Benefattori di Livorno” (“Benefactors of Livorno”). The migrants active in Livorno gathered in groups and used to collect money for their parishes and brotherhoods.


§ Figures 4, 5, 6 and 7 – Chapel in Verscio (1740) (Terre di Pedemonte, bailiwick and pieve of Locarno); and Our Lady of Montenero in Livorno (14th century)

References to migration and urban experiences also appear in specific devotions. In many churches of this region, even in small chapels deep in the forests, dozen of paintings depicting the Virgin of Montenero can still be found. Here we can see the original painting at Livorno and a very ‘rustic” copy in Verscio. The shrine of Our Lady of Grace of Montenero is located on a hill overlooking Livorno. The Madonna di Montenero, nowadays patron saint of Tuscany, was already widely venerated in seventeenth and eighteen-century century Livorno. In the chapel in Verscio, under the picture of the Virgin Mary and two further saints, we can see details of the port of Livorno (lighthouse and ships).


§ Figures 8, 9 and 10 – Parish church of S. Michele (St Michael) in Palagnedra (bailiwick and pieve of Locarno), Virgin of the Annunciation in Palagnedra (Lorenzo Cresci, altar piece, 1602) and Virgin of the Annunciation in Florence (fresco, 14th century)

A similarly imported devotion concerns the Virgin of the Annunciation of Florence. A copy of the famous and miraculous painting kept in the basilica of the Annunciation in Florence (fig. 8) can still been admired in the parish church of Palagnedra (fig. 9 and 10), a village in the Centovalli, also in the bailiwick of Locarno. This work of art was commissioned by migrants resident in Florence, as recorded in the inscription under the painting.

These are two very good examples of religious and devotional transfers. Further evidence can be found in rural brotherhoods, where migrants followed customs and devotions they had come across in major cities.


Bibliography

Adamoli Davide, Fratelli per l’eternità. Storia delle confraternite nei baliaggi sudalpini in epoca moderna, PhD presented at the Université de Fribourg and the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore di Milano, April 2014 (forthcoming).

Beard Geoffrey, Stucco and Decorative Plasterwork in Europe, London, Thames & Hudson, 1983.

Damiani Cabrini Laura, Seicento ritrovato: presenze pittoriche “italiane” nella Lombardia svizzera fra Cinquecento e Seicento, Milano, Skira, 1996.

Gambi Lucio (ed.), “Col bastone e la bisaccia per le strade d’Europa: migrazioni stagionali di mestiere nell’arco alpino nei secoli XVI-XVIII: atti di un seminario di studi tenutosi a Bellinzona l’8 e il 9 settembre 1988”, in Bollettino storico della Svizzera italiana, vol. 103, fasc. I-IV, gennaio-dicembre 1991.

Muchembled Robert (ed.), Cultural exchange in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006-2007.

Orelli Chiara, “Migrazione e mestiere: alcuni percorsi di integrazione nelle città lombarde e toscane di “migranti” dalla Svizzera italiana (secoli XVI-XVIII)”, in Meriggi Marco, Pastore Alessandro (ed.), Le regole dei mestieri e delle professioni, secoli XV-XIX, Milano, Franco Angeli, 2001.

Rüsch Elfi, I monumenti d’arte e di storia del Canton Ticino IV, Distretto di Locarno IV (La Verzasca, il Pedemonte, le Centovalli e l’Onsernone, Berna, Società di storia dell’arte in Svizzera SSAS, 2013.

Avon Dassett Local History Group Launch New WWI Project

07/24/2014 in British Isles, genealogy and family history, households and the domestic environment, preservation and memory

Summer 1914.

Life goes on as normal in the small rural Warwickshire village of Avon Dassett. But the life of the community is about to change for ever.

On August 4 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. But how did the experience of war affect the lives of ordinary citizens across the country?

This Heritage Lottery Funded Project seeks to follow the lives of the residents of Avon Dassett during the first year of the war. It charts the rhythm of daily life – births, marriages, deaths, school, work and leisure – and the extraordinary experiences of a community living through global conflict. We follow the fortunes of some of the Avon Dassett lads who enlisted early in the war.

Subscribe to the blog. Comment on stories that interest you. Add your own photos or stories of your family’s experience of World War I.

William Winthrope Watts, father of Avon Dassett Local History Group Member, Reg Watts enlisted in January 1915. Follow his story on the blog!

William Winthrope Watts, father of Avon Dassett Local History Group Member, Reg Watts enlisted in January 1915. Follow his story on the blog!

