You are browsing the archive for landscapes and pilgrimage.


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.


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.

Travel note from the parish of Mareta (South Tyrol)

05/02/2014 in art and imagery, landscapes and pilgrimage, Parish Research Today, The Alpine Territories

It’s been a day of travel. Trains, buses, a bit of hitchhiking and as always at the end, in piedi. But the journey was worth it. My destination was the miners’ church of Sankt Magdalena in the Val Ridanna. It’s is a daughter house of the parish church of Mareta, not far as the crow flies but a lot more once you ascend the sides of the valley on the snaking road. A pit stop at a nearby maso procured the key and the custodian, Caterina, who would do the needful with the alarm – important artworks afoot! Sankt Magdalena lies in the foothills of the Snow Mountain, which bears rich seams of ore. The miners did so well in the 15th century that they reputedly shod their boots with silver nails! They also funded the rebuilding of an earlier church, retaining the dedication to the Magdalen. Two large scale altarpiece, combining painted scenes and sculpted figures were commissioned from leading artists working in nearby Vipiteno/Sterzing. Both were destined for the high altar. Mattheis Störbel’s work of 1509 remains in situ, while Hans Harder’s earlier opus is now in the nave (pics below). To study these works in person was a real privilege, especially after the journey. It was a real connection of landscape, art and devotion, as well as the financial underpinnings of such endeavours. The architecture of the church was simple but well executed. In all, a lasting testimony to the men who laboured in the mountains and the saint who watched over them.

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CFP – Renaissance Society of America, Berlin 2015

04/28/2014 in art and imagery, Events, Italian Peninsula, landscapes and pilgrimage, Mediterranean, Parish Research Today, The Alpine Territories

‘Artistic Exchange in Unexpected Quarters’: Art, travel and geography during the Renaissance

 RSA Annual Meeting, Berlin, March 26 – 28, 2015

Deadline May 30, 2014

By popular account, Pieter Brueghel the Elder swallowed up the mountains and the rocks when journeying through the Alps, and spat them out again in his work once home. Dürer and Patinir immortalised the landscape in portable media, while for other artists and workshops, Alpine patrons and churches offered gainful employment and with that, diffusion of style and motif.  Such was the power of this geography for artistic creativity. Studies of exchange typically privilege urban contexts or determine influence through the polarities of north and south, east and west but little is made of the transitional zones in between or those at the so-called margins. What potentials did they offer for artistic exchange? Did it lead to unusual artworks, hybrid idioms or iconographies? Was there resistance or revival of local traditions?

It is nearly 20 years since Claire Farago asked whether “the categories into which our discipline [art history] is currently subdivided are really well-suited to analysing questions of intercultural exchange.” Reframing the Renaissance anticipated the global turn, bringing together studies of old and new worlds in an effort to rethink traditional categories and boundaries. More worlds than ever are opening up to Renaissance scholarship. This planned series of sessions borrows its title from Aby Warburg’s 1905 essay as a framework for new research on artistic exchange and diffusion (papers on sites, artworks, approaches are all welcome) in transitional zones across Italy, Europe and wider worlds, 1300-1650.

Please send your title, abstract (150 words max), and keywords, with C.V. to Joanne Anderson by May 30 at:



Parish dikereeves: a conundrum

12/13/2013 in British Isles, landscapes and pilgrimage, officeholding and local government, Parish Research Today

Flooding was a persistent threat to coastal, wetland and riverine parishes in early modern England and Wales. My current PhD research is into how communities responded to this threat at a variety of different levels and in a variety of different ways. I look at how flooding and flood risk was managed politically, socially and culturally – through local and national governance, through communal and familial structures, and how those affected understood and conceptualised flooding. I take two case studies, the Upper and Lower Severnside ‘levels’ of southern Gloucestershire and the Parts of Holland in Lincolnshire, as areas subject to significant flooding, and subsequently significant flood risk management, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The research I am currently undertaking focusses on the various levels of government and administration that dealt with flooding. The parish history element of this current research is both interesting and puzzling. In some coastal regions, particularly in Lincolnshire, but also in Somerset and elsewhere, dikereeves were elected to oversee the maintenance and upkeep of sea walls and drainage ditches. Dikereeves were often a manorial appointment, as at Sutton Holland in Lincolnshire in the 1550s and 1560s, where the manor court elected dikereeves from amongst both freeholders and copyholders. During the 1570s records suggest that the Lincolnshire dikereeve moved from a manorial to a parochial office, with all the Lincolnshire parochial dikereeves accounts I have found beginning post-1570.

