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Mt. Roen

October 4, 2019

Out the front window, I gaze upon Mt. Roen most every day. This evening, it has a halo of clouds and I am reminded of this mountain’s past, both distant and recent.

Mt. Roen is a dominate feature of the Val di Non, Italy where I have lived for the last 16 years. Because of its height, it is often covered with clouds and snow. The great mountain looks over the Novella stream that cuts our great valley in half. My family’s village of Cloz lies on what is known as the terza sponda below the slopes of Mt. Ori. Mt. Roen on the opposite side of the valley is a picturesque peak but it also contains a huge history rooted in its medieval past.

The year is 1612. Like the new colonies in America, it is the time of the witch trials. Suspicion is found in every corner of every village. Women are the main target but occasionally, a stregone  (male witch) is ferreted out as well. These are scary times. One must be very careful when speaking; there are ears everywhere.

A very distant relative of mine, a certain Mrs. Rauzi, is brought before the local tribunal at Cloz. It seems this recently widowed old woman has been accused by a neighbor as being a witch. The day before, this old, addled soul had enough of her neighbor’s consistent badgering over property boundary issues. In a moment of frustration, she blurted out,  “I damn your cow.” Bummer! Sure enough, the next day the cow gave no milk. That was adequate evidence back then to accuse someone of witchcraft. She was dutifully hauled off to face a kangaroo court of local politicians with a very real possibility of death and dismemberment.

Fortunately, Mrs. Rauzi’s case had a good outcome. In the end she was deemed as being simply a little nuts. She was spared death, dismemberment and burning like so many of her contemporaries. She was left alone and died an old lady, still grumbling at her obstinate neighbor. But where does our Mt. Roen figure into all of this?

During the famous witch trials of 1605-1612, many women and two men (one from Castelfondo) were condemned, killed  and dismembered. They were then burnt on the top of Mt. Roen as locals believed this spot to be the home of the devil. In the minds of the local populace, they were being sent home. As the smoke cleared on Mt. Roen’s summit, there were wide smiles across our wide valley and all was right with the world. Of course this seems absurd these days, but this was daily fact some 400 years ago.

There was even a gate to the Val d’Avena which leads to Mt. Roen from its slopes near Amblar. Every evening a rider from Cavareno would ride up from town and ceremoniously lock it. Why? To keep the devil from descending into the nearby villages, of course! To this day, the stemma (coat of arms) for Cavareno is a medieval key; the same key that kept the devil on Mt. Roen.

You would think that four centuries would have changed the way of thinking completely hereabouts. Sadly, this is not the case. While we no longer actually burn witches, many still consider Mt. Roen to be the home of the devil. They look upon its slopes with fear. When lightning strikes its top, the old ones in the village come up with every conceivable story to further the belief that the devil does indeed dwell on its summit. They are semi-persuasive as they recount ancient Nonese sayings about Mt. Roen and the devil. They then, of course, come forth with stories from the past and present about “witches” that lived in our tiny village. Do these neighbors of mine really still believe in witches? Forse sì forse no! I, on the other hand, just gaze out my window and its visage enthralls and amuses me. I see the mountain more as a mother who looks down at all of her children with pride. Her slopes seem to cradle us all like a giant grembiule. Between the good and bad, there’s lots of history in these parts but in the end I am just a straniero academic and a casual observer.

Note: If you would like to learn more about the witch trials of the Val di Non, please read Lorenza Bertoluzza’s book: Processi Contra Le Streghe – 1605-1612 (Italian language).

Contemplating Mt. Roen one evening 18 years ago, I penned the following lines in moments of much midnight melancholy:

The Last Rizzi
© 2001 Allen E. Rizzi

I am the one last Rizzi
Of the Rizzis from Tirol;
The last of the regini
From the valleys Non and Sole.

From nearby Cavizzana
Joannes arrived in Cloz,
Became the founding father
Of our entire Rizzi host.

Then came three Giovannis,
Gulielmo, Eugenio too;
Giorgio, nonno Eugenio,
Whom my father never knew.

Hundreds of years born in Cloz,
Our Rizzi family grew.
But no part remains there now,
The faces, they are all new.

To build new towns and lives,
To America they came;
Eugenio, Giovanni,
Their goals, they were the same.

One brother died and one stayed
To build the town of Kemmerer.
A hundred years have gone by,
Perhaps some will remember.

Mt. Roen cries to Mt. Ori,
Novella’s tears flow between.
She sings her sad requiem
Down the valley pure and green.

St. Stefano always stands
Amid the calm and the strife,
The reminder of God’s good grace,
As a monument to life.

I have walked the streets of Cloz
And heard whispers from the past.
My family creed has called
And brought me here at last.

Centuries have drawn me back
To face the past in retreat,
To stand naked at the end,
To know God’s hand, rough and sweet.

And when I am gone from here
Into the earth and air,
A faint echo will remain;
The last Rizzi will be there.

BTW – The whole poetry shebang is here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1091471959/

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12 Comments
  1. Fascinating story. Love your poem too
    Do you feel like a reli

    Liked by 1 person

  2. L.Roach permalink

    Fantastic post Allen! Who was the male witch from Castelfondo? Interesting, seeing as my great-grandfather, Damiano Genetti, was an herbalist and folk healer in Castelfondo and later in Pennsylvania. He may have been accused of witchcraft in an earlier age!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Louise. I forget the name but will have to look it up again when we get back to the Fondo library. I think it was Lorenzetti but I’d have to check.

      Like

  3. Un racconto molto emozionante che hai saputo rendere con pathos.
    Sono stata più volte in vacanza in Val di Non e conosco i luoghi.

    Shera
    Bella la tua poesia

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great story.

    Liked by 1 person

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