Berkswell Hall

08/13/2013 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, households and the domestic environment

The Manor of Berkswell dates from the late medieval period. There is no evidence of a house on this land until Samuel Marrow Bart. ‘built a substantial new house of brick between 1663 and 1674  with a five bay entrance front to the east and a longer wing stretching back with 22 rooms and 17 hearths’. On Samuel’s death his five surviving daughters held the Manor jointly until 1707, two of whom, Elizabeth and Mary, are buried in the Norman crypt at Berkswell church. Mary’s son John Knightley, Sherrif of Northamptonshire, died in 1764 and his widow Catherine was allowed to live in the House at Berkswell, which she did until her death at the age of 92 in 1812. Both John and Catherine are buried in the crypt of Berkswell Church.

The estate passed to John’s cousin Rt Hon Sir John Eardley Wilmot (1709-1792). It was his grandson, who also added an additional ‘Eardley’ to his name hence Sir John Eardley Eardley Wilmot who built the house we see today in 1814. It is suspected that the existing hall was the result of major alterations to the existing brick house of 1600s. This Sir John eventually became 6th Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) where he died in 1847 trying to clear his name over the issue of  ‘care of the moral interests involved in the system of convict discipline’. This matter was debated over a number of years in the House of Commons and at the highest level.  Sir John was buried in Hobart Tasmania, where a Gothic monument was erected in his memory by the citizens of Hobart. However a monument was erected by his family in Berkswell Cbhuurch in 1849 following the tradition of his father and grandfather.

After a brief period as a school for boys let to headmaster Rev. Charles Bickmore, Berkswell Hall was sold in 1861 to Thomas Walker, a local iron master and owner of the Patent Shaft and Axletree Co. in Wednesbury. It was Walker who enlarged the estate, formed the lake, built the lodges, coach house and stabling. Thomas Walker was obliged to secure a large mortgage against the Hall after dishonesty by a trusted cashier at his Company. Thomas Walker and his wife are buried in Berkswell churchyard near the old private entrance to the Hall.

The 1888 sale catalogue for the Berkswell Estate states that the Hall was a substantial brick building, cemented and painted light stone colour with a HaHa dividing the park from the gardens comprising Italian garden and spacious tennis and other lawns. The elegant double drawing room had richly papered walls and decorated ceiling. Entrance hall with marble mantelpiece, conservatory heated by water full of camelias, ferns and wisteria. Gilt, mahogany and stone staircase lead to 19 principal bedrooms each with marble mantelpieces.. The entire mansion was lit by gas, supplied with water from springs in the village and forced to the top of the house by a hydraulic ram.

Berkswell Estate was purchased in 1888 by Joshua Hirst Wheatley whom locals fondly referred to as ‘the old Squire. The Reading Room in the village, opened by his wife Edith, was built at his expense as was repairs to the Church Bells.  Upon Joshua’s death his son Charles Joshua Hirst Wheatley and his wife Christobel moved into Berkswell Hall in 1925. Charles died suddenly in 1943 and is interred in the family grave with a memorial window in Berkswell Church. Christobel took a great interest in village affairs and hosted the annual Church Fete at Berkswell Hall. Chistobel died in 1987 aged 89 but had remained at the Hall, running the estate, until ill health forced her to sell the Hall in 1984 when it was converted to luxury apartments. Today the Hall is a Grade II* listed building.

Brenda Murray

August 2012

Research guides for parish history

04/25/2013 in agriculture and the economy, archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, households and the domestic environment, landscapes and pilgrimage, literature and the liturgy, Parish sources, Projects, ritual, devotion and religious change, the clergy

Research guides are now available on the following topics to help those interested in Leicestershire parish history:

Exploring your parish church (in two parts – Reading the building and Documentary sources)

Your local school

Maps before the Ordnance Survey

Farming and enclosure, 1480-1790

Farms and farming, from 1790

Although these concentrate on Leicestershire documents, other counties will have similar records, and therefore these may be of much wider interest and use.

Chris Dyer, ‘Have historians been too sentimental about the village community, 1334-1540?’

10/08/2012 in agriculture and the economy, British Isles, drink and sociability, gender and the family, households and the domestic environment, Media, Podcasts


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Prof. em. Chris Dyer (University of Leicester, Centre for English Local History) gives the Saturday midday plenary lecture entitled ‘Have historians been too sentimental about the village community, 1334-1540?’ at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Prof. Katherine French (University of Michigan) chairs. Recorded Saturday 26 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.

Chris Dyer, ‘Have historians been too sentimental about the village community, 1334-1540?’

10/06/2012 in agriculture and the economy, British Isles, drink and sociability, gender and the family, households and the domestic environment, Media, Videos

Prof. em. Chris Dyer (University of Leicester, Centre for English Local History) gives the Saturday midday plenary lecture entitled ‘Have historians been too sentimental about the village community, 1334-1540?’ at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Prof. Katherine French (University of Michigan) chairs. Recorded Saturday 26 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.