So far I have two explanations for this move – one general and one specific, but neither resting on a ‘smoking gun’, and both more than open to challenge. The first is the rise of the parish as a unit of local administration amidst the ‘quickening’ of the ‘pace of local government’ in the later sixteenth and early seventeenth century. This would explain the move towards the parish, but not necessarily the move away from the manor. The second more specific reason could be the particularly stormy years around 1570. These included widespread flooding of the East coast in 1570 and 1571. Perhaps given new environmental challenges, parishes required greater flood defence oversight and established parochial dikereeves? Again, such an explanation rests on the parish, rather than the manor, being the most effective unit of local organisation.

Any comments or suggestions would be most welcome.

Meriden Centre of England

06/24/2013 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, genealogy and family history, landscapes and pilgrimage, Parish sources, preservation and memory, Region, Uncategorized

Every decade or so Meriden’s traditional claim to be the ‘Centre of England’ is challenged, sometimes by another place like Minworth or Lillington but since 1941 by the Ordnance Survey.  Despite this alternative version being more than 70 years old, a  statement was put out by the OS on 14 June as if a newly discovered fact . An identical claim was also made in 2002 but may be the difference this time is that on the edge of a field near Fenny Drayton,. Leics a 6′ post made from a railway sleeper bears a plaque with the information. Meriden’s claim is  a traditional one based not on exact sciene because in previous centuries exact science was not significant. No one knows when or why precisely this attractive folklore  became accepted but in 1829 a  Warwickshire Gazeteer informed its readers oft Meriden’s status indicating it was of long standing.

For many years I have collected newspaper cuttings from 1905 to 1972 on the theme but the advent of readily accessible newspaper archives on the internet has made my task easier. To date I have about 24 additional statements from 1870s to the present day the majority of which support Meriden’s claims, often dogmatically. Many articles  link the ancient sandstone market Cross on the Green with the precise centre and a letter to the Birmingham Post in the summer of 1898 related how the villagers believed the Cross had been moved to the Green to ensure precision.. We knew the Cross had been moved  from oral testimony by a lady born in the village in 1900 with a long standing family background there. In addition the famous Coventry local historian W.G. Fretton who grew up in Meriden recorded it had been moved in living memory  in a book he published in 1879. The 1829 gazeteer  says it was on the Green by then but I must point out not in its current position. The then main A45 had encroached on the Green bit by bit leaving the Cross very near its edge and in danger of being hit by lorries. It was moved in to its present position in June 1953 just in time for the Coronation celebrations.

Doreen Agutter – Meriden Historian

Remembering the great Hawkshead flood, 10 June 1686

06/10/2013 in agriculture and the economy, British Isles, landscapes and pilgrimage, Parish sources

On this date 327 years ago, the Cumbrian parish of Hawkshead was struck by a ‘fearfull’ storm and ‘terrible flood’. We learn of this through the local parish register – a source of near ubiquity in local archives. Sporadically found amongst the lists of baptisms, burials and marriages are memoranda on unusual parish occurrences (read more about those here). This particular storm left quite an impression on the author of the Hawskhead register:

Bee it remembered that upon the Tenth day of June att nighte in the yeare of our lord the one thousand sixxe hundred eighty and sixxe there was such a fearefull Thunder with fyre and rayne which occasioned such a terrible flood as the like of it was never scene in these parts by noe man liveinge ; for it did throwe downe some houses and milles and tooke Away seuerall briggs ; yea the water did run through houses and did much hurte to houses ; besydes the water wash’t upp greate trees by the roots and the becks and gills carried them with other greate trees stocks and greate stones a greate way off and layd them on men’s ground ; yea further the water did soe fiercely run doun the hye-ways and made such deepe holes and ditches in them that att seuerall places neither horse nor foote coulde passe ; and besydes the becks and rivers did soe breake out of their races as they broughte exceedinge greate sand beds into men’s ground att many places which did great hurte the neuer like was knowne ; I pray God of his greate mercy graunte that none which is now liveinge can never see the like againe.

The flood was not only unusual in its height and force, but also in its content. Large amounts of sediment had been picked up by the waters and deposited on local farmland. Whilst silt can aid water retention and provide nutrients to soil (Egypt’s Nile delta is the classic example of this), the debris left behind by this flood was of a different sort. The ‘becks‘ of Cumbria behaved less like the Nile, and more like China’s Yellow River – the silt they deposited, littered with large stones, was a threat rather than an aid to soil fertility.

‘Strange natural phenomena’, as Thiselton-Dyer called them, reported in parish registers give us important clues as to the relationships between communities and their environments in early modern England. I am always on the lookout for more register notes like this, and would love to know if your parish has any records of unusual natural events.

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.

Deerhurst, Gloucestershire, in flood

01/11/2013 in British Isles, landscapes and pilgrimage

Recent heavy rainfall has taken its toll on many British regions. The South West has been particularly badly effected, with severe disruptions to the transport network over the Christmas period. Low lying Gloucestershire parishes around the Severn and the Avon deal with the effects of flooding regularly. The parish of Deerhurst, on the banks of the Severn is certainly no stranger to flooding. Below are some images of recent flooding around the parish church, St Mary’s, parts of which date back to the 9th century. Deerhurst retains a second Saxon building on this site, Odda’s Chapel. Notice how the water does not reach St Mary’s itself as the church is situated on a slight incline. Despite being only 200m or so from the oft-breached riverbank, both buildings have survived (partly due to their convenient elevated situation) and can be visited today. To see more images of Deerhurst in flood in 2007, go to the Flooding Blog.

All images below kindly provided by Ian Morgan.

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Floods breach the churchyard wall

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A modern floodgate protects a local access route



Flood water makes surrounding fields appear to be a lake

St Mary's Church, Deerhurst

St Mary’s Church, Deerhurst, built on the slightest of hills, perched above the floodwater, where parts of if have sat for more than twelve centuries

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Floodwater entering the churchyard

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A close-up of the floodwater surrounding a modern property and stretching into the distance


‘Communities of the Living and the Dead’: Harold Mytum, ‘Texts and More: Results of Graveyard Surveys in Britain and Ireland’

10/08/2012 in archeology and architecture, British Isles, landscapes and pilgrimage, Media, Podcasts, preservation and memory

Dr. Harold Mytum (Centre for Manx Studies/School of Archaeology, Liverpool) gives a paper, entitled ‘Texts and More: Results of Graveyard Surveys in Britain and Ireland’, in a morning panel session on ‘Communities of the Living and the Dead’, at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Dr. Hannes Obermair (Bolzano Regional Archives) chairs. Recorded Sunday 27 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.

Mentalities and Priorities

10/08/2012 in archeology and architecture, art and imagery, British Isles, Germany, landscapes and pilgrimage, Media, Netherlands, officeholding and local government, Podcasts, ritual, devotion and religious change, Scandinavia

Dr Liz Tingle (University of Plymouth) chairs a morning panel session, entitled, ‘Mentalities and Priorities’, at the Tenth Warwick Symposium on Parish Research, ‘Parish Studies Today’. Papers include:

  • Gabriel Byng (Clare College, Cambridge), ‘How affordable were medieval parish churches?’
  • Dr John Hunt (University of Birmingham, History), ‘Lordship, community and the parish church: A window on medieval “mentalité”’
  • Bart Minnen (independent researcher), ‘The Church of St Martin in Wezemaal, an European centre of the devotion to St Job in the 15th and 16th centuries’
  • Karsten Merrald Sørensen (Aarhus University/University of Flensburg), ‘Account books. A source for the church and community history in the duchy of Schleswig in the 17th century’

Recorded Sunday 27 May 2012, at Scarman House, University of Warwick.